One of the most common definitions of insanity is doing exactly the same thing over again and expecting a different result.
In the late 1950s, while working as a correctional officer at San Quentin prison, I attended a conference in San Francisco on “New Horizons in Criminology.” The main speaker was H. E. Barnes, co-author with N. K.Teeter, of New Horizons in Criminology,” first published in 1943. The book had become the premier work in the field. Asked what the new horizons were, his response was, “There are no new horizons in penology.”
Ether the ultimate aim of prison was the reformation of the criminal, or the punishment of the criminal. The two conflicting views were present then and are present today. California in 1994, after a successful drive to frighten the general public about crime, established the most severe “three strikes law” in the United States.
Going to a RAND Corporation study, in 1994 higher education received 12 percent of the state budget, corrections 9 percent, other services 9 percent (which included controlling environmental pollution, management of parks, fighting of brush fires, regulating insurance and other industries). By 2002 higher education took the biggest hit, along with “ other services,” both of which were virtually eliminated from the state budget. Corrections on the other hand went from 9 percent to 18 percent of the budget.
The United States now has a $3 billion-a-year industry in private prisons. There are several studies showing no savings of the taxpayer dollar to the states by privatization.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington DC-based public policy organization, develops model legislation that advanced tough-on-crime legislation and free-market principles such as privatization of prisons. ALEC receives funding from the corrective Corporation of America and G.E.O., the two largest private prison systems in the United States. ALEC also receives funding from the billionaire Koch brothers. So, unfortunately, maybe Dr. Barnes was wrong, there may be new horizons in penology — an industry that needs crime, and criminals to sustain its business model.
The new horizons that are needed are new ways of treating social ills, such as the “drug court” model highlighted in the Tuesday, May 17, headline in the Lompoc Record. “For the past 11 years Judge Rogelio Flores, the senior judge in the county, has overseen the North County version of Drug Court, also known as the Substance Abuse Treatment Court, along with specialized courts for mental health and Proposition 36, another Judicial drug diversion program.”
We as a society must continue to educate ourselves about and support programs to break the circle of insanity based on fear, punishment, and revenge. With the recidivism rate between 70 percent to 80 percent, it is obvious that what we have going now is not working.
The human cost to individuals, families, and society as a whole is unacceptable. Yet we in Santa Barbara County turned down a solution to one small part of the overall problem, a strong program to reduce recidivism, coupled with a new North County Jail facility to ease overcrowding in the present jail, because we would have to pay for it with the small tax increase.
Next week we will look at one or two other ways that are working to change the status quo.
The Rev. Chuck Arnold is pastor of Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Vandenberg Village. He can be reached at 733-3333.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!