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How Rehabilitation Falls Short

 

One social related issue that proves troublesome is the United States prison system. The rehabilitation of criminals is a poor use of tax money because it is less effective than imprisonment. Another related, and also controversial, topic is the privatization of prisons. The privatization of prisons is more cost-effective than government run prisons.

 

The criteria for the prison system should be straightforward and should send a clear message to criminals, which is one key aspect that rehabilitation lacks, as Charles H. Logan explains:

The message of prison should be simple: "Felonies are wrong and controllable acts, and those who commit them will be punished." Institutions aiming for "rehabilitation" more often transmit this muddled message: "Felonies are the result of social and personal deficiencies (of opportunity, knowledge, skills, habits, temperament, and so on), and society has a responsibility to correct those deficiencies." That message depicts criminal behavior as uncontrollable rather than willful, and portrays offenders as automatons in need of adjustment rather than responsible human beings who must accept the consequences of their actions. Such a message may excuse, and even encourage, crime; at the very least, it weakens the vital punishment message of imprisonment.

 

Marc Mauer gives his view on rehabilitation, "The scope of these collateral effects of incarceration might be viewed by some as merely unfortunate by-products of an otherwise necessary approach to crime. But we have seen in recent years that there are far more effective, and socially less destructive, ways to affect crime."

 

Since rehabilitation avoids incarceration, it is certainly more effective as a method to leave the social fabric less disturbed. Unfortunately, many repeat offenders will likely be unable to be reformed by society's efforts of rehabilitation and therefore more offenses would likely occur. Any recurring criminal acts would definitely be more detrimental to society than a method that would insure the complete avoidance of those acts, specifically, imprisonment.

 

We live in a free society; we can make our own choices. An innate problem with the ability to make choices is that an inappropriate, in this case, illegal, decision can be reached and carried out, as Morgan Reynolds states that "There always have been thieves, murderers and rapists and always will be. As long as man is a free moral agent who can choose between good and evil, we'll have evil actions. No amount of rehabilitation, early intervention, personality profiling and therapy will change that."

 

In a perfect world, rehabilitation would be the obvious choice for the focus of our prison system. Daniel L. Lombardo and Robert N. Levy mistakenly applaud rehabilitation as the most effective method for the prison system:

If the system is to safely, humanely and effectively use limited correctional resources, then the overwhelming majority of lower-risk special needs cases could be addressed best at the arrest and pretrial stages and diverted from conviction, probation or incarceration. In the long run, this front-end effort could substantially reduce future numbers of those under some form of correctional supervision...

 

I have to agree that rehabilitation would likely use less of the government's correctional resources: the less people that are incarcerated, the less people there are to take up prison space and to use up tax dollars. While cost can often be considered an important factor, the United States government has an obligation to employ the most effective method for our prisons, not to just crunch numbers and pick the method that will promise the least adverse effect on the national budget.

 

Clearly seeing our imperfect world as it is and looking for more realistic solutions, Francis T. Murphy states the inappropriateness of rehabilitation for the real world and clearly defines where rehabilitation really belongs--outside the prison system, not as a part of it:

As for the rehabilitative ideal, it should be stripped of its pretentiousness, if not of its very name. It is a hope of changing behavior, and nothing more. It is a goal, not a reality. In prison it should be directed at objectives that can be realized, particularly the avoidance of the deformative influences of prison life. Efforts at rehabilitation might well be concentrated at the offender outside of the prison setting, the one place where rehabilitation might have a fair chance of accomplishment. Surely rehabilitation is unlikely in prisons in which minimum standards of personal safety, health, and humane treatment are often violated.

 

Rehabilitation is an unrealistic goal for the prison system. One of the components of rehabilitation is to avoid conviction and incarceration, which have been shown to deter crime from happening in the first place: stricter punishments generally lead to a decrease of criminal activity.

 

A large amount of research points to the fact that private prisons do in fact save tax money and are frequently more effective than their government-run counterparts. Charles H. Logan elaborates: "A growing body of research demonstrates that these private prisons save money, improve quality, and protect inmates' rights, and that they produce no problems not already faced by governmental operations."

 

Private prisons cannot easily exist without their potential drawbacks, however. Vince Beiser talks about some possible fallacies with the privatization of prisons:

One of the ways private prisons do end up saving money is by relying almost exclusively on nonunion workers, who generally receive lower salaries and fewer benefits than their unionized, public-sector counterparts. Some companies offer stock options in lieu of a pension plan. But since companies are compensated by the government on a per-prisoner per-day basis, the potential for abuse is built in. "If a guard knows his bonus depends on the amount of money the prison makes," observes American University law professor Ira Robbins, "he has every incentive not to write up inmates for good behavior that will get them released sooner."

 

Assuming that the instances of these drawbacks of private prisons exist as merely isolated occurrences, a majority would certainly agree that saving money for other government funded programs is a worthwhile benefit of private prisons.

 

Private prisons cost less and have improved quality over prisons run by the government, regardless of any other imperfections.

 

The rehabilitation of criminals in the United States prison system is clearly not as effective as incarceration. Rehabilitation sends a confusing message to criminals, saying that society is responsible for correcting their personal and/or social deficiencies, instead of placing the blame where it belongs--on the criminal. As long as we are free to make our own choices, there will be crime, rehabilitation will not change that. Rehabilitation does not in any way serve as a deterrent to prevent crime from occurring, unlike imprisonment, which has been proven to deter crime. Rehabilitation is an unattainable goal for an imperfect world.

 

Works Cited

1. "The Criminal Justice System Should Focus on Punishment." 2006. Charles H. Logan. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC>

2. "The Expanding Prison System Is Socially Unjust." 2006. Marc Mauer. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC>

3. "Imprisonment Is an Effective Deterrent to Crime." 2006. Morgan Reynolds. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC>

4. "Prisons Should Punish Inmates." 2006. Francis T. Murphy. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC>

5. "Prison Alternatives Can Cut Costs and Improve Public Safety." 2006. Daniel L. Lombardo and Robert N. Levy. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC>

6. "Private Prisons Foster Corruption." 2006. Vince Beiser. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC>

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