Friday, March 6, 2015

Alternatives to Prison (Part 2 of 3)

Reintegrative Shaming was developed by John Braithwaite based on his experience as an administrative regulator of pharmaceutical firms in Australia.  It was quite simple.  If you go in with a warrant, you only meet the lawyers.  If you sit down for tea with the plant manager, you gain voluntary compliance.  “Sitting down for tea” meant getting the manager to acknowledge out loud that he knew about the violation, and knew that it was wrong. Then, he would promise to fix it, and usually did. 

Braithwaite followed those encounters with research into the anthropology of offense.  He found many examples from history and modern first peoples where the offender was brought back into the community after admitting the transgression and apologizing to the victim, making restoration where possible. 

Sometimes, it is not possible.  An Eskimo man killed his wife; and–when he complained about that–her brother.  So, his friends invited him to go hunting.  Four went out; three came back.  (Hoebel, E. Adamson. 1967. The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.).  Usually, the outcomes are better for everyone because most harms are smaller than murder. 

Even though less than homicide, assault is a violent crime.  Victims suffer multiple traumas, deeper than the physical wounds and scars.  Howard Zehr is a photographer.  He created Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims (Good Books, 2001).   Zehr presented the portraits and the stories of 39 courageous victims of violent crime.  Not all of the encounters brought closure.  In two, the attackers continued to mock their victims.  In one, the subject was a man whose son was killed in prison.  For three dozen other cases, both the victim and the offender found that they could overcome their suffering.

Community Corrections

The Midtown Manhattan Community Court opened in 1993. The Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn opened in the summer of 1998.  Red Hook’s success has served as a model for many other efforts.  Greg Berman invested two years of daily work, laying the social foundation for the center before it opened.  He met with groups.  He met with individuals. His salary came from a grant by the New York City Housing Authority to the Center for Court Innovation and the King County District Attorney’s Office.

The Red Hook court brings offenders and victims together.  The usual harms are domestic violence and shoplifting.  They also get public indecency cases when men are caught urinating in an alleyway.  Their theory on that is that there is no such thing as a victimless crime.   Every transgression harms the community.

In cases of personal crime, perpetrators confront their victims, apologize, and make whatever restitution is possible.  For offenses against the public order, the guilty apologize to an appropriate authority, acknowledge the harm they caused, and perform community service work. 

In many community corrections programs house arrest with electronic tethering is a common judicial sentence, especially for otherwise non-violent offenders such as the habitual drunk driver.  Community programs find work for them.  Their whereabouts are monitored.  It costs less for us, and keeps them integrated to the community.


That assailants are also victims is a fact of crime.  In the first place, a police investigation often reveals that the victim was only the last person to get hurt the most.  Whether a fight in a bar or a feud between neighbors, they had a personal interaction that played out over time.  Either one could have withdrawn completely, but neither did. 

Domestic assault is different than that.  There, a lifelong violent offender finds a lifelong victim of violence.  Typically, both grew up in abusive homes, as did their parents.  That is how they learned their roles.  To them, it seems perfectly normal. 

Moral Reconation Therapy is one of the most successful treatment programs for domestic and drug abuse cases.  Not surprisingly, they go together, especially with the drug of choice is alcohol; and MRT is also employed for treating drunk drivers.  MRT is the work of Gregory L. Little and Kenneth D. Robinson.  Launched in 1988, it was based on five years of research in the Tennessee prison system.  Research continues across problem areas and the many multi-year follow-up studies on recidivism place it high on the list of evidence-based therapies. 

The process is simple.  Following a tested and proven workbook, counselors direct clients in small groups to explore their own attitudes, beliefs, and emotions.  For them self-awareness is a new experience.  Ayn Rand most cogently pointed out that the root of all evil is the failure to choose to think.  Thinking is not automatic.  It is volitional.  People blank-out, evade, and repress unpleasant thoughts, especially about themselves.  For a child, it does not take many years for them to become fogged into a reactive life of the immediate present.  Non-violent people become dysfunctional neurotics.  The violent ones become aggressive criminals.  Self-awareness cures that in about half the cases.

For over thirty years, MRT and other evidence-based practices typically have had success rates in the mid-fifties percent.  The National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices ( is part of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (


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