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|Recycling is Not Always A Good Thing|
You see, the problem is that I have been around so long that I am starting to see the second and third series of recycling when it comes to “new” ideas. The other problem is that these ideas are a lot of things; but they are not new. They may have a new name but they are the same old-same-old. I love it when my daughter is talking about a “new” song that she heard. When I hear the “new” song, I recognize it as one that was written thirty or more years ago. I also usually recognize that it was performed better the first time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about recycling. We practice it in my house religiously. But, my understanding is that the point of recycling is to take something old and turn it in to something new. That is a great idea. To simply take something old, that has been dead and gone for many years, and introduce it as something new and innovative is a waste of time and just wrong. Most of these new and improved ideas were a flop the first time, so why do we think simply calling the same program something different will make it work better this time? But we do. And shortly after we do, we are reminded why it failed the first time and we stick it back in the box and wait a few years to bring it back out again. This is “next time is the charm” type of thinking…….alrighty then.
Law enforcement and the judicial system, with few exceptions, are one of the worst culprits of this recycling mentality. As I write this article, I have just read of someone introducing a program to put police officers back in the neighborhood so that everyone would know them by their name. Really, and this is new? My Dad, who was a police officer in the sixties, speaks often about such a program that they had. And, it was even new at that time. We’ve had different variations of it called community policing, Neighborhood Watch, the “Broken Windows” theories and on and on. Anyone who is worth their salt will understand that a good relationship between the cops and the community they serve is the best formula possible for effective crime prevention. It’s a no brainer, but it is not new and hasn’t been in a long time. While it might have been fairly new a couple of centuries ago, it is not now.
Our most recent legislative session in Georgia has introduced us to a new plan where we are going to start to look differently at the way we sentence convicted criminals. Sound familiar? It should. Even though this is one of the recycling issues that has been brought up and will be brought up again, it is being made to appear as new and novel. Truth is, over the years, we’ve gone back and forth with this one like the swoop of the pendulum. Everyone should go to jail and no one should go to jail. And, some variations of everything in between that has little to do with rhyme, reason, rehabilitation, or second chances and has everything to do with money. When times are good, there is a greater likelihood that you will go to jail and stay there, in fact, for a long time.
However, when times get tough, all of a sudden what you did was just not really that bad in the grand scheme of things. It was just this or just that, but certainly not deserving of actually being incarcerated. It was a victimless crime. No one was hurt. Everyone deserves a second, third and what the heck…a fourth chance. We’re already starting to hear these arguments and maybe all of it is true. But, if it is true, why wasn’t it true when the economy was booming? What about two strikes and you’re out? What about mandatory sentencing that even the judge has no say so on? What about lock them all up and throw away the key? What happened?
As much as I am not a fan of Bill Clinton, he had a pat answer to most things. And, one of his most well-known applies...“It’s the economy, stupid.” Harsh, but true. We simply can’t afford to keep as many people as we do in jail anymore. So we start looking at “non-violent” offenders and more creative supervision so that we don’t have to house them. According to the supporters of this new found (recycled) ideology as it relates to crime, we have electronic surveillance and intensive probation and all of the other “new” cures to incarceration; things will be different this time. They won’t. They just won’t. It never does. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at some crime stats and recidivism rates when a large program of this type was implemented in the late seventies. Anyone remember the economy then? Hmmmmmmmmm.
I don’t know, maybe our criminals are a kinder and gentler version of our perps from that time period. Most criminals don’t look at new found freedom as a way to turn their lives around. Some do…I should say very few do, but some will. The rest will look at their new found freedom as a way to find new found opportunities to commit crime. I wish it was different, but I also wish that I had a new Porsche 911. I don’t see signs of either one occurring. They’ll continue to commit crimes and I’ll continue to drive my 1998 GMC. Such is life. But, there is one thing for sure. When you see me in that old GMC, I will not try to convince you that it is actually a brand new Porsche; a recycled version that is better than the original. That stuff only works with people who are out of ideas and people who buy into it. In the meantime, you might want to lock your doors, at least until the economy picks up and we get that next great (recycled) idea.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Stan L. Hall is the former (retired) director of the Victim Witness Program for the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office.
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