I was visiting the Fairfax County courthouse last week with my 14-year-old son’s civics class. One district court judge (who I won’t name here because he was addressing the students) was very frank about the kind of offenders he sees in his courtroom. “I’d say only about 15 percent of the people who come before me are actual criminals,” he said. “The other 85 percent either have drug and alcohol problems, are mentally ill, or just made a very stupid mistake.”
He then went on to point out that the most of the defendants he sees also have very little education, often not even finishing high school — a not so subtle reminder to these kids about why they need continue with theirs.
His observations are pretty much in line with national findings. A third of all prisoners in state jails are serving a drug-related conviction, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice. Another study by the National Center for Addiction and Substance abuse notes that “drugs and alcohol are implicated in 78 percent of violent crimes, 83 percent of property crimes and 77 percent of other crimes. In addition, CASA found that 65% of U.S. inmates meet the criteria for for substance abuse .
This also dovetails with what I’ve seen teaching inmates. In fact, when my students are explaining their felony convictions as part of interview practice, one of the most common explanations I hear is “at the time I committed my crime my judgment was clouded by drugs and alcohol.” I also see a lot of obvious mental health issues. And sadly, I have on a few occasions witnessed a true criminal mindset.
The a reason I bring this up is that in order to put your past behind you it is critical that you know what kind of felon you are. Denial does nothing for you here. You’ve done your time, you might as well acknowledge why. There is a difference between stealing money for the sheer thrill of it and doing something because you’re not in your right mind. You’re responsible for both, of course. But if you identify the cause you’re more than likely to be able to identify the steps you need to take to put it behind you — and to make sure you don’t repeat it.
So ask yourself, what kind of felon are you? What’s the why behind your crime? And what are you going to do about it?