I noticed a link to this blog recently over at Doc Berman's shop; it's an official organ of the Changing Lives, Changing Minds Through Literature project, which is an alternatives to incarceration program out of New England.
For these young men, a sense of “futurelessness” breeds a lack of concern for the consequences of their actions. Deferring immediate gratification makes little sense without a stable future to look forward to. “Might be dead by 25, so who cares?,” explained one young offender. In fact, our interviewees expressed a pressing need to “get it fast” and to “get it now,” by whatever means necessary.
At worst, the prospect of an early death fosters a basic disregard for human life: “So, [why] am I gonna care for anybody? I’m not. I’m gonna get mine, and if I have to kill your ass to do it, so what?”
It is not difficult to see how these attitudes could lead to a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy. A lack of faith in the future promotes dangerous and risky behavior, including crime and violence. Yet participation in crime only increases the odds that one will meet an untimely death.
Finally, analyzing national survey data, we were able to confirm a statistical relationship between anticipated early death and youth crime, even after controlling for a host of other factors.
I believe these findings have implications for public policy. It seems unlikely that threats of harsher criminal justice penalties will deter these fearless offenders. They assume life is short anyway and willingly accept the risks associated with a criminal lifestyle—even death. In effect, they are “beyond” deterrence.