Incarceration Essay, Research Paper
Incarceration, Traditional vs. Alternative
Crime is defined as an act or an omission of an act against society. Unfortunately, crime has plagued all of mankind throughout time. Equally, there has always been a question about the methods of dealing with these criminals. Whether it is retaliatory or treatment based, it is generally agreed that the criminal must be punished. The way that society punishes criminal behaviour seems to be a barometer of culture. Punishment signifies a society’s values, morality, sensibilities and reasoning. Traditionally, retaliatory methods of punishment, or punishments that use revenge, were widespread throughout the world. This form of a penalty included anything from corporal and capital punishment, to incarceration and banishment. In the modern world, incarceration has become the common method for supposed rehabilitation. Recently, it has been argued that the use of treatment-based strategies for prisoner reformation is far more effective. This has spurred the need of alternative techniques. In theory, the use of these alternative methods of incarceration allow the convicted criminal [offender] to be humanely reintegrated into society more effectively than traditional methods. This theory is based on the criminal’s possibility of productive membership in society, and the belief of the individuality, or uniqueness of criminals derived from the field of criminology. It also encompasses the preconditions of sentencing, and principles similar to that of the justification of incarceration.
Pre-modern criminal discipline constituted mostly of exile, and a variety of corporal and capital punishments. The predominant principle was “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Dodge 3). It was later believed that a better punishment would be one that forced the criminal to contemplate his offence for an extended period of time. This sanction was called prison, which is a “restriction of freedom of movement for a prescribed amount of time, with the temporary loss of liberty” (Bonta 1). During the nineteenth century, prisons were rapidly becoming major social institutions, and becoming commonplace (Maeve 10). As a result, prison staff, and later scientists, were able to observe the prisoner’s behaviour. An “experimental laboratory” was provided by the prison where knowledge could develop. This scrutiny opened up the possibilities to examine, measure, photograph, and catalogue criminals through long-term observation in an organized manner (Garland 82). This was known as Criminology, or the science of crime (Maeve 10). Early criminology provided statistical data on conviction rates, patterns of recidivism, and examples of criminal careers (Garland 82). Through identification of the social characteristics of criminals, the discovery of factors underlying criminal behaviour could be obtained scientifically (Maeve 11). The growth of criminology signalled the broadening of disciplinary approaches based on hypotheses developed that indicated mental deficiency, hereditary and biological defects, and the psychiatric health of the offender, were all contributing to his/her criminal behaviour (Vold 154).
This criminological research proved invaluable, because it allowed for some degree of criminal prediction, and therefore opened the doors for the prevention of crime. After the conception of criminology, the orientation of punishment soon changed (Cullen 67). Where the emphasis was on the legal and classical principles of justice, it was now on the offender and his individual situation in the pursuit of his treatment. As time went on, rehabilitative strategies were increasingly incorporated into penal practices (Maeve 12). Treatment-oriented programs such as probation, parole, and halfway houses were soon developed. The use of these alternative techniques allowed criminologists to experiment with the reintegration of convicted criminals into society by treating them as individuals, as well as possible productive members of society.
