Should Lynndie England Permanently Serve As America's Scapegoat?

In 2003, Lynndie England — along with her boyfriend and at least a dozen other soldiers — posed for a series of photos documenting prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Now, she's a welfare mom who wants a second chance.

England, who served about half of a 3 year sentence for her relatively minor role in the Abu Ghraib scandal — she was only convicted of posing for the pictures of abuse committed by her boyfriend (and the father of her child) — returned to her hometown (and her parents' house) after she was paroled. It wasn't an easy homecoming, according to a new story by the AP.

Former Army reservist Lynndie England hasn't landed a job in numerous tries: When one restaurant manager considered hiring her, other employees threatened to quit.

She doesn't like to travel: Strangers point and whisper, "That's her!"

Her family received hate mail from all over the world because of the publicity surrounding the photographs and trial and, 5 years after the abuses were discovered, letters just keep coming. This, despite the fact that England wasn't actually accused (or convicted) of physical abuse of prisoners — and despite the fact that the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of Administration policies that "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees."

What England does have is the son, Carter, with whom she was pregnant when she began serving her sentence — but even motherhood is difficult for her.

She worries about whether she's a good mother to her 4-year-old son Carter.

"Normal moms have jobs. They get up, they take their kids to school, they go to work, they come home, they cook, they clean, they do all that," she says. "I'm home all day."

She says she submitted hundreds of resumes for all kinds of jobs, but no one would give her a chance. She stopped trying months ago and depends on welfare and her parents to get by.

Lynndie England, however, isn't really alone in this. An earlier article in the Guardian about her post-incarceration struggles points out that fast food places won't hire felons. It's true, too, that many landlords won't accept convicted felons as tenants. Having spent a sum total of 18 months in prison (and another 18 on parole), with a dishonorable discharge on her résumé — let alone with her now infamous face — England may well be destined to spend a good chunk of her life relying on the state to support her.

According to the Department of Justice, in the U.S., the overall recidivism rate — the rate of those released from prison who are re-arrested — is nearly two-thirds. The recidivism rate for women offenders is lower — 52 percent — but that still means that more than half of all women who do time end up arrested again. Women like England, who was only convicted and imprisoned once, the recidivism rate is 21 percent, which still means one out of every 5 women incarcerated is arrested again. In no small part, the recidivism rate is a reflection of the doors this society closes for most people convicted of crimes — and anyone that thinks that the money one can (or cannot) afford to spend on a lawyer is often a factor in the kind of justice one receives is fooling themselves. Those people convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison are by and large people without much (if anything) in the way of financial resources; when they are released, they are then subject to what amounts to extra-judicial punishment in terms of employment and housing discrimination. No one expects that prison does much, if anything, to rehabilitate its inhabitants so, when they're released, they are treated as though prison has made them worse people.

Should Lynndie England really be prevented from answering the phone in an office or flipping burgers at McDonald's? And, maybe more importantly, is it in our benefit that she is prevented from doing so? The statistics on recidivism and anecdotal evidence of those that did their time yet can't reintegrate into society say no — but, day in and out, they're told that there's no place for them back in our world... and then we wonder why we keep sending the same people to jail.

Abu Ghraib Scandal Haunts W.Va. Reservist [Associated Press]
'What Happens In War Happens' [The Guardian]

Related: Criminal Offenders Statistics [Bureau of Justice Statistics]
Women Offenders [Bureau of Justice Statistics]