The Criminal College by L. Ron Hubbard


F
or all the talk of "steel-door justice" and "get tough on crime," the majority of those working within the prison system have thoroughly decried the fallacy. "If we continue with our vengeful attitude toward criminals (poor minorities, the mentally ill, those who have nothing to lose)," wrote Prison Life editor Richard Stratton, "the violence will only get worse until there is an all-out war between the haves and have-nots." While more simply, and rather more to the point, declared LRH: "The effect of punishment on a criminal is to confirm that behavior, and cause him to insist upon it." As revealed in this previously unpublished essay from 1938, the concern is not a new one and Ron’s views have long remained firm: However else we define a penal institution – a reformatory or a house of correction – these are first and foremost places where the criminal is molded, where he is as thoroughly stamped with the imprint of his "college" as any ivy-league alumni. Upon his graduation, and regardless of his particular major, he is almost certainly prepared "to prove himself worthy of the only fraternity which ever took any interest in him."

Throughout this wide land, wherever one turns, great piles of sullen stone crouch like traps of some giant’s hewing. But no trap ever possessed as many guardians, and certainly no trap ever occasioned as much oratory as is yearly bleated about prisons.

One of society’s most barbaric survivals, one of the sorriest comments upon the mass of humanity, the prison has been with us since the time the first Eoanthropic chieftain heaved a disorderly dawn man into a damp and inky cave.

Since that time the routine has varied little, enlivened perhaps in this age and that with the addition of torture, but always known by a few unchanging essentials.

Any man carries with him his idea of a prison, defining it as a small, poorly lighted cell wherein a person may be restrained from associating with the rest of society.

Considering the very many ways of accomplishing the fact without resorting to that exact means, and considering also that this small, dark cell remains universally basic, it is strange that no one has tried to arrive at the fundamental fact.

That fact has always been with us. Perhaps that Eoanthropic chieftain knew, but between his time and ours it is to be doubted that the crude truth has been set down.

And that truth is crude, perhaps, to our Calvinistic society. It would very likely offend many minds which care more for the conventions than for either truth or the general good.

But it can be very simply stated. And perhaps because it is so very simple, great psychiatrists and criminologists have cared to overlook it.

The sentencing of a man to prison is the combined wish of society that that man be returned to the womb from which he came. It is the mass regret that that man was ever born.

And as long as society indicates that desire, the courts and officers of the law will continue to obey the rule of the multitude and wish, in very serious forms with a very pompous air, that same fact.

"You are hereby sentenced . . ." might well be translated into, "You should never have existed in the first place."

In the enlightened barbarism of our times, there are those with wit enough to see the stupid fallacy of this. The analogy between a small, dark cell and the womb seems to have escaped the attention it deserves. But it is no interesting little fact like those so dear to Ripley. It is a mountain of facts which would take a century to untangle.

There is the criminal, standing before the so-called bar of justice. He is a human being with head and arms and legs. He is the fait accompli. There is no use wishing that his father had been more careful. There is no use deploring the fact that nature gave him oxygen to breathe and food to eat.

But still, society wants no more of the fellow. Obviously there is only one thing to be done on the face of it, only one wholly sensible thing. Kill him and let the ministers wonder vaguely if he ever had a soul. However, the crime was not that great. The judge wishes to be rid of him for only a short time, supposing in some lofty and doubtlessly marvelous process of reasoning that a few years in the cell will allow the fellow to again be born as a completely different person. It is to be wondered, then, why judges seem forever angered when the same fellow, five years later, again stands before the bar of justice awaiting another, "Society wishes you had never been born."

The masses, whose will the judge executes, have contrived to remain astonishingly in the dark along with most of their psychiatrists, about a host of facts emanating from this rather indecent wish.

The individual man thinks of a cell simply as a place where the criminal will be held incommunicado until he is finally reborn. It rarely occurs to this individual man that he is actually fostering the practice of placing this one criminal in the society of criminals. That the single criminal contacts very few of his fellow felons outside the prison walls, never seems to have any bearing on the situation.

It is not a new thought that the criminal meets many of his kind in prison and learns from them many things which he before but dimly suspected.

However, when that fact is arrayed with others, the light begins to flare up.

Many men in many offices under many chiefs have been busy for many years compiling crime statistics. It is doubtful if the tabulated results are meant to bring any more order into the world. The numbers and percentages are mainly intended to show the public that men are actually tabulating such things and that, therefore, much thought, energy and result is being obtained and hoarded in return for certain salaries to be paid out of the public treasury.


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