According to Morris Norval, author of The Future of Imprisonment, the function of a penal system should be properly retributive, as well as a societal deterrent. However, a penal system produces neither forgiveness in the criminal, nor justice, even with the addition of goals based on prisoner reform. It is also unjust to apply incapacitating, or literal and metaphoric crippling methods of punishment, due to it’s hypocritical nature and unconstitutionality. The question that needs to be acknowledged is why should a convicted criminal be imprisoned? The answer to this question comprises of conditions that the criminal must be associated with. The most important condition is that the criminal must be found, by a judge or jury, guilty of an offense that imprisonment can be possibly prescribed. It is also important that imprisonment is the least restrictive possible sanction, or decision. This is mandatory, because any lesser punishment would depreciate the seriousness of the crime, or lesser restrictive sanctions have already been applied to the offender with no effect, or imprisonment will achieve a socially justified deterrent. The concept of a socially justified deterrent can be defined as preventive measures that have the consensus of society’s morality. It is also important that imprisonment is not seen by society as undeserved, or excessive, in relation to sanctions that have been applied to similar offenders in the past. All three of these preconditions must be met to justify imprisonment. In addition to these preconditions, there are three principle guidelines that should govern the decision to imprison a convicted criminal. (Norval 58-60)
The first principle is the belief of parsimony. This jurisprudence, or philosophy of law, encompasses a humanitarian approach, emphasizing that the least restrictive sanction necessary to achieve defined social goals should be used. The justification for this principle is simple: any undeserved suffering beyond societal need, is what defines cruelty. For example, within the principle of parsimony, imprisonment, as a sanction for a common cold or for being a narcotic addict, would be unconstitutional. Another example is to place a prisoner involved in a brawl into solitary confinement for extended periods of time, which would offend Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; this is considered a cruel and unusual punishment. The principle of parsimony is outlined in Section 7.01, in what is called the Model Penal Code, which directs the court to order other punishments unless imprisonment is necessary for protection of the public. (Norval 60-62)
The second principle involves the dangerousness of a convicted criminal, or the chance of recidivism. This phenomenon outlines the tendency for an offender to re-offend (Maeve 14). This principle further implies that society has the capacity to predict future criminal behaviour. Society does not have this capacity, and scientifically speaking, never will. It is unjust, and therefore unconstitutional to impose imprisonment on a criminal that may or may not re-offend. Despite the absence of justification, this principle has a fascinating appeal, stemming from its possibility for criminal prevention. Yet the implementation of such methods would be difficult and imprecise. Therefore, it would in all likelihood do little to reduce crime. Taking all of this into consideration, the concept of dangerousness for sentencing purposes seems misleading which can result in flagrant injustice. Although, all legitimate claims of violent recidivism can with the employment of justice, be met within the preconditions of imprisonment stated earlier. (Norval 62-73)
The third principle guiding the decision to incarcerate involves the right to punish a convicted criminal up to the point of maximum deserved retribution, or punishment. This amount of discipline may not be necessary, and is not an obligation. Mercy, forgiveness, and the avoidance of severing the convicted criminal’s social ties by imposing a term of imprisonment, are all values of importance to be considered when judicial sanctions are made. A simple rule that can govern a sanction: punishment in excess of what is seen by society at that time as a deserved punishment is tyranny. Therefore, capital punishment would not be an option for a criminal convicted of theft. (Norval 73-77)
The justifications for imprisonment can easily be applied to alternative methods of incarceration. The differences between the two approaches is the intended results. The justification for imprisonment involves a need for retribution and a vindictive minded society, whereas alternative methods call for reintegration of the criminal and a reformative minded society. Therefore, It can be concluded, that with the addition of these justifications, the principles of alternative rehabilitation are given guidelines in which to decide the outcome of the convicted criminal.
Penal reform seems to be a growing trend throughout the world. Modifications to criminal codes and correctional procedures have signalled a new era of alternatives. Although, a surplus in community involvement in alternative corrections now exists, the outcome of the struggle between supporters of traditional corrections and community treatment supporters is a very slow movement of penal reform.
The evolution of programs that aid the convicted criminal’s permanent reintegration with non-criminal persons should be a goal of any future correction system. If attempted, this goal will lead society away from the traditional vindictive philosophy associated with modern corrections. The destruction of large, secluded prisons is necessary, and in its place, small units within the community close to the offender’s home will be erected. The obvious benefits of this concept include possibilities for more direct communication between family, neighbours, and social services. This concept also allows the implementation of a graduated release program designed to aid the offender in a gradual reintegration program into his own community. The treatment of the ex-offender’s problems will be achieved by using a combination of community resources. Contrary to the traditional methods of release where ex-offenders were given the bare minimum only to re-offend in a short time after, a graduated release program would release an ex-offender with a job, residence, and financial and social assistance. The release is only a step in the reintegration process. This is an effectively humane method of synchronization of the ex-offender and the needs of society. (Dodge 20-23)
The second fundamental principle of alternative methods relates to the correctional institution’s transformation from emphasis on security, to emphasis on re-socialization. Decisions affecting the prisoner will be generated by staff members that are well acquainted with the offender. This method can be considered a family-type enterprise, and will ensure that the prisoner is getting the treatment that is necessary for society’s needs. Ideally located within the city, these operations can be associated with manufacturers within the neighbourhood, and therefore industrial training in purposeful trades can be achieved. Controlling the withdrawals from the prisoner’s income by staff members, will help enable the prisoner to take control over financial skills, to be used later during the reintegration process. In addition to trade skills, and earning and saving money, the prisoner will have the opportunity to affiliate with local religious, social, and therapeutic groups, as well as recreational organizations. The goal of these associations is that the prisoner will make stronger ties to the community, and therefore having social groups to aid in times of trouble. The goal of these associations is also to aim towards establishment of an anti-criminal pattern of life for the offender, living it along side non-criminals. This can be achieved by the enhancement of self-esteem, acquirement of job experience, comfortable living conditions, and development of friendships, which all adds to this pattern. (Dodge 20-23)
When these fundamental principles are combined, the result is a change of aggressiveness toward the offender from vindictive and retributive to treatment or humanistic. Instead of revenge on behalf of the victim, the offender is reintegrated into society, using the prisoner reformation approach. The fundamental principles of alternative methods of incarceration allow the convicted criminal to be humanely reintegrated into society more effectively than traditional methods. This is achieved by treating the offender with the possibility for a productive membership in society, instead of a nuisance.
