NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Criminals Aren't Made, They Choose To Be So

July 28, 2000

An estimated 585,000 felons will be released from state and federal prisons this year -- and 62 percent will be charged with new crimes, according to the Justice Department. Clearly, they were not rehabilitated.

Most specialists in criminology believe in the power of counseling, therapy and training, or education and jobs to set ex-cons on the right track. But psychologist Stanton Samenow, author of "Straight Talk About Criminals," holds that such efforts are misguided because they start with the premise that criminals are hapless victims of disadvantaged circumstances who just need more understanding and resources. Criminals cannot be restored or "rehabilitated" to something they never were.

  • Samenow holds that people become criminals through conscious choice and they emerge from all kinds of environments.
  • Criminals are unprincipled predators and victimizers who injure others in pursuit of excitement and ego gratification, he believes.
  • "Habilitation" means changing the way the offender thinks so that he functions responsibly -- not simply tinkering with his social conditions.

Legal leverage helps to provide vulnerability. The threat of bad consequences stimulates motivation to change. No one contends that the process is not demanding, time-consuming and expensive. But some people with a criminal personality are not willing to change. So prisons exist to protect society from their destructiveness.

Source: Morgan Reynolds (National Center for Policy Analysis), "With Crime in their Hearts," Washington Times, July 28, 2000.


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