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Early on in this eloquent plea for sense and understanding, LeShan quotes white high school students who have to walk home from school through a black and Puerto Rican neighborhood: ""We are afraid because we feel that some of the kids in the neighborhood hate us; they want what we have. . . ."" Her emphasis is on the effects, rather than the larger economic and political forces behind this inequality--in a sense, then, the conditions rather than the roots of crime. Her humane proposals give the impression that prevention lies in supportive parents, caring schools, genuine rehabilitation, and more money for counseling, not changes in the structure that makes these reforms unlikely and insufficient. (Admittedly, if all these institutions were staffed by Eda LeShans, they would no doubt make a tremendous difference to the individuals they served.) But this is not to say that she overlooks the role of racial prejudice, poverty, and tough neighborhoods in creating criminals, or ignores the corporate ""crimes against life"" that discourage attitudes of public responsibility in powerless individuals. Both are forcefully projected, as are the counterproductive horrors of the prison system (""A great many people profit from the punishment business"") and the destructive treatment of ""status"" offenders. The disastrous effects of these influences, and of early messages of unworthiness from parents and schools, are put across through a combination of reasonable, deeply felt, non-preachy arguments and the examples of several ex-offenders whom LeShan interviewed extensively and worked with through the Fortune Society. Her aim is to show how the ""animals"" who may have mugged your grandmother got that way, that they need help and so do potential criminals growing up under negative conditions, that revenge doesn't help and most punitive measures are only that, and that understanding rather than hatred can help us deal with crime socially and individually. Her two-front attack, supporting reason with examples, is powerfully persuasive, and as an antidote to the forces now at work for polarization it should be required reading.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
Publisher: Four Winds