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The Rights Of Punishment Essay, Research Paper

Wake Up Call

Is this a hellish nightmare that I have to awaken from?

Caged and confined, thinking and pondering,

I wonder what human is this

that he should be subjected to imprisonment

that neither improves nor corrects his soul?

Is there no compassion for restoring a man

to contribute to this nation?

Or does the dark side of humanity

see offenders of the law as utter undesirables

unworthy of aid and therapy?

Society, I have been tried and sentenced.

Serving time for violating the law is not supposed to be a picnic.

But demoralizing and dehumanizing a man

to the dust of the ground does not correct behavior

that got him incarcerated in the first place.

This only fuels the fire,

a fire which, if not handled properly,

will in time burn everything in its path.

Now who is the real criminal?

Cell 52514

Block 2-229

Crescent City Penitentiary

Everyday, the American prison system becomes more crowded and over-burdened. Prison bed space cannot keep up with the prison population. While presidents and governors call for a ?tough stance? on crime, the infrastructure is inadequate to contain all offenders. However, even if there were enough room to fit every individual that commits a criminal act, would this be the best move for the community and the offender? Placing an individual into a prison removes them from the general population, thus making the society they live in safer. But, separating individuals in a community does indirectly injure the community as a whole. These individuals obviously are no longer contributing to the local economy, but on a basic level, their absence places a hole into a community. Offenders have been shaped by the values and practices of their community. So, even though an individual may have acted in a way that is unacceptable to their community, that person is still the product of his community. Therefore, communities must hold some of the burden for making people into who they are.

So, prisons must do more then just contain offenders. A responsible society must make the effort to rehabilitate these individuals and make strides to re-connect them with the community. As Bill McKibben says, ?Isn?t it time to focus harder on substantive problems, such as how do we build a society that doesn?t destroy the planet by its greed, and doesn?t ignore the weak and the poor (McKibben, p. 720).? Much attention has been given to issues of big business versus the environment. People can sympathize with this cause. Though it may not be as glamorous, it is just as important that society?s addresses the needs of the less fortunate. Even though criminals who commit the most heinous crimes receive the majority of public attention, most offenders are not intrinsically evil or irreversible. Often they are weak individuals who may not have received the best upbringing or have instilled in them a set of values incompatible with the community. McKibben feels that it is important not to ignore these unfortunate individuals, and give them an opportunity to re-engage with society in a mutually acceptable way.

Therefore, prisons need to train offenders to exist with the rest of society. In the book, C-Unit, the authors suggest that prisons fulfill a certain role.

The modern prison is asked to perform three tasks: (1) to make explicit in action that the community will not tolerate certain destructive behaviors; (2) to protect the community, for at least temporary periods of time; and (3) to prepare such persons to be responsible members of the community when they are released from prison. (Studt, Messinger and Thomas, p. 3)

By containing prisoners within the confines of a jail, they are removed from the community at large, thus protecting the community. In addition, by making this prison stay punishment, inmates, for the most part, realize that they acted in a way that was unacceptable. Preparing individuals for re-integration into society is where the role of a prison becomes complex.

A prison stay is unlikely to reform any criminal if it only means that they are separated from the community and there is no drive to change. The first change that needs to be addressed is on the value system of an inmate. Without this, it is only superficial to urge an offender to conform to the role of a responsible citizen.. The offender must be made to realize that the act they committed was unacceptable. Further, they need to understand why it was not legal within society and comprehend why it was wrong. The authors of the C-Unit think that offenders need to learn what it means to hold a moral role within society. They say;

Specifically we consider that a moral relationship is characterized by ascription of dignity to individuals, respect and concern for the rights and welfare of others in pursuing individual interests and reliance on positive social controls rather than on force or manipulation to regulate interaction. (Studt, Messinger and Thomas, p.5)

Offenders have to acquire the ability to relate to others in the community. They need to have concern for more than their personal desires and must learn to act in a way that does not infringe on the lives of other individuals. Specifically, offenders must develop compassion and tolerance towards others in their community.

