I saw Jersey Boys, a few days ago. It is the story of 60’s music group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Frankie and his friend Tommey Devito were a couple of young hoodlums with mob ties who made it big in the music industry. What struck me most about the story was that with the kind of trouble these guys got into-robbing jewelry stores, stealing safes, wrecking vehicles-they were given such light sentences. Frankie was given no sentence because the older Tommy was made responsible for his actions. This would never happen today.
According to a 2001 study–
“The past 30 years have seen enormous changes in the philosophy and practice of sentencing and
corrections. The strong emphasis on rehabilitation that existed for the first seven decades of the 20th
century gave way in the 1970s to a focus on fairness and justice, by which sentences reflected “just
deserts” rather than a utilitarian motive. Sentencing practices later moved toward a crime-control model
that emphasized incarceration as a way to reduce crime in the community; this crime-control model
became increasingly popular during the 1980s and 1990s. Discussion of sentencing and corrections in
the 21st century must begin with a review of these changes and their impact on the criminal justice
In Jersey Boys the reaction of the cops to the trouble making of Frankie and Tommy was a “boys will be boys” attitude. In today’s legal system the punitive nature of current sentencing would have ruined their young lives and they never would have had the chance to achieve the kind of success that they enjoyed.
I have often reflected on the craziness that I did in my youth. Had today’s police force visited one of the many “busted” parties that I attended, I wonder if my life would have been different. We were just told to go home. There were no searches-no arrests. There were no laws to incriminate homeowners. There was a “kids will be kids” –“no harm no foul” attitude. Libertarians talk about crimes that are victimless and non-violent-like drug use and addiction-as laws that should have minimal to no sentencing. When will our citizens stop paying the price for an unjust legal system?
Rehabilitation is not even part of today’s discussion on crime-incarceration is harsh and based on a punitive evaluation. Criminals are no longer viewed as flawed human beings who may have been led into crime through an environment beyond their control in their upbringing or a medical condition like a drug addiction. There is a “punishment fits the crime” mentality with very little allowance for individual considerations.
Police forces are given more freedom to arrest under any circumstance and police violence on innocents is growing. So the trend is getting worse not better.
How big does our prison population have to be before some change will happen? It is time to rehabilitate America’s rehabilitation and incarceration system. Who will lead the charge?