A young black teenager wakes up and rolls out of his twin size bed in a room he shares with two other siblings. It is hot muggy and smelly, but he dares not open the small dusty window. The window leads to the back alley and he fears letting in the big black flies that buzz around the trash scattered throughout the alleyway. The same flies that pestered him all night long.
He stares around the room and sighs, “how much longer will things be like this?” he questions himself as he pulls himself up out of bed. He pulls on a pair of dirty jeans and a stained t-shirt. The same outfit he has worn three times this week. He grabs a old worn out pair of Nike’s and the sweaty smell causes him to cringe. He heads down the short hallway to what passes as a kitchen, in search of something to eat.
“The same ole thing.” He murmurs as he stares into the half empty refrigerator. He finds more relief from the cool air that blows out the refrigerator than the food inside. All he finds is processed meat, cheese, milk and other food scraps. He grabs the milk and takes a big swig from the container.
He steps outside into the summer air and sits on the stump. The day is bright, but not that promising for him, the sun is shining, and the city is starting to come alive. He notice more and more white people, people he has never seen before. Young, old, hip and seemingly carefree, walking their dogs, talking on the latest I-Phone and drinking coffee. Some walk by him and stare, as if he is new to the neighborhood. Some hardly notice him at all. They are the ones that he despise the most.
He lights up some K2, he can’t afford a real bag of weed. Plus he is on probation and a dirty urine will send him back to jail. It is bad enough his probation officer is on his back to get at job. He was just given 30 more days to get at job, or else. The young man knows he is on borrowed time. He does not have a GED nor vocational skills. He has no money to get to and fro so he can’t get to the job interviews.
As he begins to feel the effects of the K2 he begins to think of what is to him a master plan. What is this plan? Commit a crime. What crime? A petty robbery. He thinks it is safe to snatch a phone from someone getting on the subway.
He heads out in search of a unsuspecting victim. He searches high and low. He begins to get frustrated and agitated that he cannot make his move. It is getting late in the day and his agitation beginning to mount, as well as his desperation to rob someone. As decides to stop and take a break. He stops in front of the corner store and sits on a crate. While sitting on the crate he notices an elderly man walking towards a new Audi. “Dam, if I can get that joint I can sell it and make some money.” He tells himself as he stares out at the elderly man. He creeps up behind him and hits him over the head with a bottle. The old man falls to the ground, stunned and bewildered. It takes him a minute until he realizes he is being mugged. He begins to fight back. The young man was not expecting this and panics. He begins to stomp and kick the old man. Blood is spurting all over the parking lot and the man has passed out, or so he thinks. He finally gets the keys, jumps in the car and pull off. He smirks to himself as he search for some music to blast as he heads back across town.
Two days later the old man dies. There is a police outcry and man hunt for the young man. The community is shocked and want justice for the old man. They want blood. They call for longer prison terms for violent offenders. They want to keep them in prison longer. They want to be safe from these violent people. Meanwhile in SE another young teen wakes up to the same conditions. Poor, living in an underprivileged/underserved community, where cheap synthetic drugs are easy to get, hopeless, plotting to pull off the master plan. A petty robbery. One that will almost certainly turn tragic.
This is the story of so many youth across America. This is the story of many of today’s incarcerated population. They are the victims of social disparities that cause them to victimize others.
Criminal offenders, by nature of their actions and involvement in the criminal justice system, are typically regarded as social outcasts. Truth be told they were social outcasts long before their direct run in with the criminal justice system. It is only after the act of a senseless crime that they are noticed. At this point the community wants to put them away forever. They are not to be trusted as they cannot conform to the decorum of society. So it is best to label them as violent, to invoke fear in the public, and keep them in prison for a long time.
There is a lot to be understood when it comes to criminal offenses and penal reform. First, crime is a result of poverty, racism, homelessness, substance abuse, mental health and social/psychological issues. Crime is a result of lack of education and ignorance. Crime is a problem that cannot be locked away. If the public response, if the President and other members of government, is to lock away crime then good luck.
That response to crime is the reason why there are 2.3 million people incarcerated. It is why the US spends 50 billion dollars a year fighting crime. In 1982 the cost of incarceration was 44 million. In 2001 that cost was 44 million. The current cost of incarceration is 80 billion dollars, annually. Each year the cost of fighting crime and incarceration increases while crime has not, significantly, reduced.
There are four goals of incarceration, and none of them actually addresses the problem of crime. The current practice of incarceration focuses on incapacitation, deterrence, retribution and rehabilitation. The way to reduce crime is to target it before it happens. All of the current measures used to fight crime and lock up its offenders are all post crime related. If this continues to be the means of addressing the rise in crime and the way it is dealt with, the chances are slim that there will ever be a significant decrease in crime.
The response by the public is motivated by fear. Many fear the stories they hear about across the news and other media outlets. It is as if they are only privy to the worst of the worst stories. The stories that make them feel unsafe when they see the “stereotypical” soon to be offender, or the recently released offender. The stigma and stereotypes play in the the psyche of many of them. These thoughts and ideas are hard to change and overcome. This is why the generalization of this term violent offenders should be used with caution. Every person convicted of a violent offense is not necessary a violent offender. Just as most drug offenses are connected to drugs, whether abuse or sale, most violent offenses committed are connected to drugs. In fact it is safe to say, with the exception of the most extreme cases, drugs is the major connector to almost all crime. So it is unfair, and not good penal reform, to discredit and disregard those violent offenders as people who do not suffer from the same social disparities as the rest of the members from their population.
Would it not be a good solution to include, as part of the sentencing process, violent offenders in the actual solution finding process. It those people who have, in hindsight and they say hindsight is 20/20, realized the error of their ways, and understand what it is that other members of their communities are experiencing, that have better ideas, ideas that are realistic, to solve these on-going problems. It is not uncommon for guys of rival crews, that have beefed for many years, to set their differences aside, while in prison, to live and co-exist in a peaceful manner. Most begin to realize how stupid it was for them to be at odds from the beginning. Now that they have come to this realization they look for ways to get those on the outside to stop killing and harming each other. Fact: Never has law enforcement put an end to street wars and beefs. It is when, and only when, the members of those communities say enough is enough. Until that happens there is no stopping it. It is time for law enforcement and other law makers to open up their eyes and take note of this fact. As much as they may want to claim it was, some how, their work, they are sadly mistaken. Which is why when crime and violence surges again they are at a lost. They have no recourse other than lock’em up. If it was that simple the gang violence of Chicago, Los Angeles, and other places would have been solved years ago. Generations of gang members incarcerated yet gang violence has reached smaller cities and communities. As the tendency is to re-locate when things get hot. Not stop the violence but merely take it somewhere else.
Dealing with this issue is a challenge but there are effective ways to deal with it. People have to become properly educated, on all levels, and learn to work together. Everyone has to be included. Right now we live in time of arbitration. Everyone is pitted against someone else. The common news is cops against blacks. Or this group against that group. Or that group against that group. At some point people are going to have to come together. This means those incarcerated with those on the outside to bring about the solutions needed to save our communities. It is one thing to re-name incarcerated people as returning citizens. It is another thing to actually allow them to be citizens. Being a citizen is to be part of a community. If you want offenders to come home to the DC area and act accordingly they have to feel like they belong. They have to feel like citizens upon their return. If you change the way a person thinks of themselves so will their behavior change.