Students Thinking About Crime and Punishment

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Recently, students were asked to  write a “Thinking about Crime and Punishment” paper for my criminology course. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“We as society are constantly putting labels on individuals, and we are all human beings no matter what our social status is, background, race, or sexuality, we all are the same.”

“…But the majority of people who go to prison end up back there at some point.  I think one thing that needs to be changed throughout our prisons is to focus their attention more on helping these criminals get better.”

“We as a nation seem to be so good at incarcerating people but we fail to realize that we need to correct them and not leave them locked up. This became fact to me when I went to see the “A Day at Stateville” play that was portrayed by actual inmates who were there and who served 30 or more years in the Illinois prison system. Hearing of the living conditions and of what these individuals have gone through is mind boggling.”

“When I went to the Prison tour this semester I felt a sense of shame; not because I was at a prison learning about the corrections system or why people were committing all of these crimes, but I felt like I was degrading these prisoners by looking at them through protective barriers and through thick glass walls like looking at animals in a zoo.”

“We as the next generation of law enforcement really need to show compassion to the people we arrest because we are there to discipline them for their mistakes in hopes of preventing them from doing it again. We should also see this as an opportunity to serve our public and the people we care about and it should not give the perception that cops are the ones being served by their community.”

“Many American proudly proclaim that this is the greatest country to live in– the land of the free, but are either of these statements really true? America is ranked number sixteen in quality of life according to the Social Progress Imperative and number one in rate of incarceration (R. Walmsely, 2011). Further, the firm IPSOS Mori ranked 14 countries on their ignorance about social statistics and the United States ranked second. None of those statistics lends support to the initial claims, but what is the solution?”

“A specific example was discussing drug testing for welfare. It wasn’t anything I had supported beforehand, but after being asked “Why do we think [or assume] poor people do drugs?” I realized that I had never thought critically about it before that. Also, to learn that in states where that policy has been implemented it was ineffective which bolsters the “ignorance in social statistics” ranking. I’ve seen many Facebook “shares” supporting that policy, but no empirical evidence to back it up. This is an example of how ignorance can have a domino effect in the criminal justice system.”

“This brings me to the second important lesson that has influenced how I think about crime – compassion and how we treat others. The format of the class – teacher’s attitude, class discussion, etc…- facilitated a lot relation of lessons to real life. The two strongest examples were the prison tour and the Changing Mind stage reading. Putting faces to offenders and re-humanizing them and also bringing up the question “when is the debt to society paid?” Many people simply want to “lock criminals up and throw away the key”, but don’t want to think about the repercussions of this. Watching documentaries on how powerful different environments can be  in influencing criminal behavior – such as poverty or growing up in violence ridden streets – demonstrates that maybe we shouldn’t just be asking “What does this criminal owe society?”, but “Has society failed these individuals? And if so, what do we owe them?” This is probably a very controversially thing to suggest – that society may owe criminals, but with the current system I think it’s a fair question. I believe in justice, I believe in being punished for wrongdoing, but I also believe in second chances, redemption, and helping out your fellow human.”

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