THE DEFENSE REPORT
BREAKING THE CYCLE OF RECIDIVISM A HARMFUL REPETITION I t says something about Groundhog Day that the movie by the same name is measurably more popular than the celebration itself. Outside of Pennsylvania, you won’t see many people lining up to witness whether or not a rodent sees its shadow, but the 1993 rom-com remains a cultural touchstone. The expression “every day is Groundhog Day” is still used even by those who haven’t seen the film. Many people can relate to the feeling of repeating the same events over and over again, but perhaps none more than those facing repeat arrests. Recidivism is a harsh reality in the criminal justice world. It’s very easy to fall into the cycle of incarceration and very hard to pull yourself out. I’ve seen plenty of success stories during my time as a defense lawyer, but I’ve also seen the people who can’t break free of repeat arrests. I’ve seen the harm it can do to their families and to themselves. Unlike “Groundhog Day,” the recidivism loop is no laughing matter. Repeat arrests result in harsher and harsher sentences, and the fees and jail time for even the most minor crimes eventually begin to add up. To make matters worse, judges and juries are less likely to be sympathetic toward those with a record of making the same mistakes. It’s a punitive attitude to have toward those who are more than likely facing significant struggles in their lives. Addiction is something that comes up a lot in most conversations about recidivism, with good reason. Without proper support and rehabilitation, chemical dependency can be next to impossible to get rid of. But rather than echo the well-established arguments for rehabilitation over incarceration, I want to look at a different source of repeated arrests: suspended licenses. It may surprise some people to learn that driving with a suspended license is one of the most common repeat offenses here in Atlanta, but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Our metro area just isn’t built for public transit, and the bus lines that do exist aren’t nearly comprehensive enough. You need a car in this city.
Yet, people’s lives and obligations don’t stop just because they lost their license. The temptation to drive can be overwhelming, especially when faced with making it to work on time or picking up your child from school. But as with many issues that lead to recidivism, fixing the availability of transportation is a big-picture project. What can an individual do to keep themselves from falling into a cycle of arrests? From the success stories I’ve seen, the best thing to do is get everything you need to get done quickly. Making it to any required classes, jumping into community service, and keeping a pristine record through probation can help in very real ways. By putting off or delaying these alternative sentencing options, it can be easy to forget a probation appointment, beginning the process all over again. Sticking to this rigorous schedule is tough, but you don’t have to do it alone. Bill Murray’s eventual escape from his endless loop in “Groundhog Day” is only made possible after he seeks help. Only after explaining his situation and getting support is he able to take the steps that eventually break him out of the cycle. Magical loop or no, an extra hand can often give people the push they need to move forward with their life.
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