Political Compass #46: It is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate some criminals.

Many political debates here have included references to The Political Compass, which uses a set of 61 questions to assess one’s political orientation in terms of economic left/right and social libertarianism/authoritarianism (rather like the “Libertarian diamond” popular in the US).

And so, every so often I will begin a thread in which the premise for debate is one of the 61 questions. I will give which answer I chose and provide my justification and reasoning. Others are, of course, invited to do the same including those who wish to “question the question”, as it were.

It would also be useful when posting in these threads to give your own “compass reading” in your first post, by convention giving the Economic value first. My own is
SentientMeat: Economic: -5.12, Social: -7.28, and so by the above convention my co-ordinates are (-5.12, -7.28). Please also indicate which option you ticked. I might suggest what I think is the “weighting” given to the various answers in terms of calculating the final orientation, but seeing for yourself what kind of answers are given by those with a certain score might be more useful than second-guessing the test’s scoring system.

Now, I appreciate that there is often dissent regarding whether the assessment the test provides is valid, notably by US conservative posters, either because it is “left-biased” (??) or because some propositions are clearly slanted, ambiguous or self-contradictory. The site itself provides answers to these and other Frequently Asked Questions, and there is also a separate thread: Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading? [size=2]Read these first and then, if you have an objection to the test in general, please post it there. If your objection is solely to the proposition in hand, post here. If your objection is to other propositions, please wait until I open a thread on them. (And for heaven’s sake, please don’t quote this entire Opening Post when replying like this sufferer of bandwidth diarrhea.)

The above will be pasted in every new thread in order to introduce it properly, and I’ll try to let each one exhaust itself of useful input before starting the next. Without wanting to “hog the idea”, I would be grateful if others could refrain from starting similar threads. Finally, I advise you to read the full proposition below, not just the thread title (which is necessarily abbreviated), and request that you debate my entire OP rather than simply respond, “IMHO”-like, to the proposition itself.

To date, the threads are:

Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading?
Political Compass #1: Globalisation, Humanity and OmniCorp.
#2: My country, right or wrong
#3: Pride in one’s country is foolish.
#4: Superior racial qualities.
#5: My enemy’s enemy is my friend.
#6: Justifying illegal military action.
#7: “Info-tainment” is a worrying trend.
#8: Class division vs. international division. (+ SentientMeat’s economic worldview)
#9: Inflation vs. unemployment.
#10: Corporate respect of the environment.
#11: From each according to his ability, to each according to need.
#12: Sad reflections in branded drinking water.
#13: Land should not be bought and sold.
#14: Many personal fortunes contribute nothing to society.
#15: Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade.
#16: Shareholder profit is a company’s only responsibility.
#17: The rich are too highly taxed.
#18: Better healthcare for those who can pay for it.
#19: Penalising businesses which mislead the public.
#20: The freer the market, the freer the people.
#21: Abortion should be illegal.
#22: All authority must be questioned.
#23: An eye for an eye.
#24: Taxpayers should not prop up theatres or museums.
#25: Schools shouldn’t make attendance compulsory.
#26: Different kinds of people should keep to their own.
#27: Good parents sometimes have to spank their children.
#28: It’s natural for children to keep secrets.
#29: Marijuana should be legalised.
#30: School’s prime function is equipping kids to find jobs.
#31: Seriously disabled people should not reproduce.
#32: Learning discipline is the most important thing.
#33: ‘Savage peoples’ vs. ‘different culture’
#34: Society should not support those who refuse to work.
#35: Keep cheerfully busy when troubled.
#36: First generation immigrants can never be fully integrated.
#37: What’s good for corporations is always good for everyone.
#38: No broadcasting institution should receive public funding.
#39: Our civil rights are being excessively curbed re. terrorism.
#40: One party states avoid delays to progress.
#41: Only wrongdoers need worry about official surveillance.
#42: The death penalty should be an option for serious crimes.
#43: Society must have people above to be obeyed.
#44: Abstract art that doesn’t represent anything isn’t art at all.
#45: Punishment should be more important than rehabilitation.

