The figures speak for themselves. The 80 percent recidivism rate makes a mockery of current psychiatric-oriented rehabilitation methods, demonstrating that, for all intents and purposes, there is in fact no such thing as criminal rehabilitation. A report published by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in America concurred, stating that there was little evidence that either institutional programs or noninstitutional efforts to rehabilitate offenders make any appreciable difference.
And so go the revolving doors of the US penal system.
Some say we are winning the war against crime, that the tougher laws, the harsher penalties and the greater number of police officers are all combining to finally bring an end to the meteoric rise of crime that marred the 1980's. However, some say that crime is still on the uprise, that the streets are more dangerous than ever, and that the facts--not the political rhetoric--reveal a younger generation gearing up for war.
Someone is lying.
Or so it seems. The truth is that both statements are correct. The national averages for violent crime, including murder, rape and aggravated assault, are all down, if only slightly. The reasons are simple enough: First, the tougher sentences and Three Strikes laws in several states are keeping felons off the streets and unable to commit more crime. Second, the overall population curve is down, which means that there are fewer possible offenders to begin with, especially in the most violent age range, 15 to 29 years old. Third, a number of grassroots neighborhood policing groups have enjoyed moderate success in various areas around the country.
Despite the apparent promise of these grassroots movements and statistical downswings, the smart money continues to bet on prisons, and they are betting huge. Why? Because the younger generation of criminal is indeed on the brink of an all-out killing spree that will make Dodge City look like Disneyland. A closer examination of the major statistics involved makes clear why experts continue to be leery about the future.
First and foremost, teenagers from 14 to 17 years old have become more violent than at any other time in tabulated history, currently committing 165% more murders than they did just ten years ago. And the number of males in this age bracket will double in one generation, as the population curve once again begins its steep rise. Simply put, we will have twice the number of possible offenders in just a few years, committing nearly five times the volume of crime that we see on the network news and front pages every day.
While the near future may produce a drastically higher number of criminal offenders, the problem of the growing crime rate is actually two-fold, the second factor being the prison system. The current prison population is growing at a rate 13 times faster than that of the general population and has exceeded most facility maximums in every state.
In fact, since 1980, the nation's prison population has tripled, and our country now claims more than 1.5 million people behind bars in both state and federal prisons, as well as juvenile halls and youth authority complexes. That does not include the 3.5 million on probation and parole.
These numbers have put a stranglehold on the prison system, and have forced nearly all of them to operate at levels far exceeding their mandated maximums. Currently, state prisons are operating anywhere from 17 to 29% over capacity, while federal prisons have climbed to 25% above the maximum capacity. According to the Justice Department, 1995 saw the biggest inmate population growth ever in U.S. history, with over 89,000 new prisoners in American jails.
And with 80% of those released from jail returning within one year, the estimated figures jump even higher. These two factors of future crime and current rates well in excess of the norm lead many in government and the private sector to demand the passage of bills for the construction of more prisons.
The bills are passing with ease, as a citizenry dismayed and discouraged without an effective means to curtail the violence demands some way to keep their streets safe. Nationally, two decades ago, the American price tag for its prisons was 4 billion dollars, a figure which has skyrocketed to 31 billion.
Government and sociological experts continue to argue over the cause of such a frightening rise in the crime rate and resultant prison population, yet neither have offered any truly workable solution beyond stiffer laws and more jails, which by simple observation do nothing to deter crime, and can actually be seen to exacerbate the problem. It is indeed a vicious cycle: More crime leads to more police which leads to more jails, which cultivates more criminals, leading to more crime, more police, more jails...
What specifically are the factors which cause crime? What in our present society is causing such decay? Some point to drugs as the primary cause for the rise in crime. According to Justice Department statistician Allen Beck, drug offenders currently account for nearly 60% of all inmates, as opposed to 25% in 1980. And even more specifically, nearly every inmate in jails across America has used drugs extensively either at some point in the past or during the actual commission of the crime.
The surprise with this matter is that there are no nationally sanctioned drug treatment programs in the prisons themselves, and conversely, it is sometimes easier for inmates to get drugs within prison walls than it is to get food.
Still, others point to a problem that could very well be the cause of both crime and drug use: illiteracy and a failing educational system. In fact, one study from an internationally known drug rehabilitation center concluded that nearly every drug abuser in its care began such behavior immediately after a failure to learn in school.
