The Corner

Rehabilitation

I’m with Ramesh on this one. But I’ll let him fight his own fight. Still, a word or two on rehabilitation. I’m all in favor of it — when it is possible and possible at an affordable price. Surely, spending a billion dollars to turn around one criminal is too much, even if it would work. No one’s proposing spending a billion dollars per prisoner, but the point remains the same. Limited resources factor into the debate. Which is one reason I always take outrage that white collar criminals get softer treatment at so-called country clubs with a grain of salt. White collar criminals are not only less of a danger but they are more rehabilitatable than, say, hardened rapists.

More importantly and speaking of rapists, prison is the bad people place. Bad people go there because they are bad. This isn’t very complicated. The dichotomy of rehabilitation versus punishment leaves out one of the most important benefits of incarceration: the more bad people there are in prison, the fewer bad people there are on the streets. As my old boss, Ben Wattenberg used to say, a thug in prison can’t shoot your sister. Studies support this. We now know that most crime is committed by a small minority of bad people. Their ranks do not refill automatically once emptied, contrary to the logic of many liberals and New York Times reporters. Just as career accountants are people who spend their lives committing accountancy, career criminals are people who spend their lives committing crimes.

In a sense both punishment and rehabilitation are often — but not always — just short of luxuries designed to satisfy the moral expectations of one constituency or another. Some of us like the idea of punishment. Others like rehab. Most of us like a mix of the two — and both approaches have serious public policy benefits for deterring crime. But keeping the bad people away from the good people is often more important than either.

At least that’s my two cents.

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