Letter to the Editor: Prevention is the main issue in mass shootings

In my work on criminal justice reform, I have noticed that in America we tend to politicize important issues too much, and this gets in the way of constructive change.

What do I mean? The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the worst in our history, gives us one example of what I mean. Does anyone doubt that the shooter had one or more “loose screws” … depression, some irrational hatreds? He is dead, and we don’t know yet.

There are plenty of other mass shooters, mentally ill, who prove my point: This tragedy soon will devolve into heated debate about the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms. It is inevitable. “Gun Nuts” (my affectionate term for some of them) will debate others endlessly on Facebook and elsewhere about the Second Amendment, while we miss the much larger, more important issue. We all know that we have the right to bear arms, but the excessive “ranting” about it obstructs the view into other aspects of the problem.

This issue is prevention! There are two health problems which cause at least 90 percent of all crimes! They are: mental illness and addiction! I know it, most cops know it, and many others know it. Yet our whole approach to crime is to deal with it AFTER THE FACT! If we focus on helping the mentally ill and the addicted, by providing treatment, … and we do NOT – our prisons are full of them (both) and I have SEEN that the “treatment” is virtually nonexistent — we will reduce dramatically all sorts of crime.

Our “tough on crime” politicians have found it much easier to just make laws to lock people up (the uninformed public loves it, so they get re-elected) instead of dealing with the more complicated issue of treatment. We are starting to see a shift toward sanity with addiction, but with the mentally ill, hardly any real progress.

Similarly, our prisons are “training grounds” for crimes! I have SEEN it. While some corrections programs exist, they are few and ineffective (just look at the recidivism rate!), and much more should be done. We need only look at Europe, the Scandinavian countries, to see what really works; they have far more sensible criminal laws and prison policies, and as a result, far less crime! But, just as with the wholly ineffective, fantastically costly “war on drugs”, politics gets in the way.

Let’s focus on what government SHOULD do … protect its citizens … with more of what works and less politics!

Ken Abraham is a former Deputy Attorney General of Delaware and founder of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE.

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