Because I live in a red state and am part of a conservative leaning (to put it mildly) family, I’m constantly trying to dig into to the deepest roots of our political differences. With economic views, it’s not that profound. Most of the conservatives I know believe in trickle-down economics. They believe that giving tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations will create more jobs for the middle class. There are plenty of economists who support that as well so I don’t dig too deep in that one. They also have faith in a capitalism that will regulate itself and therefore does not need government regulation. That’s fine too. I don’t have to dig too deep to locate the differences in the way we look at the world. This is easy to “agree to disagree” because we can all find research and data to support our theories and there’s not a whole lot of differences necessarily in how we view humanity.
But with more social issues, it’s harder because when you get to the basis of the differences I have a hard time finding a kind “agree to disagree” foundation. I’ve been thinking a lot about criminal justice reform lately and how many of my conservative neighbors differ so vastly on how they look at crime from where I do. Whether you are talking about allowing police departments to buy military weapons and gear, or whether you are talking about maximum penalties for non-violent crimes, I feel like the root of the two sides of these arguments are so very different.
Now – with violent crimes there’s not a huge difference. Both sides tend to agree on punishments. But when we’re talking about non-violent crimes, there are drastic differences.
With me, I look at a non-violent criminal and I think of prevention (Are there environmental causes that our society needs to address?) and rehabilitation (How can we prevent this person from repeating the same mistakes in the future?) because to me – this leads us down a path of creating less crime overall in our society.
With people on the other side – they look at punishment as deterrents. If you punish, they won’t do it again. Or if you punish, their friends won’t do the same thing.
And this is me putting it kindly. I’ve heard discussions about crime that refuse to see any humanity in non-violent criminals. I’m trying my best to not look at those conversations as defining the norm.
I look at someone with a non-violent arrest and felony conviction and I look at the environment that created them. (Poverty, education, family, etc) Then I look at how to set them up after they’ve accepted their punishment to how they can become a productive member of society. If we can decrease poverty, we can decrease crime. If we can increase education, we can decrease crime. If we can allow a person to leave behind past mistakes and not carry a non-violent felony label preventing them from finding good jobs in the future, we can prevent recidivism. If we prevent recidivism, we keep families together and a stable family/home environment prevents crime.
I’ve seen a lot of people defending President Trump’s decision to allow police departments to purchase military gear as allowing local police to “keep us safe” and I can’t help but think about how dumping funding into our education system and raising minimum wages so it’s actually a living wage would help “keep us safe” in a more organic and community building way.
I don’t know. I just struggle with the root differences in the “PUNISH!” verses “PREVENT!” views on a lot of our criminal justice issues lately. I look at a boy with a wrecked family life, living in poverty, and then kicked out of schools for behavioral problems who then has no where to turn but the crime in the streets and wonder…What can we do to prevent this path? Instead of Punish that man and then cripple his chances of becoming a productive member of society even after his punishment is served.
I just feel like our conversations are not going to prevention anymore. What can we do to help stabilize poor communities and broken families? Can we maybe adjust our budget so we can put some of the military dollars into building a truly equal education system where the poorest of our cities have the same opportunities as the most wealthy? Can we acknowledge system racism in our court systems and can stop punishing the poor who can’t pay court fines with jailtime?
The only conversations we seem to be having lately are about punishment and policing and not about prevention. And I find it frustrating.