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



8 thoughts on “Punishment

  1. I’m not familiar with the case you mention but totally agree with you that punishment should be designed to rehabilitate not just to protect us from a threat. The case is a moral one but also a sound financial one – it costs to keep criminals locked up thus it’s in everyone’s best interests to prevent them from re-offending. That’s not how I think, I go with the moral case – but it seems even the financial doesn’t carry enough weight with our respective governments to have made it happen. Yet.

      • Jerry Sandusky is now serving 30-60 years in prison for abusing as many as ten young boys while he was an assistant football coach at Penn State. I should have noted this in my post. Sorry!

  2. I agree with you and have often said that rehabilitation, rather than retribution is a more effective means of dealing with criminals. I would make certain exceptions, however, for example in the case of Dylan Roof who justified his shooting and killing 9 African-Americans in a church in 2015. He has shown no remorse and said he is proud of his actions, that he had to do it. He is a white supremacist and I think there is no rehabilitation for that, so life in prison is the only solution I see. Of course, he was actually given the death penalty, but again, that is something I do not believe in. Anyway … good post and good points, Hugh!

    • I do wonder if we should give up on people — even those like Roof? Haven’t we come far enough with psychiatric medicine to be able to help even those who commit atrocious deeds and show no remorse whatever? I simply ask. In any event, I totally agree with you that capital punishment is not the answer. It is unmitigated revenge and makes us monsters just like those we punish. We do make mistakes, after all. And there are no “take-backs.”

      • Yes, I think capital punishment is beyond arrogance and there have been so many cases of men on death row who were exonerated that it simply isn’t a chance we should take if we believe, as I do, that every human life has value.

  3. Hugh, this made me sad for all concerned. I am aware of studies that note that children who were abused by domestic violence have a higher propensity (than other children) to abuse others when they become adults or marry an abusive spouse. My guess is there are similar studies that would reveal sexually violated youth may have a similar higher propensity to abuse or be abused. Keith

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