At the present time Canada has approximately thirty-three thousand prisoners in its prisons throughout the country. It costs an average of $170 per day to maintain a prisoner in these units. The total annual cost of this lockup system is more than $2 billion. Through innovative approaches to prison alternatives, Canada is well on its way to change this picture. These high costs have spurred the country’s officials to adopt other, more efficient methods of incarceration. Probation supervision, or parole, only costs $35 per day, almost five times less expensive than prison. There is dramatic comparison between the costs of many other alternatives and the traditional prison system (Dodge 61). Canada seems to rely more heavily on imprisonment as a punishment for crime than most other western nations, probably due to the Criminal Code’s wide legislative authority for imprisonment (Bonta 1). There seems to be no justification for incarceration when it is based on the four goals of sentencing (Bonta 2). Prison has not shown much, if any, signs of positive rehabilitation or prisoner reformation, as well as it has not revealed itself as a strong deterrent (Bonta 2). Prison sentences only offer temporary protection of society, and therefore there is a need for rehabilitation, but it doesn’t seem to exist, hence the high recidivism rates within society (Bonta 3). There is also an inconsistency within sanctions passed on similar charges. Therefore, there is uneven retribution (Bonta 3). Coupled with these weaknesses, prisons are very expensive in relation to their alternative program’s counterparts (Bonta 3). The prison system is unable to reintegrate the criminal back into society.
Within the Canadian law system, minor criminal charges are treated with methods like restitution and community service rather than sanctions made for prison (Bonta 9). The fear of stigmatization, loss of a job, absence from family, and learning new criminal behaviour from fellow prisoners, makes prison sanctions unbeneficial to the offender and society. It seems that an alternative solution would be more practical due to it’s preserving of the criminal’s support systems. The implementation of Restitution as an alternative method of incarceration onto a criminal dictates his/her responsibility for the compensation of the victim’s losses (Bonta 11). This method is used particularly for nonviolent offenders in a tandem with probationary sanctions (Bonta 11). Due to its simplicity, without retribution of any kind, restitution helps maintain a healthy relationship with the criminal and society, while still asserting disciplinary action
Although alternative methods of incarceration are more effective at reintegrating convicted criminals into society than traditional methods, the common philosophy concerning incarceration is that of vindictive, retributive, punitive and retaliatory in nature. Within this theory the convicted criminal is considered useless, and has no hope for rehabilitation. The prisoner will be useless if the stated philosophies are adhered to. Therefore, if the convicted criminal is sentenced to prison for punishment, with no form of rehabilitative treatment, he/she will most likely succumb to recidivism, and will never become a productive member of society. Taking all of this into consideration, the alternatives are far more effective based on it’s fundamental principles for prisoner reformation, and re-socialization. To be a productive member of society, one must adhere to the social standards made by the community, not an external source such as archaic principles of punishment. By means of treatment-based programs, the convicted criminal is able to understand these social standards and therefore re-integrate themselves into society without the aid of large, isolated, and most often unfavourably influential prison environments.