When a person is caught and convicted of a time, a dread sets in, especially if it is their first arrest and conviction, The current prison system places these novice criminals in with hardened criminals. In these cases, the novice learns how to become better at committing a crime and in some cases, not getting caught in the process. Prison hardens them.
By C J Oakes
In many cases, the novice criminal either did something foolish, fell in with the ‘wrong’ crowd, or has not yet felt the sting of their choices. The judge may believe they can be rehabilitated, saved to lead more productive lives, but the options are limited. Often, the law requires either probation or a sentence of prison. There is no in between. So, the judge has a choice.
If the Judge chooses to send the young convict to prison, he knows that most likely, that the young person will become more of a criminal. If he chooses instead to put him on probation, he knows that more than likely, he will also become hardened in his course because no fitting punishment was meted out. Damned if he does and damned if he does not.
But what if there were a third option, one in which the first-time offender or the one who is sincerely contrite may find alternatives to a life of crime. An option where he/she will be surrounded by others who may have been raised in a rough lifestyle but want to better themselves. If such an option were available, why wouldn’t a judge use it?
The Role of Values and Motives When Sentencing a Stage One Offender
The values which govern a person’s life are the same values which should be considered when sentencing. On the surface, this idea seems counter to the goals of society because every location tends to set laws according to value norms. This is why a state such as Texas has strong gun rights legislation whereas a state such as Illinois leans the opposite direction. Simply put, more people lean one direction or the other in each state; the law reflects these values.
So, why would it be better to sentence according to the values of the individual rather than society?
Values differ from one place to another, from one culture to another, and from person to person. However, most people hold to the values of their upbringing. These are usually collective values, the values that are embraced by the primary cultural group to which one belongs.
Thus, there can be national values, state values, local values, neighborhood values, family values, and a plethora of combinations. Most people align closely to their local, neighborhood, and family values than they do to national or state. Yet, the laws having the greatest impact on their lives are Federal and state. Sentencing someone according to the laws (and hence, values) of a culture they do not share is unjust. It is a sure way to make anyone with any degree of independence and autonomy resist.
If we sentence people according to their values, we judge them according to themselves. More to the point, we can adjust the correctional center into which they are placed to provide counter-education designed to bring them more in alignment with state and national values.
Following is an essay titled, To Handle a Thief. In it, a crime which is common to nearly every culture is considered. Such common ground can provide the basis for a new way of sentencing those convicted of a crime.
To Handle a Thief
Laws pertaining to theft are nothing new: Virtually every nation that ever wrote laws included some meant to protect the public from unscrupulous individuals and groups. In most jurisdictions in America, theft of anything of any value is a crime. However, as any patrolman or judge will attest, catching a thief to prosecute is difficult. In most cases, thieves to uncaught; thefts go unpunished. However, an odd paradox presents itself in some circumstances.
Cash Businesses and Theft
One such circumstance is the carnival business. Most carnivals consist of a core unit owned by one person or family. The core unit usually consists of rides and perhaps some food and game booths. Another part of the carnival consists of support owners. Support owners usually own games and food stands and hire either local help or travelers to work in their booths. Travelers are generally loyal to the owners, but local help ranges from the worker who takes (steals) enough from the apron to eat and buy drinks to the worker who takes half of what is brought in. Because carnivals are a mostly cash business, theft must be dealt with when discovered.
Although each situation demands a different response, one may initially be inclined to say that theft is theft; each thief must be dealt with alike. This is the moral dilemma faced daily on the carnival midway. No person running an honest business believes in keeping an employee who is stealing. However, when the thief is the commissioned operator of a game, is likely a local person, and making money for the owner, the situation is not as black and white as one might believe.
To explain, consider the commissioned nature of the job. Sales positions generally pay commission based upon production. Such workers are paid a percentage of what they produce. At times, such workers will skim from the apron to buy food of drinks. Although this is not permitted and if caught some punitive measure must be taken, it is not as pressing an issue as the later. This is because small losses are part of the nature of any business. However, when a worker takes half or something near that, the game operates on a loss. Any business owner will attest that losses cannot continue or the enterprise will fail. In these cases it is imperative to determine how much is taken and respond in the way that is best for the business.
The Dilemma of the Thief
This is the dilemma. Consider this example: A local woman at a fair was clearly stealing from the game, in more ways than one. The first instance was clear — she was seen pocketing cash by several people on several occasions. In the second instance, she was cheating in the game she worked to create winners of friends and family. As this was a game of skill and chance, won neither regularly nor frequently, the sudden spike in winnings caught the attention of the owners. However, at the same time, the local woman was turning in more money to the operation than any of the regular workers, so the owner faced a decision.
Initially, it would appear that the only moral thing to do is fire the woman. However, she did not seem to be a bad person or serious thief. In addition, should the owner fire the woman, there could be repercussions because she is local. Angry family members could return and disrupt business operations or she could equally dissuade friends from playing that owner’s games. The moral choice could be bad for business, which would be bad for the owner’s family, which would be immoral. A higher morality must win out; the owner decided to try something else.
The manager of the games took some time to enter the game to help out. Explaining his reason, the manager let the other workers in the game know that the game was losing money because of the high stock losses. Explaining the costs of the stock involved, the manager reminded, especially the suspected thief, of his own stake in the game and the need to buy diapers for his toddler son. Guilt is often a good motivator.
Taking the matter further when the opportunity presented, the manager also made it known that there had been some instances in the past whereby people thought stealing would be easy. He explained how difficult it is with many eyes on the midway (all owners and traveling workers look out for each other and watch for such things); add some fear of getting caught into the mix and the manager’s work was complete. The manager left the game and for the duration of the fair, theft ceased in that game and it finished the week with a small profit. Best of all, the worker changed her ways and worked the game the following year with no troubles.
Everyone faces a moral dilemma related to theft and honesty nearly every day. From something as simple as a friend asking how her outfit looks to finding a wallet full of cash, when it concerns money, many find difficulty in deciding how to do the right thing. Virtually every nation has created laws to address blatant cases of theft and some have even addressed some of the finer aspects of theft such as securities and medical fraud. However, as the example demonstrated, hard and fast rules or laws cannot adequately address every situation. At these times, it is best to examine the whole situation then respond in the best way possible for all involved.
Not Every Crime Needs to be Punished for Justice to be Served
As shown in the essay above, not all who commit a crime needs to be punished in order to be persuaded to cease criminal behavior.
B. F. Skinner was the inventor of the Skinner Box and the father of operant conditioning. He demonstrated that humans learn via positive and negative punishments and reinforcements. In essence, when something is added or taken from a person, whether the change is welcome or unwanted, change in behavior results. That is ideally the purpose of prison in some cases.
Recall that the goals of sentencing include rehabilitation, restoration, and deterrence. Each of these goals can be accomplished using less punitive means, as shown in the essay. Doing so is not easy in every case, but with some creativity, behaviors can still be modified using an alternate to the traditional prison.
Stage One offenders are those who the courts deem may have their behaviors changed through a strictly-controlled regime of learning based on the science of B.F. Skinner. There would be a number of facility and control systems in place such as used already with community corrections, drug courts, and probation. The key difference is that even criminals who would currently be sentenced to prison would be diverted to a different system — a system of behavior modification.
This would be partly voluntary/partly court ordered. If the courts deemed a person viable for this program it could be offered. If the person was open to making positive changes in their life, they could enter the program. The alternative would be a minimum security prison which would be largely like prisons today. There would be opportunities for change, but everything would be on the individual. Change or not.
This brings us to Stage Two Offenders/Correctional Facilities which will be discussed in the next chapter.