What do a Texas cop, a prison inmate, a Navajo chief justice, and a former gang member have in common? They all have developed ways of stopping crime at a time when the US justice system seems to be at a loss for solutions – and you can find their answers in this issue of IN CONTEXT.
In Japan; Kerala, India; among the ancient Hebrews and present day Navajo; and increasingly in the US justice system, there’s an approach to crime that works. The goal of that approach is to build and strengthen the bonds between people so that crimes are less likely to occur. When an offense does happen, the goal is to restore the relationships that were damaged by the crime. Offenders are held accountable for their actions and expected to make restitution to their victims and to the community. They are not written off or thrown away.
A second insight from the contributors to this issue is that in some cases, offenders may need to be isolated from those they might harm. But prison terms are often a poor (and very expensive) alternative to sanctions that permit the offender to maintain and strengthen ties to family and community, and to rebuild a sense of dignity and self-worth.
With the exception of the relatively small percent who will be executed or die behind bars, those now incarcerated are eventually all coming back to a community somewhere. When we put people in jail, we are removing most of their choices, but if we want to reduce repeat offenses, one choice we must continue to provide inmates is the choice to heal and to change.
Crime does not happen in isolation. In many ways, it is the shadow side of our culture’s glorification of materialism, power, and instant gratification. When the values of neighborliness, working for a common purpose, and caring for family are undermined by economic dislocation and community disintegration, the shadow values become the more predominant ones.
If we want to stop crime, we’ll need to turn away from costly "get tough" solutions that are ineffective for anything except getting votes. Instead, we’ll need to rebuild our communities and form a foundation that gives everyone the possibility of a good life. The benefits of doing so will ripple out into all aspects of building a humane and sustainable culture.