Can the Problem of Crime Be Solved?
“Studies show that most repeat offenders even after prison will continue to prey upon the community, and the costs, not measurable in dollars alone, will continue to be astronomical.”—Inside the Criminal Mind, by Dr. Stanton E. Samenow.
NO MATTER where you live in the world, every day seems to bring in another crop of lurid crimes. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask: Are present deterrents—stiff penalties, prison terms, and so on—working? Does prison reform criminals? More important, Is society addressing the root cause of crime?
Concerning present deterrents, Dr. Stanton E. Samenow writes: “After a taste of prison, [the criminal] may become shrewder and more cautious, but he continues his exploitative way of life and commits crimes. Recidivism [relapse into criminal behavior] statistics indicate only whether he has been careless enough to be caught [again].” In effect, then, prisons often become finishing schools for criminals, inadvertently helping them to hone their antisocial skills.—See the box “‘Schools for Crime’?” on page 7.
What is more, many crimes go unpunished, leading felons to conclude that crime does pay. This belief can make them bolder and more set in their ways. A wise ruler once wrote: “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad.”—Ecclesiastes 8:11.
Criminals by Necessity or Choice?
Is crime the only choice that some people have in order to survive? “I saw crime as being almost a normal, if not excusable, reaction to the grinding poverty, instability, and despair that pervaded [the criminals’] lives,” admits Samenow. After extensive research, however, he changed his mind. “Criminals choose to commit crimes,” he concluded. “Crime . . . is ‘caused’ by the way [the person] thinks, not by his environment.” Samenow adds: “Behavior is largely a product of thinking. Everything we do is preceded, accompanied, and followed by thinking.” So rather than regard criminals as victims, he came to the conclusion that “they were victimizers who had freely chosen their way of life.”a
The key word is “chosen.” In fact, a recent headline in a British newspaper stated: “Crime Is Career of Choice for Young Urban Men Aspiring to Better Things.” Humans have free will and can choose the course they want to take, even under difficult circumstances. To be sure, millions struggle daily against social injustice and poverty, or they may live in dysfunctional families; but they do not become felons. “Criminals cause crime,” says Samenow, “not bad neighborhoods, inadequate parents, . . . or unemployment. Crime resides within the minds of human beings and is not caused by social conditions.”
Crime Begins Within
The Bible puts the focus on the inner person, not on his circumstances. Says James 1:14, 15: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” When a person thinks bad thoughts, he nurtures wrong desires. These, in turn, may lead to harmful acts. For example, a casual interest in pornography may develop into an obsession with sex that impels a person eventually to act on his fantasies, perhaps in a criminal way.
Another factor to take into account is the world’s focus on self, money, pleasures, and instant gratification. Concerning our time the Bible foretold: “In the last days . . . , men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, . . . fierce, without love of goodness, [and] lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Sadly, by way of movies, video games, literature, and bad role models, the world promotes such traits, which only foster more crime.b Individually, though, people need not succumb to these influences. In fact, some who at one time did succumb have completely changed in their outlook and way of life.
People Can Change!
Once a criminal does not mean always a criminal. The book Inside the Criminal Mind states that just as a person may have chosen a life of crime, so he or she “can make choices in a new direction and learn to lead a responsible life.”
Experience has shown that people with all kinds of backgrounds can change.c What is required is a willingness to adjust one’s attitudes, motivations, and thinking patterns so that these conform, not to the shifting values of humans, but to the stable standards of our Creator. After all, who knows us better than he does? Moreover, does not God have the right to decide for the human family what is good and bad? To that end, he inspired approximately 40 God-fearing humans to pen what we today know as the Holy Bible—an amazing volume that could rightly be called mankind’s manual for happy and purposeful living.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
It may not be easy to make the changes needed to please God, for we have to resist the tug of our sinful tendencies. In fact, one Bible writer described his inner conflict as a ‘war’! (Romans 7:21-25) He won the struggle because he did not trust in his own strength but in that of God, whose inspired Word is “alive and exerts power.”—Hebrews 4:12.
