By William J. Morgan Jr.
Ronald Reagan said it best of the “unfree": “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
People make choices for the better or the worse; inmates, apparently, choose the worse and multiple times, in most cases.
Inmates are wards of the state, meaning that they cannot control their behavior. When does society say enough and throw these people away? We never do that because we believe in the inherent goodness in people although, they have shown, time and again, that they have thrown away their own dignity, decency and respect.
As a civilized society our only option is to keep miscreants away from law-abiding society and do our best to rehabilitate.
When inmates are incarcerated, they receive rehabilitative programming for a few reasons: first, to see the error of their ways and address personal problems and responsibilities; second, to appreciate a work ethic; finally, to learn structure. When inmates work in prison, it is for the upkeep or the sustainability of the facility. If that means “back-breaking work,” then so be it. If it means little pay for work, one must remember that society is also paying for the food, housing, medical care, etc., for incarcerated offenders.
Race has nothing to do with incarceration. Catch words like “disproportionately” and “disparity” are tossed around like a baseball. Most people have no idea what those words mean. What we never hear is the phrase of “personal responsibility” when it comes to crime and incarceration. Crime is a personal issue and not the fault of society. We need to break crime down to its lowest level and place the blame on the offender rather than a systematic problem.
As conscientious, justice-loving Americans, we must remind inmates that they hurt their victims, families, their own families, themselves, and society as a whole by being incarcerated. The hedonistic calculus dictates that the rational being weighs the consequence of an act versus the reward. The great majority of inmates are rational and calculating; therefore, he or she must appreciate not only the pleasure of the criminal act but the pain associated with that choice.
Being incarcerated may not be a choice, rather, a product of actions that do not serve the greater good. What does serve the greater good is incarceration. The goal of incarceration is not to become a better criminal but to become a productive member of society. It is a choice.
William J. Morgan, Jr., Ph.D., is an associate professor of criminal justice at Erie Community College.