**Proposition #46 It is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate some criminals.

SentientMeat** (-5.12, -7.28) ticks Strongly Disagree.
Are we talking a priori or a posteriori here? If rehabilitation didn’t work on some of them, are future attempts on those same criminals, or even on all criminals, a waste of time? Of course it won’t work on everybody: we find out which criminals it does work on by trying it on them all, surely? I suggest that the only worthwhile examination of this proposition comes from an a priori perspective, since the alternative practically makes #46 a tautology rather than a debate.

I believe this proposition relates solely to whether or not a given criminal can benefit from rehabilitation, rather than the principle of whether they should do so: in #45 we found that some people consider any rehabilitative program to engender “coddling” or “sympathy” for criminals, and that they simply do not deserve such programs. I would argue that, on the contrary, supporters of such programs dispassionately view criminals like broken machines or errant animals ripe for experimentation in psychological conditioning, and in any case that this is rather beside the point in #46.

So the question becomes: is it a practical waste of time to try to rehabilitate some criminals a priori, ie. from the moment of their conviction? First let us consider those who have, say, just been convicted of their first felony. If attempts at rehabilitation (which here, as in #45, I define as “metamorphosis into one who will never commit another felony”) are ever to succeed, it is surely with this group. If these criminals are in prison anyway, then there seems little to lose from providing a program of education, psychological assessment (and psychiatric/pharmaceutical treatment if necessary) and work in order that they can still contribute to society in prison, and can continue to do so after release, rather than languish in their cells all day. This works from an economic perspective also: incarceration is massively expensive, such that the increase in a prison’s budget from such programs are small compared to what is saved if they prevent even a few of those criminals from returning to prison in the future, and the work programs often go a long way to paying for themselves.

It seems that we must draw our net yet tighter to find the “some” for whom such programs are a waste of time. What of the habitual criminal - those returning to prison for the second, fourth or tenth time? Or those with serious psychiatric or behavioural conditions? Or the murderer sentenced to spend the rest of their life in prison?

Even these, I contend, are worth trying to rehabilitate just to see if we can. (One could argue that some might be left “unrehabilitated” as a control in such an experiment: fair enough, but I would suggest that this still does not constitute Agreement with #46.) The last few decades have seen great strides in our understanding of criminality and cognition (and pharmaceutical treatment of the mental illness which prisons are full of), and there are clearly vast differences in criminality between different countries, regions, or even neighbourhoods: a human certainly does not become a felon randomly, and so there seems no reason why it should be impossible for a felon to become a human who does not commit felonies again. To waste such a valuable research resource would be, well, criminal.

Rehabilitation currently doesn’t work for some criminals. But we haven’t tried everything yet. Many, including myself, would argue that we’ve hardly tried anything yet.

Strongly agree. There are some inmates that are so dangerous that they will never be rehabilitated. These inmates are often times seperated from the general population and put into more secure facilities. In these facilities they won’t have the same access to rehabilitation programs as other prisoners.

Yes. If they’re sentenced to death or to multiple life sentences then why bother attempting to rehabilitate? Just stick them in prison, give them activities so they’re less dangerous to guards or other inmates, and throw away the key. If you’re worried about convicts who can be rehabilitated just keep them in a seperate facility.

This might warrant another thread but do you have any ideas? Because societies have been trying to figure out how to rehabilitate (defined as making them not commit future felonies) criminals since the Code of Hammurabi.


+7/-3 Agree.

The problem, of course, is knowing this in advance. You can’t. And so, while the proposition is true, it is meaningless in terms of informing policy decissions. For all intents and purposes, it might as well not be true.

Strongly agree.

Some people, for whatever reason, just are beyond any help.

Agree. If you’re in for a life sentence with no parole, why spend money on rehab? If you’re getting out, by all means let’s prepare the inmate for a lawful existence on the outside. However, if previous rehabs have failed and you’re back in the big house, then we might save our resources for those where the likelihood of return on our investment is higher.

Exactly… The problem is knowing which criminals it is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate. I don’t think we have the ability to figure that out.

