Rehabilitate Or Punish Essay Topics

The success of rehabilitation versus punishment has long been a dispute in progress. Two of the responsibilities of the Justice System are to identify the types of crimes committed and to establish appropriate punishments for the crimes committed. The Justice System focuses on deterrence, incapacitation, punishment, and rehabilitation as goals. The evaluation of punishment and rehabilitation will display the success of the programs, the effect on the victims, the control of the offenders, the bearing on the community, and the financial influence on the public. This paper will reflect the various types of management used for those incarcerated and those under municipal guidance.

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Deterrence of crime

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Deterrence is recognized as having two methods of discipline that are vital to the criminal justice system; general deterrence and special deterrence. The intention of general deterrence is to make the public aware of the penalty imposed by law if crimes are committed. The intention of special deterrence is to cause panic to lawbreakers in hopes that potential crimes will be prevented. Both methods are used as scare tactics since past strategies were thought to weaken convicts and instill justice within the community. The methods proved effective if the convicts were rendered helpless, but results had devastating effects on the convicts that lingered well after release. Although both the general deterrence and the special deterrence methods of punishment were widely used and believed to be beneficial, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that in 1994 a total of 272,111 convicts were released from prison in 15 states. By 1997, 67.5% of the same groups of convicts were again arrested for felonies or significant misdemeanors; 46.9% were again convicted, and 25.4% were convicted for a different offense (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007).


Due to a number of existing reasons, the punishment implemented for committing crimes has not been harsh enough to deter the percentages of illegal acts. Although punishment is enforced, the variety of opportunities made available to prisoners for early release creates a mere short-term solution for society. Convicts can receive early probation for good behavior, voluntarily participating in the educational and therapy programs made available, and attending church services. Even if convicted to serve a life sentence or placed on death row prisoners are given the chance to appeal. Because the death penalty can be a lengthy process the likelihood of convicts appealing has increased. Once taking these options into consideration, individuals contemplating crimes may think the risks are worthwhile (Hargreaves, 2009).


Rather than generating short-term solutions for society by applying criminal punishment, rehabilitation is used as an alternative. Perpetual crime prevention techniques are engendered through rehabilitation. With community supervision, rehabilitation can aid convicts by teaching them how to become a productive member of society. Through rehabilitation, an education and vocational training can instill everlasting knowledge that will enable convicts to become self reliant. Independence promotes confidence which is a steppingstone in becoming a respected individual within a community; subsequently refraining from perpetrating potential crimes (Banks, 2004).
Another type of rehabilitation for convicts is therapy. The primary purpose of therapy is to access the problems that some convicts may experience and provide the appropriate treatment. By reviewing the convicts personal history, physical condition, and mental condition, treatment such as psychotherapy, drug therapy, or a combination of both, can be administered. Understanding and treating the condition is the first step in the rehabilitation of how the convict thinks. Helping the convict discover and understand individual behavior patterns can aid in lessening the yearning or need to commit future criminal activities (2004, p.3).

Effect on victims and victims’ families

The effect on victims and the victim’s families can sometimes create feelings of insignificance. Since many laws cater to the defendant, the victim may feel discriminated against. The duty to enforce the defendant’s constitutional rights may dominate the victim’s rights. Defendants have the right to an immediate trail, the right to legal counsel, the right to meet and oppose witnesses, the right against self discrimination, and the right to accurate legal proceedings and complete righteousness (Rogers, 2006). What about the victim’s rights?

In the past, the rights of victim’s were perceived as less substantial compared to present day. Although victims should have been regarded as the key witness, often victims were considered an aggravation. In 2004, President Bush signed the Crime Victim’s Rights Act that was primarily developed to launch the rights of all victims of crime and all adolescent crimes. These rights are also meant to deliver specific modus operandi, institute particular responsibilities and exceptions, restrict convicts from obtaining revenue from certain events, prevent any unacceptable behavior toward victims, and take accountability for consequences and solutions. The actual rights that were created consists of the right to attend proceedings, the right to reimbursement of expenses, the right to be heard in issues effecting the victim and the family of the victim, the right to be notified of any data relevant to the victim, the right of protection, the right of receiving restitution for losses, the right to receive personal property being held, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to remedies of victims (National center for victims of crime, 2009).

Many victims and members of society believe that individuals convicted of crimes should be required to carry out sentences of punishment opposed to rehabilitation through community supervision. Actual punishment seems more justifiable when committing crimes, especially in regard to violent crimes. Completely ruling people out of society by incarceration without benefits of educational or vocational training is vital to the acknowledgement that criminal acts will not be rewarded but punished; also commonly referred to as just desserts. When convicts do not receive the proper ramifications the victims and families of victims are subject to distress and emotional strain. If the victims and victims’ families’ right to receive restitution is denied then the burden of finances can cause additional hardship (Banks, 2004).

