Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Authorities should help newly freed prisoners

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

Nearly 10,000 inmates were released last Monday when a sentence commutation statute came into effect. Because many of them were robbers and drug users with a high recidivism rate, the decision has aroused serious concern from the public over the impact on public safety. Now that the commutation has been implemented, the government must take certain measures to prevent repercussions.

The government has taken a few steps so far. For example, the Ministry of Justice sent a list to the National Police Agency and local governments naming inmates it deemed at a high risk of recidivism and inmates with infectious diseases. It also implemented a number of tracking, counseling and supervision measures in a bid to prevent any negative impact the commutation might have on public safety. But we must understand that relying only on the police and health agencies is not enough. Responsibility for public order and health must be shared.

The thinking behind such measures is that released inmates are highly prone to repeating their crimes. This delivers a message that they are bad people who are incapable of change. The government is designing its prevention and surveillance programs for released inmates based on the theory that human nature is evil, an approach widely approved of in society. But I believe that crime is a question of "nurture," not "nature." Our environment is the most important factor in determining whether or not we will commit a crime. If we release inmates, but then toss them right back into the same environment that pushed them toward crime in the first place, recidivism should be expected.

We have to rethink our approach and assume that human nature is ultimately good. If we assume that all of the people released under the commutation are fundamentally good and do not want to commit crime -- and assume that they committed crimes in the first place because of environmental adversity, such as a lack of employment or suffering discrimination -- we can start building constructive policies that will remedy the underlying problems plaguing our society.

The government can work to improve family, community, workplace and other social factors. For example, concrete measures should include helping released inmates to readjust to society by encouraging their families to accept them, assisting communities to create a system of support and providing incentives for companies to employ former inmates. All of these actions could help change stereotypes of former inmates.

In other words, through incentives, the government should encourage improvement in the environment. The only way to prevent negative effects following this commutation is to provide people with crucial aid.

As for the planning, formation and implementation of such policies, the government is responsible. Even if manpower and legal limitations restrict its capacity to act, it can at least help former inmates by funding nongovernmental organizations. For example, many religious groups have the manpower necessary to help.

If we help former inmates, they will not commit crimes again.

Working to prevent recidivism in this way is also a way to cut down on police and prison costs. It is cheaper and better to spend money on making people's lives better than on keeping them in jail. We shouldn't just think about how to control former inmates to prevent them from committing crimes again. Rather, we should provide opportunities for former inmates.

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