McKibben would agree that in order to be a responsible member of society, an individual would have to consider the needs of the community. He states, ?by accepting the idea that we should never limit desire or choose from the options our material and spiritual liberations give us, we ignore similarly pressing facts about our larger community (McKibben, p. 721).? Offenders need to learn that their actions have a direct impact on the community and that they cannot pursue their selfish wants inconsiderately. They need to live within the same set of limits as everyone else. If an offender is able to perceive these limits, they are better able to re-connect with the community

This change in an offender?s perception of values cannot be facilitated by force. The C-Unit authors talk of change through ?positive social controls,? rather than coercion. Such an important change in individual?s fundamental value system must be taken voluntarily, otherwise the risk of rejection increases. In his essay, The Idea of ?Community?: A Critique, Dennis Wrong examines the difference between ?conformity based on shared values? and straight ?conformism (Wrong, p. 79).? Wrong believes that a person will naturally conform to an ideal if that person shares the same values as other of the ideal. Conformism is different in that it requires no agreement on values. It is conformity driven solely by the want to conform. The risk involved is that if offenders conform to the role society has laid out for them, they may not have accepted society’s values. It is important, for lasting change to occur, that this conformity, back into an accepted member of the community, also include agreement on values. If the values of an offender remain in conflict with those of society and the offender is just practicing conformism, there is less of a chance that the offender will be successfully re-integrated with society.

Even if an offender?s value set changes, they will still have difficulty returning to society because they often lack the social skills necessary to exist with others. They may also lack the ability to trouble shoot their own problems in a way that does not include an illegal act. In order to rehabilitate individuals, it is required that they develop the proper set of skills to help them lead a respectable life. In his essay, Probation and Cognitive Skills, Frederick Chavaria says that;

Nearly every notable (successful) program shared one common characteristic: some technique had an impact on the offender?s thinking. Effective programs not only targeted the offender?s environment, behavioral responses and skill development, they also sought to increase the offender?s reasoning skills, problem solving abilities and expand offenders empathy toward others. (Chavaria, p.57)

Not only must a program address the values and compassion of an inmate, but it must also give the inmates a set of tools that will allow them to be successful. When inmates leave the confines of prison, they need to have some vocational skill that will allow them to gain useful and satisfying employment. Many of the skills offenders need, however, are more ?soft? and not based on a specific job function, but are universal. Offenders need to be taught how to handle the difficult times they will run into beyond prison walls in a way that is acceptable to the community. If an offender does not have these tools, often they will relapse into their old ways in order to combat a problem. Having the skills to deal with individuals and problems increases the likelihood that an offender will have a smooth transition back into the community.

Many programs attempt to induce these important changes in offender?s behavior. All of these programs accept that some criminals? acts are too abominable or an inmate is so hardened to the prison system that they are beyond change. First, these programs must focus their energy on offenders who can be rehabilitated and who have committed crimes that are not overly nefarious. Once an offender population is defined and a program is put in place, it must be objectively determined whether a program is successful. In order to evaluate effectively a program?s ability to make changes to an offender?s life and break the criminal cycle, appropriate measures need to be examined. A successful program would primarily reduce the chances that an offender would commit a crime. A reduction in recidivism would indicate that the reformed offenders had acclimated back into the community in an acceptable way. Changes in lifestyle, though difficult to measure, including an increase in education or the ability to hold a quality job, would also indicate that a program is achieving its goals. Programs that claim to fulfill these measures include, shock incarnation, prison boot camps and the extended use of the parole system. (University of Cincinnati, Division of Criminal Justice)

Both shock incarcerations (SI?s) and boot camps take place while offenders are still serving their custodial term. SI?s place new offenders into a very intensive prison sentence that is harsher than the standard sentence for a particular crime, but for a shorter period. For instance, an offender might normally receive fivehundred hours of community service or the option of entering an SI that would require a jail term that amounted to less time served than the community service program. The offender is segregated from the regular population, but is still subjected to the realities of prison. The Criminal Disposition Commission?s Alternatives to Incarceration Committee found this imperative for the success of SI?s. They say, ?Shock programs are purported to give felons sufficient experience with prison to deter them from crimes without risking ?Prisonization? and its accompanying effects (Coyle, p. 3).? By segregating the prison population and keeping the SI members isolated, offenders are less likely to become hardened. When offenders are subjected to the long-term reality of prison, they can develop a rejection of society called ?prisonization.? It is very difficult to re-integrate an offender after they have become hardened to the penal system. Segregation from the main prison population also means that offenders do not have as great of an opportunity to develop a network of criminals. Such sentences work by giving a new offender a startling view into penitentiary life without the effects of prisonization.

