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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 31 2012: So how do you feel this should affect the goal of our criminal justice system? Rehabilitation or punishment?

    "Those that argue in favor of free will do so as part of a belief system, they provide no research on the subject. "

    I thought that while I want this debate to stay focused on how our criminal justice system should be oriented, I might briefly address this by offering some logic based arguments that might be used in support of fee will.

    First of all, the question of the possible existence of free will is a philosophical question. As such, I'm not sure it's fair to say there is no research supporting a side. Second, free will is a very abstract concept, and while you may read articles such as the one in the Atlantic and feel they disprove the existence of free will, hypothetically I could read the same article and arrive at a different conclusion.

    "The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion." This definition is provided by Wikipedia (the well known arbiter of philosophical truths). The article claims that free will cannot exist because ultimately our brain chemistry is what determines our choices, and what it chooses is predictable. I might look at this and say that since my brain is part of me, my decision is not being controlled by necessity or fate, and as such I have free will. This is just one of many possible examples intended to show that there is virtually always an argument for any idea (sometimes even a good one), so I'm not sure the belief in free will should be dismissed as simply part of a "belief system." It's also worth noting that every belief, even the belief that we have no free will is based on a belief system. But I don't want to belabor a point that may have just been poor phrasing.

    Finally, I don't want to let any of this distract from the overall topic, so make sure if anyone comments on this topic you do it in the scope of criminal justice and the debate prompt.

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