Thursday, October 06, 2005

Are ex-cons treated like normal citizens?

I was going to write about this way back when in early September, but as you know, Katrina captured my attention for a while so this got put on the back burner. But I just saw something interesting posted that really bothered me and restarted my anger about this subject. So, now I’m trying again to write about this.

Ok, here goes. In this country we have a legal system, while some say it has its problems, that is pretty good. It is fair, it is just, it is very hard to game and cheat and in general, it’s better than most others. Whether it works perfectly is up for debate, but it is what we have and as Americans we are obligated to follow along with it until it changes in some ways.

One of the main concepts in our legal system is that once a person is found guilty and served his or her time in jail or provided restitution as required by the court, they get their civil rights back and are supposed to be treated as a regular citizen again. The thought being essentially that you commit a crime, you do the time and all debts to society have been paid off. This concept doesn’t work as well as it should. One sees all the time that ex-cons can’t find jobs because companies discriminate (you’ve all seen that question on your application about being convicted of a felony). I’m sure there are many other ways the system fails ex-convicts but not being one myself, nor not knowing any, I can’t outline many other examples to you.

I will speculate that the reason for this discrimination is that we as a society don’t believe that convicts are in fact rehabilitated after their prison term. I would tend to agree with this statement which to me points to the system being flawed in some way. This post isn’t about fixing the entire system, but I want to point out that I do feel the system isn’t perfect but it’s what we have so we should follow it until it is changed. So in my above example, there should be no “Have you been convicted of a felony?” questions. If you disagree with me, then maybe you should be lobbying to change the system instead of finding ways to subvert it by discrimination.

Ok, so my thought is that the more we subvert the system, the more the system becomes irrelevant so instead of the ultimate goal of having a good system, we have a bad system with a complex and cloudy layer of subversive activities and processes on top of it. Not an ideal situation in the abstract and a horrible situation in reality for any person caught up in it.

And it is with that thought that I introduce the type of ex-con I feel is being mistreated. I know this is going to possibly offend a bunch of people but if you try and understand my point, you will see that I’m not supporting their crimes only the way they are treated after they have been rehabilitated by the system. The ex-cons I’m talking about are convicted sex offenders.

Please read the following article from time magazine (Sept 5, 2005, p72-73 by Anita Hamilton. Can be found here online for $1.99). I’ve seen similar stuff in the news over the years and haven’t said anything but it’s time to now. Especially in light of local events like this one.

I completely think that rape and pedophilia are crimes and I think that people who have been convicted of these crimes should be punished. But I differ with people in that I think that these people have reasons why they committed their crimes that are far more complex than being simply born evil. I believe these people need therapy more than prison and I believe these people in most cases can be rehabilitated. The system isn’t perfect and it needs to be changed but that doesn’t mean that we should ostracize these people and not let them live anywhere. In most cases its been shown that repeat sex-offender rates are significantly lower than non sex-offenders so perhaps the system is actually working for them (I would imagine that is because they do, in most cases, receive some therapy). Also the definition of sex-offender is very vague in American society. Consensual statutory rape for example or public exposure like Pee Wee playing with himself in the X-Rated skin theatre.. Are these people to be put in cages and locked away for their entire lives? Do we really have much to fear from them?

I’ve also written in the past how I think it’s unfair to entrap people and ruin their lives over the internet for sex “crimes”. In most cases, these are people who have found safe ways to act out their fantasies and they are stalked and trapped by an overzealous police who can care less bout intent and would rather make headlines by taking down some upstanding citizen.

In either case, I don’t think it’s fair to treat people who In The Eyes of The Law have paid their price for their offenses. In my mind, the system says that they should be treated as regular citizens and not ostracized with Scarlett Letters across their chests. Read the Time magazine article and see if you really should be buying into the hype of the big bad sex-offender and we really should be treating these people as poorly as we do. Did you know that “80% of child-sex-abuse victims know their attackers”? That means only one thing “they’re usually relatives or friends, not schoolyard stalkers” Should we be treating these people like this?

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Before you write me or comment on this, I totally agree that the system has to be changed. Not only for sex-offenders but for drug addicts as well. These are medical problems and should be handled in a different way. I totally agree that dropping a person into prison with medical problems is hardly a solution if you want to rehabilitate them. We need to make the system better, but we also can’t let the system get any worse. Please, you may not agree with me, but at least see that I’ve got an opinion on something and I’m actually thinking and I actually want to make the world better. That’s more than most people in this country.

6 comments:

Ryan said...

Ah, yes, sex offenders. You should rent The Woodsman (2004) with Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. It addresses that exact issue and is some pretty powerful stuff. Clearly there are no easy answers here.

trace said...

As a Philly movie, I have it on my list. I know there are no easy answers but we as a society have to try to actually attempt to find them.

Yael said...

I don't know how it is in the US, but at least in Israel the repeat-rate for convicted sex offenders is huge (don't know the exact number, but I remember it's big). By "repeat-rate", btw, I mean the percentage of convicted sex offenders that, once released, commit sex crimes again.

I don't know what I'm trying to say by this, except that I understand the desire to not be around people who have committed crimes, done time, and been released (especially since, as you said, for most of them prison is not exactly a place where they learned to correct their evil ways - and this is a flaw in the system).

I think I feel like people who have committed crimes against *people* (sex crimes, violence, murder, etc.) have a fairly high chance of doing it again once they get out of prison. Going through some psychological rehabilitation program no doubt helps, but it can't be 100%. And then the thought is: am I willing to give these people a chance (for example, to live next door to me), knowing there's even a small chance that one of them could do it again? Obviously, you never know where crime will come from, and there are a lot of new criminals all the time, but if I can decrease the odds by distancing myself from those who have done it before, shouldn't I? (actually, that's what prison is there for in the first place...)

These are just random thoughts... I don't have any clear-cut opinion on the issue because, as you both said, it's complicated...

trace said...

Yup. I agree.. Most probabaly wouldn't want to live next to an ex-con/offender. In that case, since it is they that are uncomfortable, it is they that should move. I totally don't think that it is right for us to legislate that the ex-con (who we have deemed fit by the law) should be forced to live in some geographical box that we have come up with for them.. They did that in prison

Anonymous said...

I live next to a con who was convicted of gun felonies. Guess who the victum was? Yeah, and now I have to live next to this piece of s... I hope he never gets a job and lives under a bridge with the rest of the trolls. Better that than have him next to me. Anyone who feels sorry for these people needs to be on the other end of their crimes and then see how you feel about it. Until then, you are only speaking from a place of ignorance. The system is flawed because they let these animals out early because of over crowding and costs. Maybe if Mister wonderful next door does it again they'll take it more seriously next time. I just hope who ever has to deal with him is lucky enough to get out alive.

Anonymous said...

You all down on ex-cons,YES sex offenders should be locked up for good.But as an ex-con myself non-violent drug case,I served my time and completed my parole.Yes I screwed up,Yes I deserved what I got.But as they say "I paid my debt to society" I now have my rights to vote back,but I still cant get low housing for myself and my family because of it.how is that fair.I paid my debt to society.But yet it will never let me over come it.I'm thankful for 1 thing that did come out of all this ,was that my children learned from my mistake and have grown to be law abiding citizen.Thank you for listening with the hopes that you will look at ex-cons with a little different attitude.WERE NOT ALL BAD SEED's