Boot camps are similar to SI?s in that member offenders are isolated from the rest of the population. The difference is that boot camps require that members perform strenuous, difficult labor. Often, an offender who accepts a boot camp sentence receives a shorter term, but by accepting this term, they are agreeing to work. Boot camps are effective because they give inmates skills while receiving punishment. In his article, Boot Camps as a Viable Alternative, Jeffrey Collins says that these programs, ?assist offenders in developing self-esteem, self-discipline and a positive work ethic with value based principles (Collins, p.1)? Self esteem and discipline along with a positive work ethic are tools an offender can directly apply to their lives outside of prison. The concept of ?value based principles? suggests that boot camps attempt to enlighten offenders to what acceptable values are. Since these programs are involving the offender in a voluntary work environment, it is hoped that these values will be absorbed by the individual.

Both of these programs outperform a standard prison sentence in terms of recidivism, but the effect is only marginal. When an offender leaves the supervision of these programs, they often revert to old habits. Success of these programs increases dramatically when coupled with services that support the reintegration of an offender back into the community. The parole system is one such program and is often under utilized by the judicial system. In her article, Federal probation and pretrial services – a cost- effective and successful community connection system, Loren Buddress claims that probation and pre-trial services can have a large impact on breaking the criminal cycle. She states;

The federal pre-trial services system offers a solution to the dilemma facing lawmakers and public officials. The system has years of proven, unique success with those it supervises; it achieves this success at one-tenth the cost of incarcerating an offender; it fulfills its mission to protect the public by effectively using correctional resources to reduce offender recidivism. (Buddress, p.5)

Such programs are much less expensive than prisons and using them more often would provide an outlet to prison overcrowding while offering marked success in reducing recidivism. In addition, since these programs offer individual supervision, they provide the kind of social support that the authors of the C-Unit feel is so important.

These types of programs address the symptoms of criminal behavior. They are concerned with reducing prison population and changing the outward behavior of offenders. However, are such programs helpful in initiating a permanent and irreversible change in offenders? Dennis Wrong reminds us that conformism is a concept that occurs when values are shared. This means that if offenders honestly believe in the same values as the rest of the community, they will naturally conform to the acceptable behaviors of the community. Unfortunately, it is difficult to address directly an offender?s value system. These programs, at best, confront the results of the value system. Wrong would say that these programs are forcing the offenders to conform without directly influencing the underlying values. Because their fundamental values are unchanged, a change in behavior would not be involuntary and natural. Individuals do not readily accept this forced conformity.

Compounding the problem is the status an offender is labeled with in the community. Employers are reluctant to hire them and their neighbors are usually suspicious of them. Their community is not freely accepting them back. The more abhorrent the criminal act leads to a stronger stigma attached to the offender. Infact, in the case of crimes of extreme violence or those of a sexual nature, communities will strongly reject the reintegration of offenders. Wrong believes that it is this status issue that is pitting offenders against their respective communities. He says, ?the compulsive quest for status weakens community by pitting people against one another as competitors while at the same time encouraging frantic conformity to the shifting group fashions that set the terms on which status is granted (Wrong, p. 76).? Individuals in communities are so driven by their need for status that it becomes pathological. The community itself becomes sick as individuals vie for a higher rank. It is unfortunate that the weak suffer the most from this because others, trying to achieve, trample them. Criminal offenders usually enter this ?rat race? near the bottom of the ladder. It is therefore of little surprise that an offender usually cannot compete against this strong drive for status. When conventional methods of obtaining status fail, an individual is likely to consider criminal or quick fix behaviors.

In addition, Wrong is talking about how the standard to conform to is continually in flux. Since true conformation occurs when individuals agree to an accepted set of underlying values and the standard to conform to is constantly changing, it is near impossible secure these standard values. Most individuals in a community are only conforming outwardly to the accepted standard because their underlying value system is much more stable than the dynamic view of status. Overall, this creates a difficult situation for an offender who is trying to re-connect with society. It is much like trying to merge on a super-highway, at eighty miles an hour, in rush hour, on a tricycle. Something usually gets crushed.

