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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 8 2012: Rehabilitation, positive reinforcement works every time
    • Oct 8 2012: Every time? Just to play devil's advocate, do you really think Charles Manson can be rehabilitated? If we captured Osama Bin Laden alive, do you think he could have been rehabilitated?
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        Oct 8 2012: Good day David,

        First I am always a fan of devils advocate, so devils away. But yes if done properly and from day 1 of birth you can achieve better results with positive reinforcement. The problem with our current system is until we change everything that has to do with negative reinforcement system. A positive reinforcement system will not work efficiently. Given enough time and the right positive reinforcement, I think that even someone like Charles Manson would be rehabilitated. The problem is that most people think people should be punished for their actions. For me even as a young child this never made sense, I never understood how yelling at me or punishing me for something I did after I did it actually accomplished anything other then more frustration from all parties involved. It almost makes sense to yell at someone before they do it, that might actually stop the x thing from happening in the first place. Now unfortunately am one of those people if you tell me not to do something I almost always go do that thing. So that doesn't work either. However what does work is showing that through positive reinforcement even for bad behavior the person will change in the way that is best fit. Also everyone has a little bad in us and its fun to be bad. Its about balance not control. In a negative reinforcement system its about control and authority, not about actually making the person a better person to enter into society.

        Here is an example of what Norway is doing.
        http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/24/world/europe/norway-prison-bastoy-nicest/index.html

        Also when one tries to "debate" syntax one will always argue in circles
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          Oct 8 2012: Even where rehabilitation is difficult, positive reenforce, and an appeal to one's better nature is always the most compassionate response society can offer.
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        Oct 8 2012: Also as far as Bin Laden is concerned every side has a hero and a terrorist. One perspective's hero is another's perceptive a terrorist.

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