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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Rehab Scam

Citizens should feel duped by the public language on crime. I have in front of me a newspaper report (National Post, today) advising “Fewer Teens Given Jail Sentences.” The first reaction is, “Oh good, there must be less crime these days.” But then I read that Canada’s new “Youth Criminal Justice Act” (framed by our former liberal government to replace its own former “Young Offenders Act”) has had the effect of “a dramatic plunge in the number of teens serving time in detention centres as a result of a new focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment for young offenders.” For the period 2003-04 the number of offenders sentenced to detention centres “fell” 44% from 8,356 to 4,651. For starters, this tells us that there are 3,705 youths among us who would normally have been charged by police and immediately deprived of their liberties for, say, 6 months to a year and, at the least, unable to re-“offend” during that period. Take note: the official Act now speaks of “justice” rather than “offending” as if to hide from the public with marketing spin the fact that this is really about attacks on society. (And forget the word “youth.” There are very few skirts to be seen. These are overwhelmingly young men in the prime of their testosterone-pumped adolescence.)

At any rate, if the justice implied is to mean anything, surely it must speak of righting wrongs, that is, of just deserts, of repayment to society, of restoring the unbalancing of justice that occurs with every crime. But how does a 17 year-old, 6-foot-three youth who can bench-press three hundred pounds and has been charged with assault, repay society? By his willingness to be rehabilitated, you say? Language again: you cannot force someone to “be rehabilitated.” Indeed, there should be no passive tense used for anything that requires an active and willing participant. So on this permit me two cynical comments. In his terrific book Inside the Criminal Mind, the American psychologist Stanton Samenow, who began as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal promoter of rehab as a response to crime, explains how he slowly changed and opted for public safety via incarceration first, along with rehab, maybe, in the very few cases where there is some hope of success. But after a lifetime of effort he concludes baldly: “you cannot rehabilitate someone who has never been habilitated in the first place.” In other words, children in whom the hard moral truths of life have never been instilled in the first place are likely to spend the rest of their lives without ever believing or feeling those truths. So Samenow urges us to face this hard truth once and for all: what typifies so many of today’s young criminals is an almost complete absence of human feeling, or empathy, or concern for right and wrong. Experienced young criminals, he warns, have spent years seeing the world around them like a coldly executed chess game. To them , other people are like pieces on the board to be moved around for advantage. This makes beating them up and stealing from them a whole lot easier.

To have been habilitated by your parents, religion, and society means to have absorbed the universal moral lessons of humanity so deeply that whenever tempted to do evil, a little voice, a conscience, says “don’t do it. It’s wrong.” But you can’t rehabilitate kids who have never heard that voice, nor even the words. After all, it’s hard to learn such words from your parents if they never speak them, or are never home, or have left you when you were a baby. So I am not, and Samenow is not saying we shouldn’t try to teach them what they have never been taught. But he is saying the situation is a little like the cute goslings or ducklings hatching from their eggs that immediately start following their mother around because she is the first thing they see moving that seems to care about them. If a human is the first thing they see, they will even follow the human. For life. It’s an instinct that is imprinted on them from the first moment they trip out of their cracked and forlorn little shells. In other words, there is a very short learning “window” in which this emotional imprinting must take place, or it never will. The modern worry is that despite our best efforts, kids who have missed the human “morality window” in their childhood may earnestly be taught to mouth words like “it is wrong to beat other people up,” or “it is wrong to steal.” They may even learn to speak the words with what seems like true feeling. But most of them do not feel anything at all except an inner delight that they have just stumbled on another chess-piece, a set of words to learn that will get the right reaction from the officers and therapists they want off their backs.

Someday we may come to the realize that the modern penchant for rehabilitation rather than tough punishment, repayment to society, righting the balance of justice, and so on, is in fact a psychological scam we have suffered upon ourselves to assuage our collective guilt for the type of morally weak society we have created, but for which we continue to deny responsibility. The option for rehab as a solution to crime is an administrative expression of that denial. Seems to me that if we want ducklings and goslings that will follow us around instead of attacking us, we have to be there and give them the right message when it matters, for if we fail to habilitate them in the first place, it is unlikely we will ever rehabilitate them.

Posted by williamgairdner on March 29, 2006 | Permalink


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No big suprise, the lib-left weenies have always been soft on crime and always will be. The Young Offenders Act was a piece of crap and the Youth Criminal Justice Act is an even bigger piece of crap.

Posted by: Proud to be a Redneck | 2006-03-29 4:35:11 PM

The left liberal media,entertainment industry and governments have made true morals and ethics much weaker.Parents should consider sending their kids to Sunday school, where upon solid good morals and ethics are often taught. Better for children and society too.

Posted by: Larry | 2006-03-30 7:08:00 AM

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