The Power of a Good “Diet”
For the physical body to become healthy, it needs good food. Also, that food must be chewed well and digested, which takes time and effort. Likewise, for us to become spiritually sound, we need to “chew” on God’s utterances so that these can be assimilated into our mind and heart. (Matthew 4:4) The Bible says: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things . . . , and the God of peace will be with you.”—Philippians 4:8, 9.
Note that we must “continue considering” God’s thoughts if we want old personality traits to give way to new ones. Patience is needed, for spiritual growth does not occur overnight.—Colossians 1:9, 10; 3:8-10.
Consider the example of a woman who was molested as a child; took up drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; and is now serving a life sentence for a number of crimes. While in prison, she began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and took to heart the truths she learned. The result? Gradually, her old self gave way to a Christlike new personality. Now she is no longer a slave to destructive thinking and vices. One of her favorite Bible texts is 2 Corinthians 3:17, which states: “Now Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.” Yes, even though incarcerated, she enjoys a freedom that she had never known before.
God Is Merciful
In Jehovah God’s eyes, no one is automatically a lost cause.d God’s Son, Jesus Christ, said: “I have come to call, not righteous persons, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) True, adjusting to living by Bible standards may be a challenge. But success comes to those who are patient and who take advantage of the help God provides, including the loving support of spiritually-minded Christians. (Luke 11:9-13; Galatians 5:22, 23) To this end, Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly visit prisons worldwide to conduct free Bible studies with sincere men and women who have committed crimes of all kinds.e In a number of prisons, the Witnesses also hold weekly Christian meetings.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Even though some former evildoers have abandoned their ways and have become true Christians, the Bible frankly speaks of an “increasing of lawlessness.” (Matthew 24:12) As we shall see in the following article, that prediction is part of a larger prophecy that contains some very good news.
a Mental illness may be a factor in some crimes, especially in lands where disturbed people are left to wander the streets and have access to weapons. This complex subject, however, is not the focus of this article.
b For additional information on the subject of crime, see Awake! of February 22, 1998, pages 3-9, “A World Without Crime—When?” and August 8, 1985, pages 3-12, under the title “Will Our Streets Ever Be Free of Crime?”
c This magazine and its companion, The Watchtower, have often reported on individuals who were moved by Bible truth to abandon a life of crime. See Awake! of July 2006, pages 11-13, and October 8, 2005, pages 20-1, as well as The Watchtower of January 1, 2000, pages 4-5; October 15, 1998, pages 27-9; and February 15, 1997, pages 21-4.
d See the article “The Bible’s Viewpoint: Does God Forgive Serious Sins?” on page 10.
e See the box “Spiritual Help for Inmates,” on page 9.
[Blurb on page 5]
Millions who endure poverty do not resort to crime
[Box/Picture on page 6, 7]
“BACK IN JAIL WITHIN TWO YEARS”
Under that headline, The Times newspaper of London, England, reported that in Britain over 70 percent of those sentenced for burglary and theft are reconvicted within two years. Many crimes are committed by drug addicts desperate for money to pay for their costly, self-destructive habit.
[Box on page 7]
“SCHOOLS FOR CRIME”?
“Prisons are schools for crime,” writes Professor John Braithwaite in the UCLA Law Review. In his book Inside the Criminal Mind, Dr. Stanton E. Samenow says that “most criminals do learn from experience,” but not what society wants them to learn. “In prison,” he writes, “a person has ample time and opportunity to learn how to be a better criminal. . . . Some in fact do become more successful criminals, immersing themselves heavily in crime but being slick enough to avoid apprehension.”
In a later chapter, Samenow states: “Imprisonment does not alter a criminal’s basic personality. Whether he is on the streets or in prison, he develops contacts, learns new tricks of the trade, and passes on a few tips of his own to others.” One young criminal said: “Incarceration has given me the credits to become a teacher of crime.”