Some Reflections on Crime & Punishment & Love

Do you remember the fire in the Chilean prison that killed 26 inmates about ten years ago? I although that was a crime, I remember thinking at the time that the incident bore chilling testimony to the lack of understanding and, therefore, preparedness of most law-abiding citizens and their leaders to deal with those persons deemed to be offenders. The inmates had set fire to their own mattresses and blankets to protest overcrowding in the prison and many of them did not live to know that their campaign was successful as there will now be a move to double the number of prisons in the country.  Of course, an even better result would have been if their government had decided to increase the number schools and skills training facilities and then double the number of job opportunities in the country, but the result was what it was, so the rest of us just live with it.

This story of deaths arising from overcrowding and other problems in prisons is not unique to Chile. Indeed, we have had several incidents in Jamaica. We should try to move beyond simply recounting our stories about these occasions to get to a point where we can understand why they happen and how to prevent them.

Have you ever noticed how surprised you are when your child does something inappropriate? It seems to me that most societies take that view with its citizens. The truth is that if they didn’t then it would be a sad state of affairs as it would mean that we are all being treated as if guilty until proven innocent. Prisons exist as a place to warehouse persons who need to be told that there are some things that the society will not tolerate from its citizens. One of the things that we seem not to be able to tolerate is to throw good money after bad and spend what little we have building prisons instead of schools and hospitals.

Yet if we were proactive about the situation we would probably ask questions about the effectiveness of incarcerating people. Even with children, using punishment has not proved to be as effective as using positive reinforcement. Yet how does one positively reinforce a serial rapist or a contract killer? The answer probably lies somewhere in the argument that if someone had managed these people properly since babyhood then they wouldn’t have ended up in prison in the first place.

I have been thinking about this because of the reactions of the public to the shocking student knife attack and massacre a few days ago. The usual disassociating of self from the young men who commit these crimes cannot happen here. No one can abandon him as they did the South Korean who killed people at Virginia Tech about two years ago. He was South Korean even though he had spent most of his life in the United States – had he won a Nobel Prize he would have been an American… My point though is that some of the persons who responded to “Have Your Say” on the BBC at the time felt that his suicide wasn’t nearly enough punishment for his crime… so I guess that the state killing him would be a better deal than him killing himself… The truth is that the only winner there was death…

Yet again, the blaming of the situation on “immigration” and “lack of gun control” and even now, after a knife attack, the questions about the crime NOT involving a gun, has, in my opinion, missed the point entirely when these things happen… There are millions of immigrants who have contributed positively to the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada… indeed every country that receives immigrants is bound to do well out of them if these persons are left to thrive; because it is the nature of people that they try to do better for themselves in their new homes… the by-product of their hope syndrome… Taking the natural course of events the host country begins to get diminishing returns out of an immigrant family only in the third generation, not the first. The fact that the third generation can actually no longer be called immigrants also should not be missed.

I digress though, for me, although I do not know any of the persons who have died in any of these attacks perpetrated by our young people I must confess that I have felt a profound sadness at their passing… I have thought about the families and friends that these young men leave behind. To be sure I have wondered also about these young assassins’ families, and how they feel on first hearing about the mayhem that their relatives have perpetrated… Have you thought that they must surely experience the most grief of all – for not only have their sons and grandsons, their brothers and cousins and nephews and uncles caused pain to so many persons but these people can have no doubt now that their young loved ones were hurting too all along…

Nantsew ye.

About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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