Victims and victim’s families can also receive assistance though community supervision. If a convict is released on probation under stern regulation then monies received through employment are paid to the victims. Additional programs are available throughout various areas that aid in victim assistance. Such programs can offer emotional encouragement, comfort for the grieving, a better understanding of the courts course of actions, and referrals. Committees sponsored through these types of programs also perform outreach to promote awareness. The strategy to increase awareness and accept responsibility for actions is significant to deterring crime rates. The committee members speak directly to the defendants and initiate contact of the defendant with the victims and families of victims.

Effect on the offender

Upon conviction, criminals can undergo a variety of mixed emotions. Feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety are common when separated from family. The burden of incarceration on a family unit can be tremendous, being one of the primary reasons for divorce. The capacity of such adverse emotions and mental anguish caused by incarceration can result in feelings of abandonment, hostility, social ineptness, and the growth of recidivism. These issues do not automatically disappear once released from prison, but linger causing further life complications. Unable to socialize properly can have an ill effect on seeking gainful employment. Facing ridicule from the family and community can add to depression, feelings of isolation, and loss of support when dealing with challenges (Rogers, 2006).
If rehabilitation through community supervision is allowed, many concerns can be alleviated. By providing specific criminals a chance for probation in place of a lengthy incarceration, families can remain a unit. Under community supervision, guidance can be given to those requiring substantial employment which can be frustrating once a person is marked as a convict. Defendants falling under the category of committing nonviolent crimes, such as drug related crimes, would be foremost in the rehabilitation program instead of punishment. Criminals regarded as addicts would be more likely to benefit from a rehabilitation program rather than a serial killer.

Social impact on society

Both the acts of punishment and rehabilitation create a social influence that fluctuates. This is due to the rising cost of prisons, rehabilitation centers, the anxiety of convicts coming back into the community, readjustments to living environments, and family conflicts. How the community envisions the courts findings creates much impact within the legal system, political system, and other areas throughout the nation. The need for additional prisons has also been influenced by the punishment and rehabilitation controversies. If the method of punishment is not successful then there will be an increase in criminal activity proving the need for more prisons. If the method of rehabilitation is successful then there will be an increase in prison population that attends the training and therapy, also proving the need for more space. Encouragement from different viewpoints in regard to the enforcement of strategies within the criminal justice system remains an ongoing battle.

Fiscal impact on society

The punishment factor has a tremendous fiscal impact on our nation. Rehabilitation offers a systematic approach to help convicts reconstruct lives. Another purpose of this method is to prevent recidivism, which lowers the prison expenditures. According to a special report from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “States spent $29.5 billion for prisons in 2001, about a $5.5 billion increase from 1996, after adjusting for inflation. In 2001, the cost of the prison system procedures exhausted 77% of the funds” (State prison expenditures, 2009).


In the justice system, the methods of rehabilitation and punishment are a vital part of the structure. Both types of strategies can be productive in governing crime if assimilated in an effective manner. Both methods should be based on the type of crimes committed, the history of the convict, and a complete psychological evaluation. By employing punishment along with community supervised rehabilitation the chances of deterring crime could positively increase. Perhaps the battle of punishment versus rehabilitation could be put to an end if officials were to confirm that this is a need for both strategies since different types of individuals commit different types of crimes.


  • Banks, Cyndi. (January 30, 2004). The purpose of criminal punishment. Ethics and the Criminal Justice System. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from
  • Hargreaves, J. (2009, July). Contemporary comments. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 21(1), 148-153. Retrieved August 15, 2009, from International Security & Counter Terrorism Reference Center database
  • National Center for Victims of Crime. (2009). Victim Law.
  • Rogers, H. (2006). Defendant’s rights, know your rights! Law offices of Hubert N. Rogers III.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. (August, 8, 2007). Criminal offenders statistics. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

What I Want My Words To Do To You focuses on words from voices that can be still be heard. Contrary to most of the women profiled in this film, their murdered victims have no voice. The painful reality is dead people don't give good interviews. Living murderers do. And in this instance the murderers' voices are given greater significance by celebrity recitations. We would like to see the same effort put forth on behalf of murder victims in America.

"That said, you question the purpose of prison, setting the question within the parameters set by those whose choices and actions put them there. Incarceration is a sanction, just one of many available to lawbreakers in our society. One of the purposes of incarceration is punishment, another is rehabilitation. However, it serves other purposes as well; specifically, deterrence and protecting the public. As a society, we have chosen to prioritize the public safety of our citizens over programs designed to enhance the personal growth of inmates. Bear in mind that most, if not all, rehabilitation programs offered in our prisons were also available to them before their incarceration. All states provide tax-supported programs to benefit their citizens -- be it academic and/or remedial education, vocational skills training, and chemical abuse, psychological, and/or psychiatric treatment. Every inmate had the opportunity to avail themselves of any or all of these programs before their incarceration. Every inmate made a choice -- to drop out of school, to join a gang, to drink, to use
drugs, to commit a crime. Just like everyone else -- whether you're a CEO, a shift worker or a homemaker -- every inmate must acknowledge and accept the
consequences of their choices and decisions.

