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There are people who believe “once a criminal always a criminal”. I don’t agree with them. I don’t have wide-eyed fantasies about reform and repentance either, but I do know that people who commit crimes do so for a variety of reasons and least among those reasons is because they are bad people.
There are a lot of good people out there doing bad things.
I have a hunch that many of you have family members who fall into that category. People you know are good people but can’t seem to get their act together. You see, while it is true that criminal behavior can be an indicator of one’s morality, it isn’t always. Some criminals are bad people and they do the bad things natively. Bad is their default state of being. People like to assign reasons to why people do bad things. I explain that sometimes it’s just “bad people doing bad things”. I believe those people are few and far between. Meaning the people who are just bad people doing bad things because they are bad.
I’m confident that most people are good. That doesn’t mean perfect, nor does it mean they don’t do bad things. It just means that as their default they are good and seek good. It requires something to push them, to provide stress, for them to sway from that default.
Sadly though people get judged as bad for the bad they do and people don’t seem to take the time to differentiate between really bad people and people who have done something bad.
You might be asking yourself (and rightfully so) how do we know the difference?
That is a very legitimate question of course and not an easy one to answer because it requires we attempt to understand someone’s motivation. Because this is notoriously hard to do many laws do not require intent as part of the statute. One example I bring up frequently is the crime James Comey said Hillary Clinton committed. Despite Comey saying she didn’t intend to do anything wrong the statute itself doesn’t specify this. It’s enough that a person just did the thing. But with other crimes, criminal damage for example, the person must intentionally or negligently or recklessly damage the property for it to be criminal. Does this kind of intent make a person bad? Perhaps someone stole something and did so with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. That’s pretty bad. That’s a direct violation of someone’s rights. But does that alone make the thief a bad person? Did they steal it to feed their baby? They are still a thief, still violated the other person’s rights, but are they bad?
For me this is important because we spend so much time in America thinking that people behind bars are bad. Many are, some are not only bad but downright evil. But some are just people who did something and their intent and heart are not blackened by wickedness.
I think the first step in prison reform is to convince people that the above is true. That just because someone is in jail, or even just because they did a crime,doesn’t mean they are horrible people, or even dangerous ones. We can let a lot of people out of prison and society really wouldn’t notice that they were out. But perhaps their family might notice that daddy is home, or mom is able to help out by going to work now instead of sitting in jail for a crime that really didn’t hurt anyone or for which she could make some restitution other than incarceration.