Just because a situation seems impossible does not mean a community is not responsible to make at least an attempt, which many programs do admirably. The State of New Jersey has implemented versions of these programs with a good degree of success. New Jersey uses a blend of programs in an attempt to maximize their benefits. Boot camps and SI?s along with prison simulation?s such as Scared Straight, try to awaken would be offenders to the realities of prison. New Jersey?s Criminal Disposition Commission has determined that these programs have a definite rehabilitative effect. They claim, that it is critical for an offender?s success that they are enrolled voluntarily for at least six months and they must take advantage of the treatment services offered. If an offender follows these steps, the program can act as a ?catalyst for pro-social change and the development of positive attitudes (Coyle, p.7).? These programs can promote change in an offender. They do not claim to cause a change in the base values of an individual, but they can act as a ?catalyst? for this change. They attempt to provide the environment to let an individual voluntarily evolve into an acceptable member of society. The treatment services offered act as a road map for individuals to get back into a productive community role. They cannot change an individual on their own, but the hope is that if an offender is enrolled in these programs for long enough and if they have a willingness to participate in them, some lasting change should be made. The benefit of these programs alone is minimal, however.

Once an offender leaves one of these custodial programs, New Jersey offers an intensive supervision program (ISP) that does have a strong correlation with reduction in recidivism rates. These ISP programs are of a greater degree of supervision than the standard parole and helps offenders acclimate back into community life. One study showed a reduction in recidivism rate of 20% for offenders who have completed ISP programs. They state, ?ISP?s had an indirect impact on recidivism through its direct impact on offender change, offering strong support for crime control through treatment (Fulton, p. 6).? Here, the criminal cycle is broken through strong support on an individual basis. The focus of these programs is to guide an offender, on a case by case basis, back into the community.

Though not a panacea for all cases, New Jersey has taken strong measures to integrate their criminal rehabilitation program with the needs of the community and the offender. Prisons are no longer just for punishment and containment. It is critical for the health of a community that the penitentiary system focuses on the permanent rehabilitation of their offender population. By using a variety of the programs listed before, offenders are offered the chance to change and the possibility of leading a respectable life in their community. Unfortunately, the social system is not set up to make this change easy. It requires a lot of attention and support to guide an offender back to a straight lifestyle. The cost of supporting these programs is high, but not as high as the cost of incarcerating a criminal for similar crimes repeatedly. The end results of these programs are far more exciting than the results of pure incarceration. By trying to rehabilitate an offender, a community is ingesting a remedy to the aches and pains of crimes while unknowingly strengthening the community as a whole. When offenders are rehabilitated, they contribute to the health of a community. They can set the example for future generations, through their experiences, of how crime does not pay.


Buddress, Loren A.N. ?Federal Probation and Pretrial Services- a cost-effective and successful community connections system.? Federal Probation 61 (1 April 1997): 5-12.

Chavaria, Fredrick R. ?Probation and Cognitive Skills.? Federal Probation 61 (1 June 1997): 57-60.

Collins, Jeffrey G. ?Boot Camp is a Viable Alternative.? Michigan Chronicle 28 March 1995: PG.

Criminal Disposition Commission Alternatives to Incarceration Committee. Boot Camp Prison. Coyle, Edward. New Jersey: SI Newhouse Center for Law and Justice, March 1990.

Duncantell, Douglas. Wake Up Call. C-52514 B2-229, P.O. Box 7500 Crescent City, CA 95531.

Harley, Debra A. Vocational Rehabilitation Services for an Offender Population.? Journal of Rehabilitation 62 (15 April 1996): 45-9.

McKibben, Bill. ?TV, Freedom, and the Loss of Community.? Colombo, Cullen and Lisle, ed. Rereading America. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995: 712-23.

Studt, Messinger and Wilson. C-Unit. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1968.

University of Cincinnati, Division of Criminal Justice. The State of ISP: Research and Policy Implications. Washington, DC: Administrative Office of the United States Courts, 1997.

Wrong, Dennis. Skeptical Sociology. New York: Columbia University Publications, 1976: 71-80.

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