The Criminal Is Not Solely Responsible For His Crime

2295 words - 9 pages

Clarence Darrow in his "Address Delivered to the Prisoners in the Chicago County Jail," presents a convincing argument for the complicity of society with the criminal. In essence, Darrow believes that when one man steals from another, the community is as culpable as the criminal, since no man who "already had plenty of money in his own pocket" (82) would risk his life and liberty to rob or steal from another. According to Darrow, the root of the problem lies in poverty and the hoarding of wealth by a handful of people who become rich by exploiting the poor through cheap labor, or by appealing to their vices.

It is interesting to note that during hard times crime increases. Particularly, periods of high inflation, or unusually cold winters. That’s when people cannot afford to pay high heating bills. Faced with no choices and an adverse situation, criminals literally "break into jail" (82) because it is better than being on the outside. Case in point: homeless people. I saw a homeless man in downtown LA, with a hospital band on his arm, deliberately provoke a security guard into calling the police. After the police arrived, the homeless man calmed down and quietly entered the squad car, cordially waving at the security guard. It was a cold rainy day. Clearly the homeless guy found L. A. County Jail preferable to the streets.

Another example involves habitual criminals who become "institutionalized." This point was poignantly dramatized in the movie "Shawshank Redemption." The character played by Morgan Freeman contemplated suicide after release from prison because he had been institutionalized for so long that he no longer had coping skills for the outside world. That is, until offered a real "chance to live" (83) by his fellow inmate, who had escaped with enough money hidden for both of them to live a good life on the outside.

Darrow believes that "everyone makes his living along the lines of least resistance" (84). For example, he emphasized that "kidnapping children is not a crime, it is a profession" and that kidnappers do not take children because "they want the children or because they are devilish, but because they see a chance to get some money out of it" (83). The cure for such ills, according to Darrow, is to "give the people a chance to live" because if "every man, woman and child in the world had a chance to make a decent, fair, honest living, there would be no jails, and no lawyers" (83).

The apathy, hopelessness and resignation of the poor is clearly described in the following blues song titled "Poverty" by Bobby "Blue" Bland. This tune was a popular refrain during the 60’s.

Up every morning with the sun/I work all day till the evening comes.
Blisters and corns all in my hands/Lord have mercy on a working man.
I Guess I’m gonna die just like I’m living - in poverty.
My pay goes down and the tax goes up/I drink my tea from a broken cup.
Between my woman and Uncle Sam, I can’t figure out whose fool I am.
I guess I’m...

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