Program enables offenders
to lead crime-free lives
hroughout the world of law enforcement, courts and prisons, the concept of recidivism triggers emotions from anger to hopelessness and despair.
The so-called “revolving door” through which offenders return to courts and prison again and again has been the bane of the criminal justice system. It flies in the face of the corrections system itself since theoretically, once a criminal has been arrested, tried and sentenced, society should not have to worry about that person any longer. After all, the system receives billions of dollars each year and is supposed to correct those who enter it.
Unfortunately, the vast majority are not reformed or corrected. Instead, 80 percent return to incarceration within one year of serving time. Many experts maintain that jails and prisons actually make inmates worse. They emerge embittered, bent on revenge and better “educated” to a life of crime.
Over the months, more than 500 first-time offenders were referred to the program, but as of January 1998, only one person returned to the court — an unheard of recidivism rate of less than 1 percent.
“It Changed My Life”
The program demonstrated that people can change, and Jenny, a single mother with two children, serves as a recent case in point. After years of personal trouble, the low point in her life came when a warrant was issued for methamphetamine possession. She concluded she couldn’t live with that hanging over her head and turned herself in.
Jenny knew that her life was not something to be proud of. She had not accomplished any of her goals and, even more importantly for her, had not provided a safe family environment for her children or given them a mother worthy of respect.
Following her guilty plea, she was offered the choice of going to jail or taking a course of instruction based on common-sense moral values that would help her to examine the life and behavior that had brought her before a court of law on a criminal charge, she chose the latter.
“Looking back at what happened to me over the last four years,” she said, “I was always getting in trouble.” The course was instrumental in changing that and turning her life around. Among other things, it made her realize that life itself was far too important to waste.
Because the course helped her to realize how her actions affected others, one of the most important things she came away from the course with was the decision to set a good example for her children.
“Before, I didn’t think about anything but my little area,” Jenny said. After graduating from the course, she said, “I better understood how to live my life.”
As she had never completed high school, she was proud of finishing the course. “It changed my life,” she said. “This program is the good thing that happened to me.” Today she is off drugs, living with her parents, taking care of her children and working part-time.
Life Without Crime
The program that Jenny completed rehabilitates offenders,
making it possible for those convicted of first-time criminal offenses to reform and continue their lives, without further crime.
Its centerpiece is a course based on the booklet, The Way to Happiness, a non-religious, common-sense moral code. (See “About The Way to Happiness.”) The booklet’s 21 precepts — such as “Set a Good Example,” “Don’t Do Anything Illegal,” “Safeguard and Improve Your Environment,” “Be Worthy of Trust” and “Fulfill Your Obligations” — set forth clear, practical principles which, when applied, help to improve the level of morals throughout society.
Each precept in the booklet is studied so that the individual not only understands how it applies to his or her own life, but so the precept can be utilized to increase the survival potential of friends and family.
As they study The Way to Happiness, those on the program report for checks on their progress. They turn in lessons from a workbook which are then graded, after which they are corrected on any questions that may have been missed. They then discuss the precepts, including how they will apply them in their lives.
“I really needed this course,” said David, a graduate, “because I wasn’t thinking about this stuff. Now I’m doing a lot of things I should be doing. By taking this course, my life has changed for the best. I have more respect for others and also for myself. Since I enrolled in this course I have been taking all of my responsibilities like I should have from the start. And thanks to this course I am living a happier life.”
More than 500 first-time offenders were referred to the program, but as of January 1998 only one person returned to the court — a recidivism rate of less than one percent.
The program fills a unique need. “I’ve had very limited resources to deal with the problems facing our society, particularly those occasioned by rising crime,” a Judge said, noting that the traditional means for meting out justice have been restricted to fines and jail sentences, which have not proven effective in turning people away from a path of crime.
“I now have the ability to affect significant changes in our defendant population,” he said, “enabling them to lead productive, crime-free lives as a result of their participation in The Way to Happiness.”
The West Covina pilot project was part of the international Criminon criminal rehabilitation program, founded in 1972. (See “Wiping Out Crime.”) Due to the success of the pilot, on June 2, 1997, a Criminon Community Education Center was established in West Covina to continue the program, funded by the Los Angeles-based Association for Better Living and Education. Jenny, described above, was the first graduate of the program at the Community Education Center.
As a further result, Criminon — which means “no crime” — plans to establish Community Education Centers in Compton, Hollywood and Santa Monica. Additional centers will be set up in Washington, D.C.; Tampa, Florida and Portland, Oregon, with still more planned for other countries.
“Your Life Will Change”
Sean Burke, director of the Criminon Community Education Center in West Covina said, “In their graduation speeches, one for one they tell their fellow students, ‘I didn’t particularly want to do this course in the beginning, but let me tell you, if you just stick with it and really do it, your life will change.’ They stop drinking-and-driving and petty theft. They start getting jobs. They start new relationships with their families. One even stated that his marriage was saved.”
A key factor of the Criminon program is that it provides people an opportunity to reflect on their lives. The effectiveness of the program is evident in the words and actions of its graduates.
Another graduate, Silvester, said, “I began the course with the same attitude that the others had. We all felt that we knew right from wrong. The problem was that nobody was really implementing what they knew.”
He added, “This course reopened my general attitude about others and certain situations. Now, without anyone reminding me, I am more aware of my negative attitude that I used to carry with me daily. I no longer use excuses to commit an illegal act or get myself into problems which can multiply. Due to this course I’ve learned to handle situations in life with a more positive attitude and self-control.”
In case after case, the Criminon Community Education Center is doing what Criminon elsewhere has done for decades: Demonstrating that there is a way to rehabilitate offenders, to restore self-respect and make them into productive citizens who are assets to their communities and society.
For more information on the Criminon program, write to: