There are many people I work with who think life is over once they are in the criminal justice system. But, I ask them if they consider themselves criminals. This may seem like a strange question, but it is very simple. There are eight common criminal thinking errors:
Mollification- Justifying behaviors
Entitlement- hello celebs
Power Orientation- threats
Sentimentality- I did it for my family
Super optimism- This is a sure thing- one time only
Cognitive Indolence (lazy behavior)
Discontinuity-I was working and then a good show came on
Many of us have one or more of these ways of thinking in our everyday lives, but people who commit crimes or are substance abusers have more than one or two. Yet, I still would not call most of my client’s criminals. They are people with generally good character who have made some very poor choices. In fact, maybe only one poor choice like drinking and driving. A true criminal goes about everyday life with an angle for everything.
A criminal act is much different than being a criminal. Once you understand this and decide if you are capable of many crimes it is easy to determine that most people in prison today are not in fact true criminals. They are people who commit crimes and have made some criminal thinking errors. Thus, they can CHANGE.
So, the next time you judge somebody remember their shoes could fit your feet. The goal must be identifying and understanding those who make mistakes and poor choices and those who will never rehabilitate. This is the key to our criminal justice system’s problems. My experience is that for most change is possible with lots of hard work.
Wendy Feldman is a criminal justice expert, crisis manager and family legal coach. She is the leading expert on Alternative Sentencing. She is also head of the Alternative Sentencing Program at Cliffside Malibu. She is available for private consultation on how to prepare for a successful incarceration, probation and re-entry. She is also available for media commentary and has appeared in the media on The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, E! News, People.com, Fox News, NBC News, BBC, CNN, NPR Slate, Wall Street Journal, Discovery Network and others. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org