Redefining The Thin Line Between Victims and Offenders

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During the initial launch period of the book “How Would You Survive? The Incident, The Arrest, and Jail,” as anticipated, we noted several observations of public opinions including a strong audience that was extremely unsympathetic about the welfare of any individual that chose to commit a criminal offense. Certainly, it is not unreasonable to hold any offender accountable for the offenses that are discovered by law enforcement. Laws are in place for a classic reason.  That mere reason is that since the beginning of human existence, history has proven that everyone has the propensity to cause harm to their neighbor and/or their neighbor’s property in some way when faced with distressing conditions, negative influences, and irresistible temptations. 

Despite the universal tendencies, there remains a dividing line between two groups that have both been affected by an individuals incident. Victimized citizens, victim rights advocates, and policymakers stand across the line maintaining a firm stand in promoting a “tough on crime” ideology.  Although they certainly have the right to do so, they should take care that their support of subjecting offenders to the harshest sentence and conditions is not merely an emotional cry for retribution or motivated by political influence or affiliation, or prejudice. Why? Because as difficult as it may be for many of us to feel compassion for individuals that commit an offense against us or our neighbor, it is far easier than we may want to admit, to be lured, tempted, or compelled into a situation that pushes us across the line to the other side. We should not have to experience being on the other side of the line before we can have a two-fold perspective on crime reduction that entails both accountability and humane treatment.

Rather than recovering from the mindset that influenced their criminal actions and returning to the community renewed and confident in their ability to be productive citizens, too often they return to society “totally broken” still tarnished, shunned, underserved, and just a mental breakdown away transferring their trauma onto someone else.

They resent when the consequence is years of dehumanization

In contrast to the group of individuals that oppose sympathy for offenders, there stands the group on the opposite side of the line representing friends and relatives of offenders—some of which were previously members of the unsympathetic group.  They have also been adversely impacted by the spectacle of their loved one’s interaction with the law, and their resulting displacement. This crowd of kinsfolk accepts—when justified– that their relative’s behaviors require legal intervention; and, they understand that their relative needs help. What they resent is when the consequence is years of dehumanization that leaves their incarcerated family member or friend handicapped. Rather than recovering from the mindset that influenced their criminal actions and returning to the community renewed and confident in their ability to be productive citizens, too often they return to society “totally broken” still tarnished, shunned, underserved, and just a mental breakdown away transferring their trauma onto someone else.

Recidivism is “the act of continuing to commit crimes even after having been punished.” Recidivism is fueled by policymakers’ reluctance to invest the same concentration of resources allocated for an offender’s confinement as is needed for the offender’s restoration. Crime reduction is directly connected to the mental health of each of the nearly 2 million incarcerated individuals, regardless of their sentence length. There are some offenders (over 200,000) that judges and/or juries have determined are an indefinite safety risk to the community, yet oftentimes some have their sentences overturned or are exonerated. They coexist with the remaining approximately 1 million 700 thousand offenders destined to rejoin us in either our homes or communities after having quote-unquote ‘paid their debt.’ Most of them will return with the hope of redeeming themselves in society. A plausible formula for crime reduction is investing in the same concentration of resources used for an offender’s restoration as was provided for the offender’s confinement.  We should not have to wait until policymakers, public safety, and correctional administrators personally experience being on the other side (connected to an offender) before prison reform is an authentic priority. Improving public safety and reducing recidivism are ‘one and the same.’ Until we have enforced mandates requiring universal rehabilitation strategies that have been proven to be effective (covering everything from jail living conditions to transitional services) and making them a part of our country’s culture, we will always lead the world in incarcerations. Redefining the line is to view the line (the divide) as a door swinging both ways that each of us, with or without fault, may one day pass through and still be regarded as human.

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A.J. Crenshaw, III

A. J. Crenshaw, III is the author of his debut book, How Would You Survive? The Incident, The Arrest, And Jail, and CEO of his premiere publishing company Acuité Media. He has spent two decades as a public servant, motivational speaker, mentor and counselor for historically underserved youth and their families, and an advocate for returning citizens.

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14 Responses

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