How should a kid who commits increasingly worse crimes be sentenced? How, more generally, should we respond to wrongdoing? Here’s my challenge to you: In my thought experiment, you can’t answer “prison.”
Given that constraint, what punishment should this kid receive? Here are our goals: We want to respond to wrongdoing so as to ensure that victims are made whole, that society is made whole, and that the wrongdoer, too, becomes whole and, having paid recompense, is prepared to contribute productively to society.
Does your mind draw a blank? If so, you are like most of us, accustomed to a system that thinks incarceration is the only way to respond to wrongdoing.
In the United States, 70 percent of our criminal sanctions consist of incarceration. That’s why it’s all we can think of. But a world that operates without an extensive reliance on prison is not a utopia; it is only a plane ride away. In Germany, incarceration is used for 6 percent of sanctions; in the Netherlands, it’s 10 percent, according to a 2013 Vera Institute report comparing our criminal-justice system with theirs.
Germany and the Netherlands rely predominantly on fines, linked to the offender’s ability to pay, and “transactions” or community sanctions — for instance, work orders that benefit the community, or training orders, or a combination. Halfway houses connect residential oversight with supervised work opportunities, which can be connected to paying restitution to victims and the community. The penal systems are built around the principles of rehabilitation, re-socialization and “association.” This is the idea that a criminal sanction is more likely to result in a wrongdoer’s successful reentry to society if it works to strengthen, not damage, the wrongdoer’s positive connections to family and community.
If we are to undo mass incarceration, we have to envision viable alternatives to incarceration.
From the Washington Post.