Everyone replying to date is doing so from an a posteriori perspective, surely? I have already agreed that this makes #46 tautological, rather than debatable.

I’m going to take what might be the more liberal view on this. :slight_smile:

Even if you’re in for life, you still have to interact with other people in prison. If you just “let 'em rot”, then they may be just as much a menace to others IN prison as they were OUT of prison.

But I would agree that to the extent that resources are limitted, you’d target those resources more towards those inmnates that will eventually be released.

-5.62, -5.49

I’ve learned a lot about this issue from my husband, who works in the corrections field.

Yes, it is a waste of time to try to rehabilitate some inmates. The simple fact is that you cannot rehabilitate someone who doesn’t want to be rehabilitated. It’s the same old adage as leading a horse to water. How violent the inmate is has no bearing on whether or not he can be rehabilitated. The most vicious killers can be rehabilitated if they want to be.

However, I do think the attempt should always be made, most especially with inmates who are going to be released eventually. After all, these people will be walking our streets again-- at least some attempt should be made to try to get them to see the error of their ways.

The inmates certainly aren’t being “coddled” by rehabilitation programs. Anyone who thinks that prison involves “coddling” in any way has never been near a real institution. Institutions are not staffed by bleeding-heart liberals-- those sort of individuals quickly leave.

Well, it depends on how the programs are done. Doing it right would be massively expensive, which is why most rehabilitation programs aren’t. (Some states have better programs and budgets. I am familiar with the system in two states, so I will use them as the basis for the following. Your state may vary-- but probably not by much. Most places are having the same problems.)

As it stands now, most prisons are suffering under increasingly tight budgets. Staff is being cut, prisons are closing, meaning larger case loads for already over-worked employees. (The institution in which my husband works is nearing 200% capacity, and will have to squeeze in more inmates soon, because they’re closing more prisons.)

On top of their regular duties, some employees are given the responsibility of running treatment programs. Most have had no psychological education whatsoever. Programs are done in a classroom-type setting with workbooks and “teacher’s guides”.

To do the programs in a way which would be truly effective, there would need to be one-on-one interaction with a trained therapist for each inmate who could have programs designed around his specific needs. This will not happen, though, because of the astronomical expense involved, and frankly, the public doesn’t want to spend any more money on prisoners, even if it would reduce crime rates.

As for the expenses of incarceration-- each inmate only costs a few dollars each day. If half of my state’s inmates dissapeared-- hell, even 3/4 of them, the budget would not change. The main expense is in the buildings, security, utilities, staff, etc.-- expenses which do not fluctuate much based on population.

Impossible. You never know who is ready for rehabilitation. Sometimes, you can be greatly surprised.

A few years ago, my husband started a program in the institution in which he works having inmates train dogs from the pound (scheduled to be “put down”) to be guide dogs for the blind. (Those dogs which failed the program are adopted out to the public after being trained in obedience.) My husband, whose main goal had been community service, was amazed at the difference it made in the inmates. He said that he’d walk down the halls, and see brutal, hardened murderers on the floor, playing with puppies and laughing. The dogs somehow broke down a wall in these men, making some of them ready to try to change themselves. At the very least, those inmates who had been problems wanted to behave so they could participate in the program. My husband says the change in some of them, those he would have counted among the “un-fixable” was astonishing.

Some would argue those people are the ones who need it most. Apparently, they weren’t reached on their previous trips through the system. Sometimes, they can be.

Just because someone’s in prison for life doesn’t mean their crime days are over. They can still rape and kill inside the institution-- and not just other inmates. Staff people are also at risk.

Those with mental illness or behavioral problems also need more intensive therapy in order not to be a danger to those around them. (In many states, prisons are dormitory style, meaning that there aren’t any cells.)

Those facilities you speak of are about a hundred times more expensive than any program. Actually, we could probably hire a personal shrink for each one and save money.

There is a secure, SuperMax facility in my state, which is the only one in our state which keeps inmates in cells 23 hours per day. It costs about $25 million to operate every year, and houses 200 inmates. (500 staff persons.)