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Recidivism Today and in History

Mar 2, 2008
Recidivism is the tendency of criminals to return to crime after spending time in an institution for the reform of the criminal character. This term applies to both juvenile and adult delinquents, and is seen to be the major reason behind the soaring crime rates of late.

The problem is not a new one - it is not the product of today's violent television or stressful workplace. For the problem was with us at the turn of the twentieth century when these factors did not exist. Here are some examples from back then:

A Brooklyn man, aged twenty two, was released from the reformatory at Napanoch, N. Y. As is the custom he was presented with $10 on being discharged from custody, which he immediately invested in the purchase of a revolver. He then went directly to the house occupied by his mother and shot the woman dead. His explanation was that he had thought the matter over carefully during his last incarceration and determined to take revenge on his mother, as, thanks to her, he had passed sixteen of his twenty-two years in various reformatory institutions, including the Catholic Protectory, the House of Refuge and the Elmira reformatory.

In the Outlook of August, 1908, Harry Hall, treasurer of the Berkshire Industrial Farm, tells of a boy of twelve who had been convicted six times of what would be considered serious offenses in the case of an adult, the first conviction having been when he was only seven years old. He speaks of a lad who, on being sentenced to state prison, said to the judge: " I want to say that when I first went to the House of Refuge I was a good boy; when I came out I was a burglar." Unless we miss our guess this boy still had in him the soul of a militant reformer, who was not afraid to speak out for the public good.

Evidently the reformatory of the past has failed to reform, and it may be noted that in the first story quoted from Judge Lindsey the lad referred to speaks of being sent to "Golden", practically without a hearing, for his initial offence. "Golden" is the Colorado State Industrial school for boys, and the judge himself alludes to it as "that awful fate to every boy."

What is needed is a criminal correction system that works to rehabilitate the criminal, and turn him or her away from crime. Currently, our system is set up to punish and degrade only. But actual social statistics prove that criminals are more likely to commit crimes when they come out of prison than before. This is the reason why the amount of crime committed today is greater than at any other time in human history.
About the Author
Malcolm Blake is strongly opposed to cruel treatment of prisoners. He is also concerned with the civil rights of the innocent, and believes that only in an age of openness can we guarantee our survival. His article about the reverse telephone number search shows how to run a background check.
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