Perhaps one of the most prevalent thoughts in American society is that criminals deserve what they get. There is this longstanding debate over whether or not the death penalty should still be applied to criminals. And seeing as how many states still practice this, it is obvious which side is winning this argument. Now I’m not asking here whether punishment fits the crime, per se. Sentencing laws are an entire issue on their own. What I would like to discuss is the social view on criminals.
Why do we put people in jail? Is it meant to be for punishment, or for rehabilitation. Which one works best to ensure that no future crimes are committed? I’m sure many people would love to be optimistic and say rehabilitation. But rehabilitation is not what goes on in prisons. For some prisoners, it feels like they are put through a “deprivation of liberty” (Ginnekin, Esther, Hayes, 2017). They feel like their whole lives are restricted, their freedom, their choice, their futures. Especially if they get out of prison, then the next big step is reforming their life by getting a job and starting over. But they can’t exactly just go about doing that, can they. There’s too much stigma around being a former convict. “How is my criminal record… being put behind me, if every time I have to apply for a job, I have to disclose it, considering that my actual criminal record has no bearing on the actual job that I’m actually applying for” (Ginnekin, Esther, Hayes, 2017).
In comparison to the treatment that they receive while they are finally released, the treatment that they have to endure while inside prison is astoundingly cruel. However society doesn’t even bat an eyelash at this because the social view of this is that the criminals deserve whatever punishment comes to them. Which is an understandable view for people who may have lost loved ones and such, but for society as a whole to not care about treatment of criminals, it is simply astounding.
Perhaps I am overstepping my bounds, but this topic is rather personal to me as my father was sent to prison a few years back on charges of second degree murder of a business associate of his. Of course such a crime is unforgivable and the man at fault certainly deserves the time he has to serve, but that doesn’t mean he should be treated like an animal once inside the prison system.
Let me give an example of what I am talking about on a social level. I would like to affect social change in the sense that we need to stop dehumanizing criminals. When my father was being put on trial, there was a lot of media buzz surrounding it. But they all spun the same story. That he was just another immigrant who came to this country to cause gun violence and take away the lives of hard working Americans. Never mind the fact that my father came here as a refugee after having his village bombed by Americans during the Vietnam War, personally watching his mother stabbed to death by soldiers, recovering enough to come to this country as a teenager, perfecting the language enough to get a bachelors in English, learning enough to get a masters in Buddhist studies, spending years as a monk, raising a family of his own out of poverty. No. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that he was a criminal. He was a bad guy who deserved to be punished. Anyone who saw the news would see an image of a monster painted before them. But anyone who knew him would say “Bruce? The Buddhist monk?”
Affecting social change pertaining to opinion on such a large scale would be rather hard. But like we saw with Rescue, if we aim to conduct research in such a manner as to target specific demographics, disseminate information in a widespread and easily consumable manner, then perhaps public opinions on criminals can change.
van Ginneken, Esther F. J. C., & Hayes, D. (2017). ‘just’ punishment? offenders’ views on the meaning and severity of punishment. Criminology & Criminal Justice: An International Journal, 17(1), 62-78. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1177/1748895816654204