By the end of Wednesday, everyone in the Charlotte area knew Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon had been arrested by the FBI on bribery and other charges. The corruption investigation began in 2010, and continued through his mayoral campaign and election just four months ago. During all that time, he was prominent in Charlotte politics and government.
The news saddened and angered friends and officials close to him. There is no doubt the public will call for the harshest federal prison term allowable. And why not? If the allegations are true, Cannon should know better! He did have a hard early life growing up in the projects. But he had a quality “Big Brother,” and eventually with help from others, he became a trusted community leader, mover and shaker.
So, of course he should be punished for any violation of the public trust. But, let’s consider why we automatically look to some facility far away to administer “just” punishment that goes on for too long. When calling for this, do we recognize all the ensuing ramifications of a long prison term for this man?
Cannon is accused of a major wrong, and would need to make amends to society. More than amends, though, our justice system and the public in general will call for harsh punishment. But what will be accomplished by harsh punishment (imprisonment) for the betterment of the community? Incarceration for Cannon, a non-violent offender, would be very costly to the public, and Cannon would benefit little in the way of becoming a trustworthy citizen again. Our society is vengeful and our criminal justice system doles out harsh punishment as an appeasement to a vengeful society.
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Instead, our judicial system and society in general would be better served considering amends that are healing, restorative, life-giving. Amends are defined as “reparation or compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind; recompense.” This restorative justice thinking moves us away from the punishment-mode in dealing with offenders, especially those who are non-violent. Instead of incarceration, the courts could order Cannon to pay stiff fines, participate in community service, be involved in appropriate therapies, etc. Such a path would allow Cannon’s marriage and family to remain intact. It would allow him to work, keep his home and provide for his family. It would allow him to remain in the community he offended and have the opportunity truly to make amends.
If we honestly consider what is punishment, Cannon would have it in greater proportion by staying in the community than by being separated from it. He will have to face his former constituents, his friends and family repeatedly as he moves around his community. And, he would have to face his own shame in a more powerful way than if he were locked away from his community.