The Swinging Pendulum of Prison Philosophies

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The Swinging Pendulum of Prison Philosophies

Brett Spratt
Mr. Robert Leonik
Contemporary Issues In Criminal Justice
November 5, 2002

The corrections leg of the criminal justice system is ineffective because the efforts being made to rehabilitate criminals and keep society safe are failing substantially. The reason for the failure of the current correctional system and all correctional systems in the history of American prisons is an imbalance in the goals of criminal sentencing. These goals can be measured in success by how they were used in the past eras of prison history. Within the 20th century there were 5 prison eras, along with the current prison era. Not one of these eras used a combination of all sentencing goals, leaving an unbalanced and unsuccessful correctional system. It is necessary to review the 20th century prison philosophies, for the purpose of establishing the reasons for failure, in order to create a successful correctional philosophy for the 21st century. A reformation of the correctional system which includes the removal of all non-violent offenders, a period in which violent inmates are in total isolation, intense individual therapy, group therapy, educational and vocational training and a one year probation period after release from prison will allow for criminals to successfully reintegrate into society. In creating a system that balances all five goals of criminal sentencing along with a multiple step program favoring rehabilitation, it is very possible that a balanced and successful correctional system can be formed.

The five goals of criminal sentencing as listed in the 6th edition of Criminal Justice Today are retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation and restoration. Retribution is defined within the text as, “the act of taking revenge upon a criminal perpetrator.” (Schmalleger, p.366) Retribution is often linked to early societies when punishment such as death and exile were carried out very swiftly without a trial or formal hearing. With the emergence of criminal rights in the latter part of the 20th century, retribution was looked down upon and the philosophy of corrections was void of retribution for 50 years. After World War II there was a renewed belief in the ability to rehabilitate prisoners and retribution was no longer seen as necessary. It was until 1995 that the philosophy of corrections saw the reemergence of retribution as a necessary goal of criminal sentencing. This philosophy carries over into the 21st century, although the corrections system is once again reforming. This reformation seeks to use all five goals of criminal sentencing and create a perfectly balanced corrections system.

Schmalleger defines incapacitation as “the use of imprisonment or other means to reduce the likelihood that an offender will be capable of committing future offenses.”(Schmalleger, p.367) It is logical to conclude that society wants criminals locked away so that the criminals cannot continue to do harm. A sense of peace within neighborhoods, and the entire nation for that matter, is very important to all Americans, especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the recent sniper shootings during October of 2002. While these attacks created a fear of national and international terrorists, they also created an all-encompassing fear that no one is ever really safe. Another media created frenzy occurred in the summer of 2002 when the news was overflowing with stories of children who were kidnapped from their own homes. From the trial of David Westerfield in San Diego who was accused of the kidnap and murder of seven year-old Danielle Van Dam to the disappearance of 13 year-old Elizabeth Smart who was taken from her bedroom during the night, the media continued to publicize the kidnapping of the nation’s children. Though there is no proof that there was a rise in the number of children kidnapped from previous years, the media sure made it seem that way. The...
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