Where behavioral science and humanism get out of the ivory tower, and into the world.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So Quick To Punish...

One of the major issues I saw while working with people who have intellectual disabilities is how often the people around them, who are there to support them, and help them make the most out of their lives, are so quick to chastise and “correct.”

This seems to be the ruling thought for our penile system, school management and other traditionally institutional systems. They all seem focused on stopping the end disruptive behavior, but seem to invest so few resources in analyzing the precipitating causes. It’s kind of like cleaning up the mess from an over flowing sink, without bothering to turn off the tap.

Does punishment work? Sometimes, but not often. Numerous articles and other work has been written illustrating the failures of the American prison system, a few things get found over and over again, longer, stiffer prison sentences do not reduce crime. What does? Rehabilitation and working on the initial causes that create the problems in the first place.

This works from an economic standpoint as well. Removing drug dealers from the streets doesn’t make drugs go away (unless you get all of the dealers) it just make the drugs that are there more expensive. So what you end up with are addicts going greater lengths to get the cash to buy them. What does remove drugs? Making people not need, or not want them. If there’s no market for drugs, they won’t be profitable and no one will bother to sell them.

Think even closer to home. Think about the last time someone yelled at you. Did it make you think positively of the person? Did it really make you want to change your behavior, or just figure out how to do things so you wouldn’t get yelled at next time?

All behavior is communication, misbehaving is communicating that there is a need that isn’t being addressed. Either there’s a lack of understanding, resources, or ability in being able to meet the need in a better way. Fix that need, replace it with a “better” behavior and there’ll be no more need to yell.

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