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Fighting the Wrong Battle: Why America Should Drop its Love Affair with Harsh Punishment and Embrace Rehabilitation


In his State of the State address in early February, Gov. Larry Hogan discussed his desire to reduce gun violence in Maryland by doling out harsher punishments to offenders. His goal was admirable. His approach, not so much.

As Mitch Edelman, the vice-chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, so succinctly put it in his recent column, "That approach has been tried and found wanting."

Mr. Edelman is right, of course. Jurisdictions throughout the United States have been trying to get tougher on crime for decades. The results have been underwhelming, at best.

At first glance, the system sounds like it should work. By punishing convicts harshly, we will dissuade them from re-offending once they re-join society, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work that way. Statistics show that around 65-70% of prisoners will be charged with another offense within three years of their release. When this window is stretched to five years, the recidivism figure jumps to about 80%.

So, if fighting crime through increased prison sentences is not particularly effective, what is? Well, if you wish to reduce the crime rate, you must first address its root causes - poverty and poor education.

Most people don't become criminals because they want to, or because they think it will be fun. They do so because they have no other options. Because they grew up poor or never finished high school, they find it difficult to land a regular job with a comfortable wage. As a result, if they want to provide their family with food and shelter, they often have no choice but to pursue a life of crime.

Thus, the answer to America's recidivism problem is simple. Instead of using prison as an opportunity to punish and demean people, use it as a chance to rehabilitate them, educate them, and teach them about a better path in life. In doing so, we will be granting prisoners the ability to pursue a normal life upon their release - without the need to return to criminal activity.

The lawyers here at Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake have been helping Marylanders fight back against their criminal charges and avoid lengthy prison sentences for years. If you would like to have us represent you in your battle to clear your name, just give us a call at (410) 884-6100 to set up an initial consultation.