Another report from the National Institute of Justice claimed that illiteracy was the primary cause of crime. And it's no wonder; if one cannot learn, where can he or she turn in order to survive? A recent study of juvenile offenders placed them, on average, at a third grade reading level. Jobs were simply not an option; they simply did not have, and could not learn, the necessary skills. And thus they were absorbed into the gangs, and the attendant drugs and crime.
In fact, what most taxpayers don't know, is that while they're footing the bills of these inmates, at about $25,000 a year for each one, the aim of prisoner rehabilitation was actually removed from the mission statement of the prison system in the late 1970's. It simply does not exist as a hope or purpose anymore. After too many failures, they have simply given up.
The only solution offered by the state and federal prison system is to drug its inmates with psychotropic drugs and other medications. The hope is that massive sedation will in some miraculous turn produce a reformed citizen. But the results speak for themselves: a total failure.
The other option? A complete warehousing of criminal inmates across the world. More prisons. Just lock them up and throw away the key. That is, in essence, what the Three Strikes law does, and what most legislators are demanding. This does nothing but loudly proclaim the current system's complete inability to handle the problem of crime. But where else can we turn?
Ultimately it is the citizen that must decide--the taxpayer, the individual that supports such measures with his vote and his wallet. But why support measures which have done nothing but create more crime? This is a question we all face. Is there a workable solution?
The first step would entail a complete overhaul of the justice system and a new way to actually reform criminals without simply locking them away in more prisons. Such a solution would have to handle all of the underlying causes of crime: the drugs, the illiteracy and the erosion of morals. Such a solution would have to address each problem in a unique way and eradicate it entirely. Such a solution has been glimpsed.
It is known as Criminon, a program whose name means "no crime," and is based upon the works of American author and humanitarian L. Ron Hubbard.
"We have the answers to human suffering and they are available to everyone," wrote Mr. Hubbard. He had personally addressed each factor which led to crime, and through decades of research made certain breakthroughs which make possible for the first time the actual and permanent eradication of the "criminal code."
In the area of drug abuse, Mr. Hubbard researched and discovered vital data now hailed by doctors which not only lays out an exact regimen to completely detoxify the body, but also handles the reasons why the individual took the drugs in the first place.
To handle illiteracy, Mr. Hubbard developed an exact route to real learning by isolating the barriers to study and specific handlings for each one. This teaches one how to study, so that any field or interest can be grasped and understood. It opens the door to effective learning.
And perhaps most importantly in the field of reforming the criminal, Mr. Hubbard wrote The Way to Happiness, a moral code based entirely on common sense. Its 21 precepts make clear to the inmates on the Criminon program how moral behavior assists survival, and how ethics actually lead to happiness.
According to Robb Henderson, a fifteen year veteran of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, "Mr. Hubbard's research and development of the means necessary to solve the most basic problems facing contemporary society, particularly that utilized in the Criminon program, provide the only workable methods in existence for attaining the original objectives of our penal system--the rehabilitated criminal."
Don McGruder, the Director of the South Central/Santa Monica Probation Office for Los Angeles County, noted that the works of L. Ron Hubbard have proven successful where others had not, and that graduates of the various programs were returning to their communities and very enthusiastically recruiting referrals into the programs who were not even under the probation system.
To date, Criminon has been proven workable at all levels, from teenage gang members to adult inmates on death row, and has recently come to the forefront in criminal rehabilitation across the world. It does not have an enviable record, it has a nearly-perfect one. For example, a Butler County, Alabama, study among juvenile offenders who were exposed to part of the Criminon program showed that only 2% of the pilot group were recidivist; while the return rate in a control group not on the program duplicated the national average of 80%.
As Washington and local governments gear up for the prison rush of the year 2000, we the citizens and taxpayers are left with one very simple proposition: Either rehabilitate the criminal, and widely establish programs such as Criminon to prevent the factors that cause crime, or start investing heavily in prison construction companies. The choice is ours. Will we have a lawless society where honest citizens are further hampered by the restrictions of a police state, or will we have a nation built upon literacy, morals and decency?
As L. Ron Hubbard wrote, with Criminon and related programs, we have the ability to return to man “some of the happiness, some of the sincerity, some of the love and kindness with which he was created.” Now it is simply a question of implementing such programs widely enough to handle the problem and once again live in a world where children can safely play and men can walk without fear.