CUTTING THE ROOTS OF CRIME
There are now some 80,000 people incarcerated in Britain’s prisons. Twice as many as there were ten years ago, and the number is still rising. Strangely, though, crime figures are supposedly falling. That’s a debatable point, however, as many will argue that people are increasingly disinclined to report small crimes, seeing that hard-pressed police are unlikely to respond, and even if they do it will serve little purpose anyway. The chance of getting back stolen goods or having an offender apprehended in minor cases is remote.
Nevertheless, those offenders who do find themselves before a judge are more likely to receive a custodial sentence than ever before. This at least is the view of the Prisons Reform Trust, who say that although the number of guilty findings in courts has stayed more or less the same, there has been a “creeping inflation of sentences and a lack of confidence in effective community measures.”
They put it down to a number of factors, such as public demands for stiff sentences in the wake of high profile reviled crimes like child murders. But especially it derives from the prevailing political view that “prison works”, a phrase coined by Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary some fifteen years ago. Soon after that New Labour came into power with their manifesto promise of “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, a policy pursued till today.
But does prison work? Figures show that some 60% of prisoners re-offend within two years of their release. Prison of course is an excellent place to meet other criminals and learn a few new tricks. The Vedas point out how our consciousness is quickly shaped by our association, which in prisons is hardly of the best kind. Seeing this fact, another Home Secretary, David Waddington, said in a government paper, “Prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse.”
In fairness it has to be said that attempts are made to rectify criminals in the form of training and rehabilitation courses. But while these may be helpful in some cases, it seems they are not enough.
So is more training the solution? According to the Vedas the answer is yes, but it has to be of a certain kind, and preferably delivered before we find ourselves detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Simply enforcing laws and ordinances cannot make the citizens obedient and lawful. That is impossible. Throughout the entire world there are so many states, legislative assemblies, and parliaments, but still the citizens are rogues and thieves. Good citizenship, therefore, cannot be enforced; the citizens must be trained.”
He goes on to say that the training must be in varnashrama, the Vedic system of organizing society into occupational and spiritual orders. This should have the aim of reviving our eternal Krishna consciousness, which is the purpose of varnashrama.
In such a properly educated and organized society crime would be reduced for different reasons. Firstly, it would reduce the number of untrained, unemployed and possibly needy persons who feel forced to resort to crime. But the main benefit, and one that tends to be absent from present government programs, is the spiritual one. Vedic training in spirituality or God consciousness makes one peaceful. It reduces the root cause of all moral transgressions, material desire. Because we think that having more means being happier, we will generally stop at little to get more, including breaking the odd law or two if we can get away with it.
Implementing varnashrama and engaging everyone according to their propensities, which it entails, is of course a major challenge, but its essential aim of awakening our Krishna consciousness is something we can do right now. In a conversation with the Mayor of Evanston in the USA, which at the time was experiencing a serious crime problem, Srila Prabhupada asked that ISKCON be given a large facility for Krishna kirtan and prasadam distribution. He explained how this was the way to cure a person of the “material infection” that leads to crime. “So if we cure that infection,” said Prabhupada, “again he becomes good. So this is the curing process. It is not an external, artificial thing, imposed upon somebody. No, his goodness is there.”
In other words, we are all intrinsically good, being parts of the supreme good or God. We just need to revive our original spiritual nature and that goodness will emerge. Being cured of the material infection also means finding within ourselves the happiness we futilely seek elsewhere. Beguiled by an endless array of ads prompting us to purchase products we don’t need and can hardly afford, we are gripped with desire and then with frustration and dismay when we either fail to procure these items, or they fail to satisfy us even if we do. Hence we see spiraling statistics for depression cases, as well as a concomitant upsurge in the use of alcohol and drugs, major contributors to crime.
Connecting ourselves to Krishna, the source of all spiritual bliss, is the only way to reverse this trend. Then peace and contentment will surely prevail. Otherwise our programs of social reform, devoid as they are of spiritual content, are always going to struggle.
Copyright Krishna Dharma 2007.
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