"From an inmate's standpoint, it is far better to cloak the issue in the mantle of empowerment and entitlement than public safety and punishment. Inmates are entitled to due process, safe and adequate shelter, food, clothing, and medical attention. There is not and should not be any entitlement to any tax-supported program while incarcerated. Our prisons have offered so-called rehabilitation and reform programs for decades at the cost of billions of dollars and countless lives. We encouraged criminals to place the blame for their activities and addictions upon others and we, as a society, did likewise. In our quest to absolve the individual from any accountability we blamed history, poverty, parochial schools, parenting, right on down to the victim of the crime. As a result of our zealousness to shift the blame, our recidivism rate is over 50 percent, the rate of violent crime is exploding, and our prison populations are still growing. It is long past time to toss our emotionally charged, hand-wringing, celebrity-driven approaches to crime, criminals, and punishment and focus instead on individual accountability and responsibility."

Dianne Clemens is President of Justice for All -- Citizens United Against Crime.

"What I would say is that the environment of a prison should model in every way how we want prisoners to behave upon their release. So what do we want them to do when they get out of prison? We'd like them to have respect and compassion for others and respect for the law. That means that while they are a prisoner, they have to receive respect and the prison has to be law-abiding. Today's prisons are neither. What our prisons teach now is that it is normal behavior to hate your enemies and to harm them. Prisoners will answer with violence for the violence that has been perpetrated against them in prison. I don't feel that, I know that. When you talk about reform, you talk about transforming prisoners' lives in a positive way. But prisons offer anything but an environment for that type of transformation.

"The violence that is coming out of these prisons is a much greater threat than terrorism. The costs are astronomical. I would say that the most imprisoned population in America today is the general public, which is uninformed about the nature and consequences of imprisonment as it is practiced today. They are imprisoned in a mass delusion, which in the long run punishes society far more than society could ever punish a convicted criminal."

Robert E. Roberts is the Founder and Executive Director of Project Return and the author of "My Soul Said to Me: An Unlikely Journey Behind the Walls of Justice."

"Most of us, while growing up, learned that human life was sacred, and that murder is the most profound injustice. We learned that the courtroom was the place to search for truth and that justice would prevail. In 'What Murder Leaves Behind,' Doug Magee says, 'In the aftermath of murder, families need some sense of counterbalancing justice. Exactly what that justice might entail differs from survivor to survivor, but all agree that they expect a realistic expression of regret and concern from the criminal justice system.' All too often, this is not forthcoming.

"For the ultimate crime of murder, society must have the courage to take a stand, denounce the act as abhorrent, vow not to tolerate it and follow through with a tough sentence. The murderer deserves to be segregated from society, not only as a penalty (punishment) but for the safety of the rest of us. Perhaps convicted murderers could be rehabilitated to be constructive within the prison environment. My personal opinion (and that of many survivors) is that violent offenders should not be shown leniency."

Jean Lewis, mother of murdered son, Scott, is a member of the National Board of Trustees for Parents Of Murdered Children (POMC). She previously served as National President of POMC.

"AFSC has worked very hard for many decades to change the discourse around prisons, to shift the question away from punishment versus reform, and reframe the debate to address the real reason society wants prisons. The ultimate goal of this work is to reduce and eventually eliminate throwing people in jail as a 'solution' to crime and violence. We work with many groups nationwide to create a system that is not based on prisons, jails, and executions, but on the needs of both victims of crime and perpetrators.

"Yes, all prisoners are entitled to programs aimed at reform. The way a society treats people convicted of crimes is an indicator of the human values of that society. Since the 1980s, there has been a call from many in the criminal justice reform community to only use alternatives to incarceration for 'non-violent' or 'non-dangerous' offenders. We believe that this only legitimizes the imprisonment of large numbers of people based solely on the types of crimes they committed. We believe that we need to shift the center of power and the resolution of conflict away from the criminal justice system."

Tonya McClary, Esq. is a criminal defense/civil rights lawyer and activist, and the National Criminal Justice Representative for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization.

"I think that we really have it backwards on this issue. We are missing a huge opportunity. We are warehousing people, punishing them and returning them to our society worse off than when we got them. I think our goal should be ultimately to help turn people's lives around -- but we are not treating our prisoners that way right now. There is a reason why America has incarceration rates that are seven times higher than our European allies and murder rates that are ten times higher. We are putting people in prison, many times, for non-violent crimes and turning them out more violent and dangerous than when they went in.

"The prison experience is an extraordinarily painful one and anything we can do to help people with that pain is a good thing. That includes art, writing and sports. If people spend their whole time in prison just bottling up that pain and watching TV, chances are when they come out they are going to burst."

Vincent Schiraldi, MSW is the founder and president of the Justice Policy Institute and past president of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Research and interviews by Janet Alicea for POV Interactive.


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