Michael Vick is Optimistic About Prisoner Rehabilitation

This  Sports Illustrated article is worth reading. 

“Now a guy in his early 20s edged to the front of the crowd. “If you could do it all over again,” said the inmate, his eyes meeting Vick’s, “what’s the one thing you’d do different?” The answer was stunning. “Nothing,” Vick said. “I mean, make some better choices. But I needed time to change. Everything happens for a reason.”

Nothing? Vick would clarify his thoughts on the 94-mile bus ride back to Tampa. He’d come on the trip with his adviser, Tony Dungy, and volunteers from Abe Brown Ministries, the prison-ministry group with which Dungy has worked for the past 15 years. “As crazy as this sounds,” Vick would say as the bus rolled past endless orange groves, “if I was standing outside a prison two years ago with what I know now, and you gave me the choice of going in and changing my life or staying out and continuing to live the life I was living, I’d go in. I’d change some things. The dogs, obviously. And maybe six months, not 17. But I needed to change. God gave me a timeout.”

Now, I’m wondering if I need a “timeout”.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

7 thoughts on “Michael Vick is Optimistic About Prisoner Rehabilitation”

  1. If I could change things, bracketing the Vick timeout stuff, I’d make that 17 month sentence shorter too. There’s no way he’d have got anything like that long a sentence or so much abuse for fighting bulls or cocks.

  2. Perhaps Vick is including the time that he spend involved with the legal system, with the shaming and the prison time as part of the span of time he’s being asked about — the dog brutality was a symptom of a larger character flaw that only the events that culminated in prison time could have mended. For an outside viewer, the dogs stand out, clearly, but I expect for Vick they are a part (a very salient part, but still a part) of a larger dysfunction.

    Frankly, I’ll never know much more about Vick than what I read in magazines like SI and the local papers (I’m in Philadelphia). But I am sure that there are plenty of professional sports figures getting away with all manner of outrages every day of the week. Vick did his time and had some financial balloons popped. He’s entitled to his own perspective on how things have played out for him, and if that perspective helps him to stay on a straighter and narrower path, all the better.

  3. I’m glad Michael Vick is optimistic about prisoner rehabilitation. And I am (sincerely) glad that in-prison rehabilitation has seemingly worked for him. I do not share Vick’s optimism with prisoner rehabilitation, however. There is a significant body of research indicating that in-prison treatment, if done right, can lead to a reduction in recidivism. Unfortunately the best in-prison treatment programs typically only lead to single-digit reductions in recidivism rates. Further, the criminogenic effects of imprisonment can be costly and can outweigh any benefits in terms of treatment gains. Thus, for example, the best evidence to date suggests that imprisonment on the whole has a null to slightly criminogenic effect on subsequent criminal behavior. Sending offenders to prison in order to receive rehabilitation programming is a bad idea. There are several viable alternatives to prison for those who do not pose a serious threat to public safety and for whom society doesn’t demand imprisonment for retribution. One option is a community-based rehabilitation program such as a drug court program, which carries the crime-reducing benefits of treatment but does not carry the negatives of imprisonment. A better option in my opinion is a focused deterrence-based strategy like HOPE probation in Hawaii, which combines close monitoring with consistent and swiftly delivered sanctions (usually weekend stays in jail) for noncompliance. While treatment programming has a hard time getting beyond single-digit reductions in recidivism, HOPE-style probation has demonstrated through a randomized trial to be able to cut recidivism in half. Vick was right about one thing, he probably could have gotten the same benefit from prison in 6 months as he did in 17 months.

  4. Aside from the seeming incoherence of his comments overall, the thesis of what he is saying is about as clear a statement of compatibilist thinking as it gets. What he should have said was that he did what he did because he had to. He could have made other choices, but that would have required that he be a different person – the one that stands before you today, having learned from his mistakes.

    Bux makes a very important point on the efficacy of rehabilitation. Were we to take the compatibilist perspective, we would have little moral rationale for retribution, and would be more amenable to utilitarian policy, and the practical benefits such policies allow for. In my view, the moral thing to do is actually to see the Michael Vicks of the world in just this light.

  5. I think, bdbd is onto something here. I don’t think what Vick is saying that with the knowledge that he has now and the man that he is today, confronted with the same temptations would make the same choices he made previously. Rather, if he were the same man he was then, with the same impulses and desires, confronted with a similar situation, he would have been hard-pressed to change anything, except occasionally choices that might have been stochastic rather than impulsive or reasoned. And he would not want to erase it because that experience has made him what he is today–the bad choices that he made improved his life in the long run. He needed the negative experiences, the time out, in order to learn the lesson. Basically, Michael Vick appears to be a disciple of Merleau-Ponty and he does not even know it.

  6. Vick’s statements are pretty darn incoherent, but I think it’s possible to read them along the lines that bdbd and ShadowFox suggest: he recognizes now that he was headed for disaster, and is relatively thankful that his disaster took the form it did. In that case I still wouldn’t want him anywhere near animals, but I might be somewhat less nervous to see him around human beings.

  7. Not to minimize, but I think people are missing the point that animal abuse is also a marker for human abuse. That is, if a person grows up thinking it’s okay to be cruel to animals, this is usually because he or she has grown up seeing much worse being done to humans, and no one stopped it. That’s why so often people are surprised when they get nailed for animal abuse. They had no idea it was wrong in the first place.

    My point is, we all have a lot more work to do. I don’t think we as a culture are serious about stopping violent patterns, at least not yet.

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