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David Steele

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Should criminal sentencing be oriented towards punishment or rehabilitation?

There are basically two lines of thought on what the goal of criminal sentencing (this means after guilt has been proven) should be: justice for the victim, which is usually used to mean punishment for the perpetrator, and rehabilitation for the perpetrator, which means working to make him a functioning member of society. Examples of policies favoring justice for the victim would include the death penalty, as it precludes the possibility of rehabilitation, and life sentences without the possibility of parole, for the same reason. Examples of policies favoring rehabilitation for the perpetrator include in-prison education for inmates, because the aim is to prepare them to find a job on the outside, reducing their dependence on crime and hopefully make them functioning members of society, and parole systems, because they allow for the possibility that if a convict can reform his ways, and has the possibility of functioning well on the outside, he should be released. There are of course, various compromises within those philosophies. One such mixture of philosophies can be seen in the minimum time requirements for parole; which state that inmates granted the possibility of parole must first serve a set number of years out of their sentence before they can be considered for parole. The idea of these minimum time requirements are to provide a deterrent while still allowing for rehabilitation. However critics say that there can be no compromise between these ideas, because if there is any immutable punishment, that contradicts the idea that if the convict is rehabilitated he is released, favoring a deterrent, which has nothing to do with the individual's possibility. So: do you think that these two concepts can exist symbiotically? If so, how? If not, which do you think we should abide by? As a side-note, all my examples are from U.S. law. I would be very interested to hear examples of these concepts from wherever you live.

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    Oct 7 2012: As taught in law enforcement academies ... offenders are sent to prison as punishment not for punishment. As Pat stated they are warehoused and attempts at rehibilitation are superficial at best. I have worked both on the streets and inside and can tell you that this is true.

    In almost every case the final answer is money. To house a inmate is about $65K for hardened and about $40K for minimal. Schools to educate are expensive and without a profit margin are not interested.

    The internal poltics of a prision are very simple .... Prison rules: Do as you are told or you will be punished ... Gang rules in prision: Do as you are told or we will kill you, your dog, and your family.

    As well meaning as they may be, those who protest the prisons treatments and lack of rehibilitation efforts are not well informed. In order for this to work I see one method. Designer prisons. Put murders and those doing life sentences in one area; long term inmates in another; and keeping seperate first timers and short time inmates and these are the ones that MAYBE can be given educational and job training. These are the ones that we should invest on and provide opportunities for success and NOT returning to prison. By isolating them from the hardened prisoners they are not exposed to the prison mentality and gang influence would be minimal and maybe even controlable.

    At the higher level custodies there is little chance for rehab .... the focus is on protecting them from each other. The sad fact is that the gangs are really in charge. We had six officers scheduled and often less in physical presence to manage 2000 inmates. You do the math.

    First develop a plan for rehab .... then find funding .... then devise a means that would not endanger the public .... the checklist goes on.

    I see you are a student. Take a tour of the local prison and rethink your question.

    Bob.
    • Oct 8 2012: Thanks Bob, I take particular interest in your response because of your apparent expertise. I have a parent that works in prisons (he's an attorney for the state that defends prison employees when they're sued by prisoners) which is actually what gave me the idea for this debate, and while I don't mean for this to sound like I'm claiming equal knowledge, I think I can at least respond intelligently. I would ask you this: I know that I can go on Google and find an instance of virtually anything happening, so that alone would not mean much. However there many cases of high level offenders becoming productive members of society. How do you respond to that when you seem to claim high level offenders are nearly impossible to rehabilitate. Also, if John Doe is an alcoholic, and commits a violent act while intoxicated (reminding anyone who's reading this that intoxication is not a defense in any of the U.S. states) does that really mean he's unable to be rehabilitated? Wouldn't a drug/alcohol treatment program and some classes for when he's out be just what he needs? And wouldn't this save taxpayers a lot of money down the road if this helps ensure he doesn't re-offend? A trial is much more expensive than scheduling an A.A. representative to come in and have some group therapy (please set aside the stigma). Finally, taking the state of affairs you describe above, with gangs ruling the prisons, and those who try to help the prisoners being only naive idealists, do you think there should be improvement? I mean, you mention separating the different level offenders, but aside from that do you think we should accept that as the best option available to us, or do you think there's room for some more improvement? If so, I would of course have to follow up with where? Forgive me if this sounds like a test problem, as you mentioned, I am a student.
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        Oct 8 2012: I do think that with most prisoners their main problem is that they have lost their self respect. For reason delineated below.

        I have hired a few of these guys as workers in the past, the ones whose accommodations had signs on the wall that stated "we not fire warning shots". There is a certain element of society that I don't care what you do they are not going to be rehabilitated as they are complete sociopaths, they have zero empathy for the most shocking offenses. You have to talk with these guys to get the idea.
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        Oct 8 2012: They worked for me.
        • Oct 8 2012: Sorry, thought it was a hypothetical.
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        Oct 8 2012: There is nothing hypothetical about what I'm saying. You can go on about nurture vs nature or free will which to me is hypothetical and insidious. The reason this meme is insidious is that it convinces the individual that the fault lies with something or someone else. The problem with this is that the individual blames, insert favorite straw man here, which automatically make the blamer the victim. So people become professional victims. We all know from empirical evidence that the only thing that helps the individual is when he takes responsibility for himself. Forget all the hypothetical and go with what works.

        I think the correct thinking is to look at what works, as per the scientific method is the truth. What doesn't work is trying to rehabilitate psychopaths. What does is to allow the ones that can to take responsibility for themselves.
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        Oct 8 2012: Casey

        No it is easy just pitch the book the psych use to determine if someone is mentally ill. The book is a canard in the first place as it's only real purpose is to have an excuse to prescribe drugs which is where the real money is.

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