Monday, July 13, 2009

Sex Offender Returns To Jail To Avoid Homelessness

Raphael Marquez requested that his probation be revoked because he could not find a residence that he could afford that was restriction free and within his ability to afford.  Like most people, I have very little pity for sex offenders but I do believe that this issue speaks to why the recidivism rate is so high.

If men like Marquez are not able to secure a residence, they are more likely to fall off the radar, thus making them harder to regulate.  He represents  the last type of criminal that we want walking about our communities without any form of oversight.  The more integrated these men are in our communities in terms of gainful employment and a residence, the easier they will be to monitor.

The issue of finding employment and residence is not unique to sex offenders.  Though we claim that someone has paid their debt to society after serving time, we very seldom give second chances.  Spending time in jail can actually mean a lifetime of poverty as we  practice a “not in my backyard” philosophy towards ex cons.

Often these men and women are reduced to committing crimes because they are unable to survive on the outside.  Those without an adequate support system quickly find themselves without options and become revolving residents in prisons.  When we consider that we do little to actually focus on rehabilitation while in prison, our failure to properly integrate them back into our communities reaffirms that these men and women are deemed disposable bodies that we would rather free ourselves of.  Like a nation of Inspector Javiers, we chase and hunt them down like animals, ignoring our communal responsibility to them as human beings.

We know  without question that the penal system is imperfect and therefore unjust.  Race and class often determine who is incarcerated.  Just living in a poor neighbourhood largely composed of people of color necessarily means a higher rate of interaction with law enforcement.  The ability to defend oneself once accused is severely limited by class.  We may parrot the words innocent till proven guilty but if you are person of color that presumption often goes out the window as the police officer is given far more credibility than the accused. I cannot imagine the trauma of being punished for a crime I did not commit.

Just as we are reluctant to give the benefit of the doubt before incarceration, we are unwilling to do so upon release.  Little time is spent giving thought to the ways in which capitalism and racism combine to create a criminal element in our society and therefore we continue to see criminal behaviour as a failure of the individual rather than a communal failure.  Politicians seeking re-election often take a tough on crime stance and in this model the suggestion often proffered is tougher sentencing and larger prisoners.  Anything that suggests a communal ownership of criminal behaviour is seen as soft on crime. 

If we truly want to create safer communities, we really need to focus on the ways in which our behaviour encourages recidivism.  Simply because someone has been to prison does not mean that they cannot contribute to society.  Men like Raphael Marquez will always be considered detestable by most but the surest way to ensure that he is unable to harm other than a lifetime of incarcerations is by creating a space for him to participate.  What he has done is terrible but how much better are we if we treat him like an animal?