Friday, June 25, 2010

Rehabilitation and White Collar Crime

I grew up in Pikesville, the Jewish enclave in Baltimore. It was the boyhood home of Ed Witten, one of the greatest living physicists and a leading advocate of string theory, who attended Wellwood Elementary -- no doubt a formative experience. The area has produced lawyers, surgeons, playwrights, philosophy professors, and blog readers, even a former head of the Republican National Committee. Now, it is the home of slimebag and convicted felon Jack Abramoff who is working at Tov Pizza, the kosher pizza joint in town. Abramoff has been released from prison to a halfway house and is working for Tov Pizza rolling out the dough instead of rolling it in.

The corrections system is and/or ought to be designed for several tasks. It keeps dangerous individuals from the public, it serves as punishment for crimes committed, and it provides services for rehabilitation. The idea is that we know there are sociological markers which make it more likely that someone will commit crimes. These indicators include level of education, regular employment, and household income. The hope is that by providing those who have been incarcerated with means to alter these markers and by reintroducing them into society in a place where old connections and temptations do not exist with new skills that would enable them to live differently, the person can change the way s/he approaches life leading to the possibility of living as an upstanding, law-abiding citizen.

But what about cases where the criminal comes from a background in which these markers are absent, indeed where their socio-economic status makes it less likely s/he would choose a life of crime and corruption, yet s/he chose it anyway? Does it make any sense to put Jack Abramoff in a halfway house and give him a menial job? In what way does this rehabilitate him? Would it make sense to have Bernie Madoff delivering for Papa John's?

I could see community service as rehabilitative since theirs was a failing of humanizing other humans, of treating people like objects to be manipulated for personal gain. Perhaps working in a way that makes human suffering impossible to ignore might be rehabilitative for them, but what of the standard route? Does this model make any sense for white collar criminals?