Decades ago we built a new Law Enforcement Center that conformed to the dictates of the Department of Corrections. Now it no longer passes inspection.
Criminals vary greatly in how they think, and we must now sentence to the specific character disorder and not the crime, as we have for centuries. We must lock up those we fear, not to change them but to protect us, and we must concentrate on nonviolent offenders with antisocial behavior so they can function in today’s society.
County officials are planning on meeting this spring to make a decision that will affect all us taxpayers for years to come. Criminal justice is a complicated, counterintuitive science. Before they make this decision they should consider:
• Be careful of relying upon good old “common sense” which normal law abiding citizens use every day to keep them out of trouble. Criminals do not think like normal people — that’s why they are criminals. What works on normal responsible people generally does not work on chronic offenders.
• Normal law-abiding people can commit crimes of poor judgment, and they can be very serious; however, with normal people the criminal act is “out of character,” while with chronic criminals their acts are “in character.” Psychologists call this “internal lexis of control” or “external lexis of control.” To put this in simple everyday language it means “I won’t do this because it is wrong” as compared to “I’ll do this if no one [meaning police, probation officer, witnesses etc.] is looking and I won’t get caught.” Any correction officer or judge can easily make this distinction by examining the history of the offender, the types of crimes committed, education and employment achievements, interviews with family, friends and those who have personally dealt with the offender.
• An offender who has developed a conscience and understands responsibility, and knows right from wrong, will self-correct. A few days in jail or juvenile detention are all that is needed. We don’t need a new jail to accomplish this result.
• The chronic offenders who clog our jails and prisons have character flaws that are easily recognized: They have never developed a normal conscience or learned how to be responsible; they consistently make foolish choices, act impulsively, don’t foresee consequences of their acts; have low self-worth and they mask their inadequacies with tough-guy images. They make excuses and blame outward, rarely inward; they repeat the same mistakes; fail to live up to commitments; and let everyone down — including themselves. They lack guilt and remorse. They do not change, no matter how long they are jailed. In fact, imprisonment makes them worse, because we collect a bunch of losers who think alike who then reinforce each others’ erroneous losing character traits; the result is that they learn how to become “smarter” criminals. These types of offenders endure jail time without changing because they never learned honesty or responsibility. They cannot return to a former responsible self (rehabilitation) because that self never existed. They need extensive cognitive training by a cognitive-trained correction officer to teach them why they keep getting into trouble, how they differ from normal people and what they must do to make it in normal society and learn what character traits they should have but never acquired during their childhood and adolescent years. Teaching must be done in a group or classroom setting, be it at a half-way house, or a meeting room in the jail building. We don’t need a new jail for this result; our old one or a remodeled one will suffice.
• The common chronic offenders described above do not need cell blocks except for a quick few days’ wake-em-up calls when they fail to cooperate or re-offend. America leads the world in locking up our fellow citizens: we are only five percent of the world population yet we house 25 percent of all the world’s inmates.
• We should all study the Norwegian correction system that is the most successful in the world and by far the most lenient. They concentrate on helping, rehabilitating and healing inmates, not punishment, revenge and dehumanizing. Their methods are living proof it works. Only 16 percent re-offend, compared to 76.6 percent American inmates who are rearrested within five years.
• That leaves us with the violent psychopaths and the sociopaths who do need to be in prison — not local jails. But we must quit locking up the mentally ill, and support our Drug Court for the chemically dependent.
So county officials must consider that we Americans have an ingrained, puritanical belief that wrongdoing must be followed by revenge. We falsely believe if we make life miserable enough for offenders, they will never return. Judges believe in punishment because it works on them; they also know voters favor punishment over leniency, but taxpayers pay dearly for this false sense of security. The Department of Corrections will likely continue to insist that we treat too many offenders as long-term lock-ups according to their dictates. And Minnesotans will pay the price, in money and human life.