Acceptance Of Responsibility
Adam B. Clausen
Professor Tony Gaskew, Ph.D.
October 4, 2012
Abstract: The acceptance of responsibility for one's own actions is generally inadequate under most circumstances. Rarely does a person act in complete isolation so naturally his or her actions will inevitably permeate the lives of others both within close and distant proximity. True acceptance of responsibility in all its totality requires the acknowledgement of direct and indirect influence of actions on all others outside themselves.
This paper employs statistics from the United States Sentencing Commission's report titled "Overflow Of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2011" to make the case that influential inmates within the criminal justice system have the ability to positively shift the culture within each prison which in turn can, and will, lead to a reduced rate of recidivism.
No matter how large or small the duration of incarceration a persona may face, that term will greatly affect a persona's outlook on the future. If that future seems too distant and incomprehensible, then that person must find some purpose for their current state of existence in order to maintain a sense of relevancy and self-worth. Conversely, all those men and women who are serving terms that they perceive to be relatively brief and inconsequential will simply mark off each day on their calendar in a perpetual countdown to their release. Therefore, it is literally impossible to calculate how any specific term of incarceration might ultimately affect an individual's thought process and subsequent actions. However, when a life sentence is imposed, that individual is consequently forced to confront themselves and the resulting damage of their actions - possibly, probably for the first time. Accepting responsibility for the impact of those actions on family, friends and associates is a difficult but necessary part of the cathartic process. All lifers must confront these situations at some point in the time simply because they have no other choice. Everyone else serving less time is denied that impetus to confront the full scope of consequences for their actions and remains unmoved toward positive change.
Occasionally, statistics themselves can provide the necessary impetus for change. Consider the fact that the current conviction rate in the Federal Court system is 97 percent. Nearly all of those convictions are the result of plea bargains with federal proecutors. Almost half of those people who agreed to plea bargains later received a sentence that was below the recommended sentencing guideline range. The overwhelming majority, 66 percent, of those personals receiving sentences below the guideline range received that reduced sentence on account of the "substantial assistance" that they provided to prosecutors. It's safe to say that those persons who provided such assistance did so as a matter of self preservation and not due to some sudden crisis of conscience. This practice has led to a deeply flawed system that is now predicated upon opportunistic criminals seeking greatly reduced sentences at any cost. It is not merely the system that is flawed, but the character of all those who have chosen to sacrifice their principals and reputations is also deeply flawed. When the punishment is diminished as a reward for compromised principles, it draws into question any perceived good that might have resulted from it. A simple acceptance of responsibility for one's actions and the completion of any subsequent punishment will unquestionably preserve the character and integrity of that rare individual. Any person with a strong sense of personal integrity is not only going to take responsibility for their own actions but he or she will also want to influence others due to the same.
The rate of recidivism has long remained steady at a staggering 70 percent. Popular culture has, thus far, only served to encourage young men and women to live outside the law with no consideration of the consequences to their actions. Mob figure Sammy "The Bull" Gravanno admitted to murdering numerous people but served only a few years in prison because he cooperated with the government. Rap artist and reality TV show actor T.I. was arrested while in possession of numerous automatic weapons, with silencers, and received only one year in federal prison instead of a life sentence. As long as young people continue to believe that there is an escape valve which will allow them to avoid punishment for their actions, they will not be rightfully deterred from entering into a life of crime. Those young adults unfortunate enough to eventually be caught and convinced will inevitably cooperate with the government in exchange for leniency and thus not even be deterred from committing future crimes. These young men and women have no need o desire to look inward upon themselves and discover how deeply flawed their character has become. As a result they are likely to recidivate and help sustain that previously noted 70 percent mark.
An effective means of combating the existing negative pop culture would be to focus greater attention upon the 30th percentile of the prison population that is least likely to recidivate. Those men and women who are serious about altering their habits and improving their lives have the ability to create an atmosphere conducive to change. Science has already proven that something as simple as a smile is contagious. If 30 percent of the inmate population were to find themselves having a reason to frequently smile, then the remaining 70 percent of the population is likely to be encouraged to smile as well. Not everyone will be susceptible to such an atmosphere of change but the underlying culture will create an improved likelihood that others will also embrace change. When dealing with individuals who have not had many reasons to smile, a little compassion and kindness can make a world of a difference.
The most influential inmates in nearly every prison are lifers. Despite the fact that they comprise such a small percentage of the population (in most prisons) they wield an incredible amount of influence amongst their peers, simply because of their sentences. Time should not dictate respect nor admiration, but inexplicably in prison it does. As a result, most lifers learn to embrace that leadership role and with it accept the accompanying responsibility of that position. They realize that they have the ability to inspire and positively direct all those inmates that are around them. When prison administrators want to reach the general population and affect systemic change it is wise for them to utilize the leadership of those lifers. Giving these men a sense of purpose and empowering them to help others is an invaluable resource that should be utilized at every opportunity. Lifers, along with members of the favored 30 percent, can and will create a culture of change that is likely to reduce the rate of recidivism.