The Wyoming Justice Project believes public perception of offenders need to change. These offenders are our friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbors. They will continue to live in society with us. Offenders need to be given the tools to be successful so they don’t re-offend which helps promote low crime and public safety. The public needs a better understanding of what causes and prevents crime so attitudes towards offenders can change for the better of all.
Many Americans have harsh views of criminals, but those views are starting to change. According to Gallop, in 1992, 83% of Americans thought the criminal justice system was not tough enough on crime. As of 2016, that number has fallen to 45%. Republicans in particular believe the system is not tough enough.
If you ever see crime or court related articles on the internet, you will frequently see comments advocating for maximum sentences and criticizing the criminal justice system for being soft on crime. Some people even seem to relish and take joy in the misdeeds of others.
Unfortunately, most people do not understand what leads to criminality. Far too many people prescribe to only the Choice Theory, which believes that people simply chose to commit a crime. While that is true in some instances, the answer to criminality is much more complicated than that.
There are many factors that can contribute to criminality, such as: environmental, socioeconomic, substance abuse, and mental health. The answers are complicated. Multiple factors are at work and there is no easy answer and certainly not one single answer. 65 million Americans have some kind of criminal record.
Likewise, most of the public does not understand the consequences of how we treat criminals. In some cases the stigmas and limitations put on criminals prevent them from reintegrating into society and moving on to live productive lives in which they can contribute back to society.
Most crimes are committed by people in their late teens to early twenties. Many of these people will “grow out” of crime as they age and become young adults. Too many of them are branded as felons. Likewise, the war on drugs has branded too many people felons due to what should be a public health crisis. Maybe felon status should be reserved for violent offenders and repeat offenders.
While there needs to be some form of punishment, we are too fixated on it. There needs to be more focus on rehabilitation and helping ensure the individual does not return to prison or a life of crime.