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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 13 2012: First we must define what is the purpose of punishment. A long term sentence is a payback that the system gives to someone for an act that is considered a crime. Rehabilitation is good and works well when the subject wants it. There is a high number of offenders that commit crime after being released from their "punishment time". And the percentage of offenders that stay out of trouble after they go through a rehab program is pretty high.
    In some extreme cases rehab is useless. So the system must take out of the society that extreme offender to keep the rest of the society safe from him/her . I think that the main goal must be to rehab the offenders, but punishment and rehab cant exist without each other. When one fails there is the other.
    • Oct 17 2012: To bring it from the hypothetical to the practical, is it fair to say then that you would advocate a system in which everybody gets one chance at rehabilitation and if they fail or relapse, they revert to basic punishment?
      • Oct 18 2012: Everybody deserves a chance at rehabilitation. Question is : how many individuals out of 100 really want to change? Maybe the first step before rehabilitation is to show the subject why it is good for him/her. Do the best to reach the mind of the subject so the message is properly delivered.
        The basis of punishment is fear. After punishment the offender is supposed to be afraid of being punished again. But i am not sure if that works, because there is a high percentage of offenders that come in and out of detention very often.
        Some people after a bad experience decide to change their ways, some people don't
        As i said before, there are extreme cases where the subject has a "wrong programming situation" in his mindset. We can take the example of serial offenders. As humans they deserve a chance to change. But there are bad instructions in his mindset, that push him to do what he does. What kind of rehabilitation program or how do we get to this individual and wipe off this wrong instructions from his mindset.
        I have seen many cases of successful rehabilitation at the church,. Real people with real situations and after no scientific method worked their last hope was embracing faith and i don't know how but it worked.
        But not everyone will take a step to pray every day and read the Bible. So we also need a scientific method that can be applied in a higher number of cases.
        • Oct 18 2012: Do you think that teaching inmates who "will take a step to pray every day and read the Bible" to do this is the best approach? or do you think that the science and medicine should be the default method of treatment, with the bible study approach being a rare case only taken by the decision of the inmate?

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