Nicholas Williams’ insists that “prison should only be about rehabilitation” (April 29 letter, “Prison is about rehabilitation“). My biggest argument with “rehabilitation” lies with its confusion of punishment with absolution. After fully serving their sentences, offenders remain guilty. That is irrevocable. They are no longer culpable for their old offenses. But let’s not confuse ourselves into thinking that they are clean.
Any penitentiary function beyond punitive incarceration challenges the legitimacy of the state’s penal function. This flies in the face of today’s common acceptance of prisons as “reformatories” for the “rehabilitation” of offenders by preparing them for eventual return to society. It is a mark of our acquiescence to governments’ cognitive dissonance — the process of molding and controlling minds and behavior through sanctioned speech, regulated media, etc., in order to serve, preemptively, the greater good. People accept cognitive dissonance now, and they even consider it appropriate.
Alternately, by applying a business model, many feel that rehabilitating offenders for eventual return to society is a better investment. It’s cheaper and offers more return for the money. That, in turn, is fiscally responsible, which contributes to the greater good in capitalist democracies.
And what of the greater good? We often content ourselves with the distracting notion that the greater good is the motive and the goal of cognitive dissonance in organs of the state like schools, prisons and public media. Or if not, then it ought to be. But pre-emptive action undermines the credibility of our assertion of our own freedom. So, cognitive dissonance exposes the fraud of freedom of conscience in societies that claim to defend it.
I’d rather think that if I am in conflict with the law, the government’s only legitimate function is to punish me. That, at least, leaves me a morally free man even if I choose a path of amorality and conflict with the law. It is irrelevant if I confess my offense, apologize for it or express remorse.
Offenders ought to be given any number of chances to remake their lives, not because they deserve them — no one does — but because we all require maximum leeway to err.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.