Crime, punishment, and responsibility
“The only real alternative to crime and prison may be drastic structural changes in our environment. Unemployment might represent the single most powerful cause of crime. It brings a host of problems, particularly for disadvantaged youths who try to reconcile their marginal role in a society that values material acquisition and status above all.
“Other changes are not so obvious and frequently run counter to public myths. A recent study has shown a perceptible rise in the homicide rate after publicized official executions. Hence an end to the death penalty might prevent some murders.
“The rage and futility of many criminal acts are largely rooted in modern urban, industrial society. The breakdown of values, religious and familial, the exploitation of advertising agencies in particular and business in general, the endorsement of violence by our communications media and government itself, all share in the responsibility for inciting the criminal act. Ultimately, of course, the weak and the hopeless individual who commits the crime is held accountable. Nevertheless, and no matter how unwelcome if not trite the message, the backdrop of society is more often than not involved in the criminal act.” — Margaret Phillips
Excerpted from “Alternatives to prison” in the March-April 1981 edition of FOCUS/Midwest. Today, Phillips serves on the board of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty.