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Reducing Crime & Recidivism: Stop Letting the Dog Return to His Vomit

Updated on November 2, 2015
The Revolving Door
The Revolving Door | Source

by Amber Maccione

“As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11 NKJV). This verse from the New King James Version of the Bible sums up our criminal justice system. Our system arrests a man, charges a man, tries a man, convicts a man, sentences a man, punishes a man, and then sends that man back into the same filth that he crawled out of. How can we expect crime and recidivism to be reduced if we do not change the man or give him the tools to change, but rather throw him back into the same predicament that pushed him to commit the crime in the first place? Although every crime should be assigned a punishment and every man who commits a crime should be punished, punishment does not reduce recidivism. The criminal justice system needs to take some of its attention away from punishment and give it to rehabilitation, which gives the man who transgressed against society the tools and support he needs to turn away from a life of crime. This is the vision that will reduce recidivism.

The United States Punitive Criminal Justice System

Our criminal justice system today is punitive (Benson 2003). There are four philosophies that guide in the thinking that we need to “get tough on crime” (Benson 2003): retribution, restorative justice, deterrence, and incapacitation (The Rynard Law Firm). Up until the 1970’s, rehabilitation had been the focus of prison policy (Benson 2003); but in the 1980’s, there was a turn in prison policy that pushed for stricter sentencing requiring criminals to be held accountable for their actions (Alicea 2003). The result of this was an explosive growth among those incarcerated (Benson 2003). As of today, two million people are behind bars – an average of one in every one hundred and forty-two people (Benson 2003). The United States has the highest percentage of people behind bars than any other country (Benson 2003).

The Philosophy & Psychology of Retribution

Retribution

Through the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the rate of incarceration has rose due to the retribution philosophy (Smith). It is based on the Biblical principal of an “eye for and eye” and a “tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24 NKJV; The Rynard Law Firm; Alleman 2002). We (society, community, individual) have been hurt; therefore, we desire to get even for the pain inflicted upon us (Alleman 2002). Each punishment that is given to the offender is justified because it is linked to the moral wrong done. The offender gets what he deserves. Retribution focuses on the “intrinsic wrongness of crime that merits punishment” (Murtagh 2005). This is based on Immanuel Kant’s principle of equality (if wrong is done, then the wrongdoer has upset the balance of the scale of justice. Because he has inflicted suffering onto someone, he deserves to have suffering inflicted upon himself. By doing this, the balance of the scale of justice is restored.) and principle of retaliation (the same suffering is inflicted on the wrongdoer. For example, if someone was to murder someone, then they should be given the same as they did to someone else – death penalty.) (Murtagh 2005).

Restorative Justice Defined

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice is the second philosophy that governs our criminal justice system and has created a rise in the prison population. This philosophy is victim-centered with an attempt to restore the offender and the community from the crime that was committed (The Rynard Law Firm). When a man commits a crime that results in the loss of property; injury to a person; and destroys a person’s sense of security, dignity, or harmony, the system tries to make the offender take responsibility for his crime by forcing him to face his victim and hear how the crime affected their life. It makes the crime real. It makes the people offended real. It brings realization of what he did to his mindset so that he can become fully aware of what he did and accept responsibility for doing it. Therefore, understanding that he must do something (time) for what he has done.

Deterrence

Another philosophy responsible for the increase in prison population is deterrence. Deterrence believes that people make rational choices when they choose to commit a crime. There are two persons responsible for the creation of the deterrence philosophy: social philosopher Jeremy Bentham and social critic of the 1700’s Cesare Beccaria. Bentham believed that people pursue pleasure and avoid pain as mush as possible. Therefore, people will weigh out the pros and cons of each choice before making a decision (Alleman 2002). Going along with this thought, Beccaria believed that punishment should fit the crime and be severe enough to outweigh any pleasure that would come out of committing it (Alleman 2002). Hence, if the pleasure is greater than the pain, then that action is something they want to partake in (The Rynard Law Firm). Basically, the offender calculates the probability of getting caught and the probability of punishment to be attached. If those are greater than the pleasure aspect, the offender will not offend (The Rynard Law Firm). Therefore, every crime needs a strict punishment (Alleman 2002) to insure that pain is greater than pleasure.

Deterrence & Incapacitation

Incapacitation

The last philosophy to create an increase among those incarcerated is the incapacitation philosophy. Basically, this philosophy believes that the criminal justice system should make it physically impossible for an individual to commit a crime. Therefore, the best place for an offender is behind bars where they are physically isolated from the rest of society (The Rynard Law Firm). There are two ways in which the system administers this: collective and selective. Collective incapacitation puts everyone in a certain group (The Rynard Law Firm). For example, everyone who commits murder will either be a first degree murderer, second degree murderer, third degree murderer, or one of the lesser charges such as manslaughter. So everyone who commits first degree murder could be given a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty. Selective incapacitation, on the other hand, puts offenders away based on what is best for society. It uses tailored sentencing based on the individual (Smith). Therefore, not everyone who steals will get the same sentence.

Source

Problems

There are problems with each of these philosophies. The problem with retribution is that it is an end in itself meaning that once the punishment is given, there is nothing else that comes from it. Therefore, this philosophy of retribution cannot reduce crime or recidivism (The Rynard Law Firm). With restorative justice, there is no answer on how to deal with serious or repeat offenders because the focus is on the victim and making the offender accountable. It does not provide a plan on how to control or reduce crime (The Rynard Law Firm). Deterrence is based on the assumption that all people make rational choices by thinking about the consequences before they act (Wright 2010). The problem is that research has found that people commit crimes based on other things that might cloud them from making rational choices (i.e. socioeconomic situation, culture, peer association, and drug/alcohol addiction) (The Rynard Law Firm; Wright 2010). Another concern with deterrence is that it assumes all individuals know all the sanctions and risks/consequences that go with a crime (Wright 2010). If an individual isn’t aware of all of these, then he cannot rationally make a decision on whether a crime is worth it. And lastly, incapacitation takes the individual out of society and places him in an environment that sometimes results in him becoming worse than when he went in (Alleman 2002).


Prison for Punishment

Those Who See Punishment Rather Than Rehabilitation

Although there are problems with a punitive criminal justice system, others still claim that the whole goal of the criminal justice system is not in correcting an individual, but in punishing them for the crime committed – justice not rehabilitation. They believe that the purpose of imprisonment is to punish the individual for the crime, not correct them – justice over treatment – which is based on moral grounds in order to enforce the cultural values of that time (Logan & Gaes 1993). The biggest mistake of the criminal justice system was coining the term “corrections”, which gives an illusion that correcting a criminal is the purpose of the system (Logan & Gaes 1993). The mission of the system should be to keep prisoners inside, safe, in line, healthy, and busy while being fair as efficiently as possible (Logan & Gaes 1993) because prisoners are “entitled to due process, safe and adequate shelter, food, clothing, and medical attention” (Alicea 2003). They are not entitled to treatment or rehabilitation (Logan & Gaes 1993). Punishment should be used to “correct the incorrigible, rehabilitate the wretched, restrain the dangerous, deter the determined, and reinforce the social order (Logan & Gaes 1993).

Rehabilitation or Punishment

Prisons Shouldn't Be About Punishment

Those For Rehabilitation

On the flip side of those for the punitive criminal justice system are those that say punishment should not be the focus but rehabilitation should. A national study reported that 55% of people favored rehabilitation over punishment as the main goal of the system (The Rynard Law Firm). Rehabilitation tries to help rather than take revenge upon a criminal (Smith). It is “punishment intended to reform a convict so that s/he can lead a productive life free from crime” (Smith). It is therapeutic rather than punitive; and therefore, views criminal behavior as a disease (mental illness, physical illness, drug addiction, limited opportunities for economic success) in need of a cure, which scientific methods can work on curing them (Smith).

In the 1820’s, prisons such as Auburn, Ossining, and Pittsburgh used rehabilitation as its form of “punishment” (Smith). They isolated prisoners in order to remove them from the temptations they faced that caused them to commit crime, force them to listen to their own conscience, and reflect upon their criminal actions (Smith). Today, there is a push for rehabilitation rather than punishment because of research done in psychology, criminology, and sociology (Smith). Things such as psychological analysis, drug and alcohol treatment, educational programs, vocational training, relationship counseling, anger management, therapy, and religious study have become part of the science to reeducate criminals’ values, attitudes, and skills (Smith).

The reason those for rehabilitation are against punishment is because just incarcerating an individual only allows that individual to pay for a debt they owe due to the crime they committed. It does not allow for that individual to be reformed. Hence, that individual re-enters society with all the same obstacles that caused him to commit that crime and be placed behind bars (Smith). He also has a few other obstacles attached as he re-enters: criminal record, older in age, without marketable skills, without improved education, social relationships ruined (depending on how much time spent on the inside), and further acclimated to crime (prison life fosters crime [Alleman 2002]) (Smith). What rehabilitation does that punishment alone cannot do is “treat the underlying causes” so that the individual “can return to society as a productive citizen” (Smith).

Equal Punishment for Crime
Equal Punishment for Crime | Source

Utilitarian Punishment Model

There are three models available for how to handle criminals entering the criminal justice system: utilitarian punishment model, rehabilitation model, and the justice model (Alleman 2002). The utilitarian punishment model follows the belief that all “people commit crime with full understanding of what they are doing” (Alleman 2002). This model believes that those caught and prosecuted deserve punishment that is equal to the harm and damage they caused (Alleman 2002). Therefore, the utilitarian punishment model uses the philosophies of retribution (getting even and giving equal amount of pain), deterrence (penalties attributed to crimes), and incapacitation (time in jail and/or prison) (Alleman 2002). Basically, this model sees things in black and white; there is no thought as to the specific individual. The focus is on the crime and what the government says should be the penalty (Alleman 2002).

This model though can only be effective if the punishment is decisively made in a timely manner and is administered swiftly (Alleman 2002). For example, when you parent a child and that child does something wrong, waiting months to discipline that child for that wrong is ineffective because by then the child has possibly forgotten all the details involved in that transgression. Rather, a parent tells the child what they did and why it was wrong and then informs the child of the discipline whether it is a spanking, getting something taken away, or grounding. The same goes for a person accused of a crime. They must be told immediately what they did wrong (the trial phase), told what their punishment will be (sentencing phase), and then have the punishment administered (incarceration phase). The problem though is that it takes months and sometimes years before the trial phase is over and the incarceration phase is sometimes too long to where the punishment loses its effectiveness.

Another reason that this model can be considered ineffective is the condition that the prisoner finds himself within the correctional facility. Because incarceration means punishment only (Alleman 2002), conditions are rough inside. Prisoners come out worse than when they went in (Alleman 2002). Prison life fosters sadistic and depressed moods as well as anxiety and negative emotions (Benson 2003). And because punishment is the focus, the staff working within the establishment are seen as enemies (Alleman 2002) instead of people trying to help. Therefore, aggression rather than change is fostered (Alleman 2002).

Learned Behavior You Can Teach To Change
Learned Behavior You Can Teach To Change | Source

Rehabilitation Model

The second model is the rehabilitation model, which is a “systematic attempt to change criminals” (Alleman 2002) because it believes that “criminal behavior is learned” (Alleman 2002), and therefore, needs to teach the individual to disassociate themselves from the things that lead them to commit the crime (Alleman 2002). It attempts to change the individual in the way they respond to triggers in their environment (change their thinking that the world is threatening, fearful, domineering, acquisitive, and egocentric), change the motivation behind why they are driven to commit crime (eliminate the desire, pleasure, excitement, and reward that the crime may offer), alter or reduce the economic or behavioral problems attributed to why they commit crime, and to change destructive lifestyles (change habitual patterns) (Alleman 2002). This, of course, requires that the criminal justice system develops programs to administer these goals (Alleman 2002).

The problem with a solely rehabilitation mindset is that criminals do not take responsibility for their actions and the system does not make them accountable (Alleman 2002). When you do not hold someone accountable or require them to take responsibility for their actions, change cannot really occur because that person has not been shown how their action was wrong and has not repented for what they did. In order to truly change, someone must admit their wrong and acknowledge that they need to change. They also need to want to change, which leads to the second reason why a solely rehabilitation mindset is ineffective. When forced to change (Alleman 2002), some do not respond because they do not want to change.

Another problem with the rehabilitation model is that not all programs work and many do not focus on the individual needs (Alleman 2002). Programs that have been found ineffective are deterrence-based programs, casework and group/individual counseling, control-oriented programs such as boot camps, and intensive supervision (The Rynard Law Firm). But cognitive-behavioral, skill oriented, and multi-model programs have been found to be most effective (The Rynard Law Firm). These types of programs focus on changing attitudes and cognitive processing to treat mental and personality health problems, heal social relationships, and develop educational and vocational skills in order to help offender gain employment (The Rynard Law Firm).

Rehabilitation alongside Punishment
Rehabilitation alongside Punishment | Source

Justice Model

The last model used is the justice model, which is a combination of the other two (utilitarian punishment model and the rehabilitation model) (Alleman 2002). It focuses on giving the offender consistent, determinant sentences along with providing educational services, counseling, and treatment to those that want it (Alleman 2002). In following this model, it solves the issue found in the rehabilitation model of not holding criminals accountable and requiring them to take responsibility for their actions by requiring them to serve time. It also solves the issue found in the utilitarian punishment model of not giving the criminals tools to make changes in order to avoid committing crimes again by offering programs (Alleman 2002).

The problem with this model is that rehabilitation is voluntary, which causes some offenders to never get the help they may need in order to change (Alleman 2002). Although forcing an individual to participate in a rehabilitation program has been seen as ineffective, so is an offender never participating in a program that could help them change. The issue is that rehabilitation programs in the justice model are not individualized. The “prisoner is treated impersonally and equally according to the gravity of their crimes” (Logan & Gaes 1993).

Another problem is that punishment and rehabilitation are administered within the same time period and establishment causing the rehabilitation to feel more punitive than therapeutic (Alleman 2002). If rehabilitation feels more like a punishment than something that is there to help the individual, than the rehabilitation will be ineffective. For example, when a parent is at their wits ends with a problematic child, sometimes they resort to taking that child to counseling because they don’t know what else to do. The counseling serves in the child’s mind as a punishment rather than something to help the parent and the child with the situation.

The Punitive System = Overflowing Incarcerated Population

All these philosophies and models that have been tried within the criminal justice system have led to United States being the leader in the amount of people incarcerated (Benson 2003). It has also lead to 90% of all state prisons to be filled with violent and repeat offenders (Pearlstein 2001). Two thirds of those incarcerated will re-offend within three years of leaving and usually commit more serious crimes (Gilligan 2012). Therefore, something needs to be done to change this so that recidivism is reduced and our population of those incarcerated begins to decline.

With problems at every angle the criminal justice system tries to take and with people on both sides of the spectrum claiming get tough on crime is the right route to go or that rehabilitating the criminal is the right way to go, it seems that there will never be a solution that works as well as satisfies both sides of the argument on whether to punish, rehabilitate, or combine them. But there is an answer to this problem of whether we should punish or rehabilitate and it is found in the concept of the justice model, which combines the two. But to really work, punishment and rehabilitation should be separately administered to offenders.

What Needs to Happen

In a national study, 92% of people believed that rehabilitation should be administered to offenders either inside the correctional facility or outside of it (The Rynard Law Firm). Therefore, there is support for punishment and rehabilitation to be apart of the criminal justice system. What needs to happen first is that the criminal justice system needs to realize that punishment contradicts rehabilitation (DeLuca, Miller, & Wiedemann 1991) because they have different missions. Punishment seeks to hold the offender accountable and take responsibility for their actions. Rehabilitation seeks to change the offender into a productive person in society. Therefore, the offender needs to first do a time of punishment and then do a time of rehabilitation (DeLuca, Miller, & Wiedemann 1991).

