Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Heinous Crime

You would think that the chief value of Frederic G. Reamer's Heinous Crime: Cases, Causes, and Consequences would be an in-depth analysis of the nature of those crimes that tend to dominate our consciousness and our debates when we consider punishment for all offenses, to the detriment of rational and victim-effective policy across the country. Actually, it's not. How he defines and explains "heinous crime" is actually the weakest part of the book in my opinion (which he likely will not share). Not to say it's a washout, but I found much more to appreciate in the multiple interviews with offenders, victims, and practitioners plus the multiple case studies he employs to make his points. Most of my favorite books have adopted the qualitative approach to provide up-close-and-personal accounts of people's experience in the world of crime, things that get lost in the worship and genuflecting to data and complex modeling we do. And Reamer does a great job in providing you the perspectives and histories of people you'd generally prefer to meet in books.

His thesis is indeed that "heinous crime" does drive so much of our thinking and policy, to our misfortune. And his definition and examples of "heinous crime" probably won't draw many complaints from you. But what you will likely appreciate most, especially you non-criminology types, is the very thorough presentation of crim theories, their history and their critiques. Sentencing scholars can memorize this and sound just as smart as their criminological colleagues, at least for several minutes. Reamer's discussion of retribution and revenge should be required reading for anyone trying to figure out why "rational" and "smart on crime" don't resonate like "three strikes" and "do the crime, do the time" do in our rhetoric and decisions. There's also nice work on "free will" theories and the nature of addictions, and his info on treatment and rehab will catch you up on much of the research lit that you need to know. His best chapter, though, in my view, is his discussion of restorative justice, reintegrative shaming, victim-offender mediation, and community justice, all areas we try to promote here regularly, all areas better suited for victim and community maintenance and restoration than the short-sighted, counterproductive approach we emphasize far too often through our "shock and rage."

We do base most of our views of crime and what we should do about it on a Lifetime made-for-tv movie view. Those crimes should be addressed with the rage and the severity that we do. But they're unusual, they're not the norm, they're heinous, and we fail ourselves and victims when we treat them like all offenders and offenses are heinous. It makes those with the "good guys/bad guys" view of the world feel good about themselves to paint everyone with the same brush, but it's costly and short-sighted and ultimately circular in more crime from too many. Reamer will help us understand the difference in crime types, criminals, and what we can and should do. It's up to us where we go from there.

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