Antony Sammeroff, Contributor
People become violent as a result of suffering severe trauma, such as childhood neglect, abandonment or abuse (physical, emotional and/or sexual) — that is the conclusion of established social science based on the psychological data available to us.
The latest science on nature versus nurture says that human nature is 70-80% adaptation to environment, particularly early childhood experiences. The idea that “tough justice” – inflicting more trauma on an already traumatised and abused individuals – will make them better rather than worse is the result of primitive-justice thinking. For example, if you do something unpleasant to someone then they will do something unpleasant back to you to teach you a lesson. The psychology shows clearly that It Does Not teach them a lesson, it makes them worse, because they are now humiliated and want to get revenge. Since the trace of trauma can be tracked in the brain, Brain Scans of Criminals Can Predict Recidivism (returning to prison.) If we want to rehabilitate criminals, we have to understand trauma and learn how to reverse it.
The reason why people continue to believe in “tough justice”, even though all the data shows it is a wrong-minded approach to deterring violence, may very well be because they were treated punitively as children. Having been exposed to punishments, spanking, and “strict-discipline”, and told it was “for our own good”, may have shaped our apprehension of the world through the lens of “an eye for an eye”. Moreover, looking at the situation clearly for what it is would also entail having to reassess our own childhood for trauma and wounds inflicted upon us, advertently or inadvertently, by our own caregivers. This can obviously be a very painful process for most people.
93% of studies agree that spanking is harmful to children, and no one has ever produced a shred of scientific evidence to suggest that it can be psychologically beneficial. Harsh corporal punishment also produces a dogmatic personality, meaning an inability to adapt and change opinions in light of new information. Evidence shows that people who receive corporal punishment are more likely to support punitive public policies, such as the death sentence. These views are psychologically motivated; they are not based on reason and evidence but on avoidance of the suffering entailed in bringing childhood wounds into the conscious awareness so they can be dealt with. The benefit of looking at these wounds is that it is an opportunity to overcome them and go from seeing the world through irrational biases to seeing reality as it is.
When prisons were originally introduced as the weapon of choice in the fight against crime, we did not know much about how to halt the cycle of prisoners re-offending. Now there are several methods that have shown to be effective. The recent science of rehabilitation shows that criminals who are able to study and attain a master’s degree in prison are exceedingly unlikely to reoffend. Also, recidivism can be reduced by teaching Transcendental Meditation to prisoners, as does teaching prisoners Nonviolent Communication – which stands to reason that in many instances violence is the only way that people, who have not been taught to negotiate with others, know how to get what they want. One study conducted in a Nevada Prison showed that a technological process that appears to help the brain reverse the effects of trauma,Brainwave Optimisation, can rehabilitate violent criminals. We should continue to study different approaches to the rehabilitation of criminals, measure their effectiveness, and implement the programs that are effective throughout the prison system.
With the will, we can understand violence, and end it for good.
About the Author
Antony Sammeroff is a relationship coach and counsellor living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he runs life changing workshops on improving relationships and communication skills. He puts out free self-help videosyoutube.com/enrichyourlife1 and also administrates The Progressive Parent youtube channel which provides free resources for carers of children. He accepts clients internationally over Skype, and his website can be found at www.enrichyourlife.co.
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