The second thing that needs to happen is for the system to realize that every offender commits crime based on different motives and situations. Some of the factors behind why someone falls into a lifestyle of crime are child abuse when they were younger, poverty, racism, broken homes, illiteracy, lack of economic opportunity, discrimination, gangs, and drugs (Criminon International 2005). When the system realizes that each violation of crime by each offender should be looked at with fresh eyes, then offenders can get the help they need through a program written for them and their specific needs.

A third thing that the system needs to recognize is the difference between punishment and restraint. Research shows how administering pain upon individuals only encourages more pain because people learn by example (Gilligan 2012). Therefore, whether administering punishment or rehabilitation, prisoners need to be shown respect and kindness just as society would want those prisoners to show when they return to the community (Gilligan 2012).

Lastly, the criminal justice system needs to realize that shorter sentences are more effective than longer sentences because with shorter sentences individuals are more likely to keep ties with family, employers, and the community promoting a more successful transition back into society whereas individuals who serve long sentences are in threat of becoming institutionalized, often lose pro-social contacts, and become removed from society resulting in recidivism (DeLuca, Miller, & Wiedemann 1991, Wright 2010). The get tough on crime approach created a failing system with mandatory sentencing; truth in sentencing; and three strikes, you’re out (Wright 2010). These things were created in order to deter individuals from committed crimes because of the threat of substantial terms of imprisonment for felony convictions (Wright 2010). Unfortunately, a 1999 study showed that there was a 3% increase in recidivism with those that had long sentences (Wright 2010). Along these lines, research has also shown that “the certainty of punishment is more likely to deter than the severity of punishment” (Wright 2010). Furthermore, shock incarceration programs and shorter sentences cost less per year than the traditional way of punishing (DeLuca, Miller, & Wiedemann 1991). If the United States continues with this get tough on crime approach, the incarceration rate will double in ten years (9 year average annually is 7.38%) (DeLuca, Miller, & Wiedemann 1991).

Criminon International

Criminon Criminal Rehabilitation Program

As the United States seek to find a plan to revamp the criminal justice system so that crime and recidivism is reduced, two places have already found workable solutions: New Zealand and San Francisco, California. In 1972, New Zealand created Criminon Criminal Rehabilitation Program, which addressed factors that produce and precipitate criminal behavior, restored common-sense values, provided educational tools and life skills so the offender is able to rejoin society as a contributing, responsible member, provided effective drug rehabilitation in and out of the correctional facility, and assisted the criminal justice system to bring reform (Criminon International 2005). Eventually, this program spread and became international reaching more than 2500 prisons around the world, including inside the United States (Criminon International 2005).

Criminon Criminal Rehabilitation Program is a non-profit, non-sectarian community based program that “can be united in different contexts from maximum secure housing to community programs for at risk youth” (Criminon International 2005). It has over 30 years of development experience and has proven to work in numerous places, Los Angeles being one (Criminon International 2005).

The program is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, which targets the human brain by transforming how a person thinks (Criminon International 2005). It examines behavior and consequences in order to encourage the offender to choose a different path other than the criminal one he is on (Criminon International 2005). It also focuses on education and literacy skills so that the offender can function in society, obtain and hold a job, and make rational decisions. The program fosters study skills so that the offender can gain knowledge, become successful, and lessen their dependence on welfare and public assistance (Criminon International 2005).

The reason behind this program is that it saw how prisons became a breeding ground for harsh conditions, gang activities, and violence (Criminon International 2005). It also saw that when these offenders were released, they faced difficulties and would end up back in the system raising the rate of recidivism (Criminon International 2005). It realized that societal problems gave way to a criminal class, which led to incarceration. During incarceration, inmates became hard leading them to live a criminal lifestyle. In turn, society felt that harsher anti-crime policies should come into play to reduce recidivism. But in return, it did the opposite; it created more problems (Criminon International 2005). Therefore, the Criminon Criminal Rehabilitation Program was established so that the criminal could gain a sense of self-respect and self-worth (Criminon International 2005).

