Of late we have been told that Jerry Sandusky’s son has apparently decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. The following story that provides some background:
Jerry Sandusky’s adult son is in a Pennsylvania jail, awaiting a hearing next week on charges he pressured one teenage girl to send him naked photos and asked her teen sister to give him oral sex.
Jeffrey Sandusky, 41, faces 14 counts, including solicitation of statutory sexual assault and solicitation of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. His lawyer isn’t commenting on the allegations.
A child abuse expert says the allegations raise the possibility that he may not have been raised in a healthy sexual environment, whether or not he was himself victimized.
Note the understatement: “may not have been raised in a healthy sexual environment.” Don’t you love the experts?? In any event, the story, which sends chills down one’s back, raises at least two important questions about the way we treat criminals and those who have been charged with criminal offenses. To begin with, it appears, once again, that the notion of punishment as a deterrent is brought into question, since this man had a front-row seat at the trial of his father who is now serving time for abusing children. His father’s punishment apparently didn’t affect the behavior of his adopted son. But then punishment, even capital punishment, doesn’t seem to deter crime. The criminal apparently thinks he or she will not get caught — much like those who refuse to wear seat belts because they are not the ones who will die in a car crash. Not me, oh no!
But the other issue raised by this allegation is the question of punishment itself. What it the reason we punish criminals and why do we choose to punish them as well do? Why, for example, do we lock up the criminal who robs a bank as though time spent in jail will erase the psychological and physical damage to the employees and customers of the bank that is robbed? What is the correlation here? What is the rationale? Can we defend the notion that X amounts of dollars taken equals Y amount of time behind bars? I gather we are content with the notion that the criminal is now behind bars and will no longer hold up banks and terrorize the customers and employees of any other bank. But we know that those who are locked up learn more about being effective in their “craft” and frequently revert to form after being released. And criminals like Jerry Sandusky who are charged with pedophilia are sent to prison where, allegedly, they themselves become the victims of the very crime they have committed, though he is not himself a child.
Sir Thomas Moore worried about these questions and in his seminal book Utopia he dealt with what he regarded as the appropriate treatment of criminals. Instead of retribution he thought the central goal of punishment should be remediation, helping the criminal deal with the factors that led to the crime in the first place. The behavior of the Sandusky’s, father and son, suggest that there are serious psychological problems here that need to be addressed. Locking such people up is not a solution — it is much like putting a band-aid on a cancer. If we are to treat criminals, then we need to try to understand what led them to crime in the first place and then see if there are ways they can be rehabilitated. Punishment should not mearly be a way of protecting the public from the criminal; it ought to be a way of helping the criminal move beyond the abberant bahavior that led him to crime in the first place. This would seem to be especially appropriate in cases such as these where the mental health of the criminal is the central issue