The Way To Happiness

L. Ron Hubbard

What the program does is offer both on-site and off-site (correspondence) courses. The on-site program contains five main courses: a course in communication tools (drills and exercises to increase ability and skill), learning improvement course (literacy and reading), the way to happiness course (personal moral code to develop self-respect and self-worth), a course in recognizing and overcoming anti-social behavior (identify negative behaviors and develop pro-social behaviors), and a course in understanding and overcoming addictions (explores how you became addicted and how to b free and maintain an addiction free lifestyle). The on-site program is more intensive and more closely supervised than the correspondence program and also offers further course such as parenting and decision making (Criminon International 2005).

The off-site or correspondence program starts off a little different even though it has a lot of the same courses. It starts first with the way to happiness course. This course is centered on the secular common-sense moral code by L. Ron Hubbard. He is responsible for developing the way to happiness course, which “adopted a new approach to thinking about goals, interpersonal conduct, the impact of anti-social behavior, and decision making skills” (Criminon International 2005).

Re-Educational Program

The second program that has seen success is found in San Francisco, California, and was created by James Gilligan. It is a re-educational program that works with violent make offenders in that area (Gilligan 2012). The program found great success in that it reduced violence within the jail to zero after a year (Gilligan 2012). And as little as four months, it was able to reduce the frequency of violent re-offending by 83% compared to other jails that did not have the program (Gilligan 2012).

The Common Denominators
The Common Denominators | Source

Common Denominators

The two common denominators in each of these programs is education. Educating offenders has been the only form of rehabilitation to show a 100% reduction in recidivism (Gilligan 2012). Another working form of rehabilitation is programs based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, which has also shown great progress in reducing recidivism (The Rynard Law Firm).

In order for recidivism to be reduced, our criminal justice system needs to be remodeled. James Gilligan suggests that all prisons be demolished and in their place put residential communities that are locked, safe, secure, and home-like where every form of therapy is available to the offender (Gilligan 2012). Another thought is that sentencing be two-fold. First part of sentencing is the punishment phase, which is to be short. The second part is the rehabilitation part, which is suggested to be community-based with strict supervision (DeLuca, Miller, & Wiedemann, 1991). Also, it is believed that all rehabilitation should be individualized. The treatment should be centered on the individual and also include community-based programs for when the offender is released (Benson 2003). Lastly, it is suggested that there be a sense of forgiveness where the offender is reintegrated into society their conviction isn’t advertised, rather their evidence of rehabilitation is (Pearlstein 2011). So how would a punishment-rehabilitation model look if the United States were to implement something along these suggestive lines?

Steps in the Process
Steps in the Process | Source

A Glimpse at a New Criminal Justice System

The first step is when a person is arrested, charged, and goes through a trial. The criminal justice system should not only get the facts about what happened during the crime, but also the motive behind the crime and the background of the offender. Every offender should be interviewed by a psychologist to gain information that can help with the sentencing, both punishment and rehabilitation. For example, if someone stole food from the store and did so because they were homeless and hungry verse someone who stole food because they just didn’t feel like paying, there would be a different form of punishment and rehabilitation prescribed. For someone that did it because he was hungry and homeless, the punishment might be to work off the amount of what he stole (whether in a work release program or some type of job within the jail/prison). Once he worked his debt off, he would be sent into rehabilitation. Rehabilitation might be educational courses, individualized counseling to help the offender find a job and a place to live so that he gains a little bit of self-respect and self-worth back as well as a sense of security. On the other hand, the person who stole just because would get a sentence equivalent to his crime (possibly the same punishment as the other person), but his rehabilitation would definitely be different because his motive and situation is different. His rehabilitation may be more cognitive in focusing on changing his attitude towards stealing.

The second step would be the punishment phase, which should be swift, precise, and short. Sentencing should happen immediately after conviction. It should also be precise in that whatever the judge says is the sentence, the offender completes. Therefore, there is no early release from the correctional facility or shortened sentences because of good behavior. The sentencing for punishment should also be short, recommended that it not be longer than five years (DeLuca, Miller, & Wiedemann 1991).

The rehabilitation phase would be the next step. Because habits are hard to break and creating new habits and thoughts can take some time, this phase should be the longest. There are guidelines that should be followed when developing a rehabilitation plan. First, the criminal justice system should identify the conditions and circumstances that led up to the individual committing the crime. This will help the system target known predictors of crime and recidivism. Second, the system needs to get the individual to agree to the rehabilitation by discussing what the problems are that they see and the programs that they believe will help the individual. Third, there should be a cognitive-behavioral plan developed that has specific behavioral goals that the individual needs to reach during the rehabilitation period. Fourth, the system should provide an environment that is conductive and supportive of change. Hence, rehabilitation should be done outside the facility that administers the punishment. Fifth, there should be a contact person, preferable a counselor or psychologist whom gives feedback and positive enforcement. Sixth, there should be an after-care program that follows the rehabilitation plan to help the individual once released back into society. This program should provide a counselor or psychologist who performs follow-up evaluations. Lastly, every program that the individual is required to complete should flow from one to the other in order to arrange long term rehabilitation and also address the individual’s needs (Alleman 2002 & The Rynard Law Firm).

The phase should be forgiveness. Aiden R. Gough states, “We sentence, we coerce, we incarcerate, we counsel, we give probation and parole, and we treat – not infrequently with success – but we never forgive” (Pearlstein 2011). Forgiveness needs to be part of the process of transforming the offender so that they have a slate in the community that will not prohibit the individual from finding housing and a job. Right now, there are collateral sanctions and collateral consequences that block offenders from gaining employment and other benefits (Pearlstein 2011). In a survey conducted in 2004, 80% of big companies did a criminal background check, which hinders many offenders from gaining employment because of the sanctions and consequences attached to their conviction (Pearlstein 2011). A better option would to forgive the offender of his transgression by the original sentencing court issuing “an order that relieves all the legal disabilities after the offender satisfies” (Pearlstein 2011) the requirement of punishment and rehabilitation; and after a period of law abiding conduct (recommended five years), the same “sentencing court may issue an order vacating the convictions all together” (Pearlstein 2011). What this does is gives the offender an incentive to rehabilitate as well as reconciles the offender to the community (Pearlstein 2011). Although some might see this process as a cheaper form of sealing or expunging one’s record, it is different in that it “reintegrate[s] offenders to society by not concealing their convictions but by advertising the evidence of [the offender’s] rehabilitation” (Pearlstein 2011).

Insanity - doing the same thing expecting different results.
Insanity - doing the same thing expecting different results. | Source

Expecting Different Results When Doing The Same Thing

You cannot expect different results if you continue to do the same thing. And so that is what our criminal justice system is doing. It decided to turn during the 1970’s from the rehabilitation thinking to punitive system that thought getting tough on crime would reduce the rate of recidivism. Unfortunately, that thinking has proven wrong as the United States is the leading county in the amount of people they have incarcerated (Benson 2003). Instead of admitting that the get tough on crime approach hasn’t worked and to look for another option in dealing with the problem, the United States has turned to private institutions to contract them to house criminals. So in this process of continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results, the recidivism rate continues to rise. Therefore, it is important for people to speak out about this problem and offer alternative solutions so that those whom offend can be punished and also rehabilitated in order to be reconciled back to the community and become a productive member of society. Therefore, it is time to stop being the dog that returns to its vomit and become proactive in revamping our criminal justice system so that our world becomes a safer and better place for those who offend as well as those who do not.

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Wright, V. (November 2010). “Deterrence in Criminal Justice: Evaluating Certainty vs.

Severity of Punishment”. The Sentencing Project. Retrieved from

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    • tjlajoie profile image

      Tim Lajoie 23 months ago from Lewiston, Maine

      Well done! This is a very comprehensive overview of the penal system and its history in the United States. You pointed out a very important issue...that of forgiveness. Our system tends to give up on offenders, sentencing them to life on the "installment plan." I wish we applied a more rehabilitative approach to criminal justice. I think sometimes our system is rooted in revenge, not justice. Our system is very good at taking misdemeanor offenders to and promoting them to felons. There needs to be some sort of intervention...what we are doing now isn't working. Keep talking about it.

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