Revision of the American Prison System and Modern Prison Rehabilitation

Junto By Junto, 10th Jul 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Essays

A radical revision of the American prison system and rehabilitation while addressing various ethical questions. Just because you may not like it, doesn't mean it won't work better than the existing system.

Consequence and Rehabilitation

The thought and purpose behind prison has been, throughout history, to deter criminals from committing crimes. Rehabilitation of prisoners has been classically second to punishing them for their crimes. As our society has changed through various civil rights movements, the rights and treatment of prisoners has become a paramount concern for many people. Classes and rehabilitation programs have sprung up in nearly every prison in the US. These programs however, have not been adequate to rehabilitate prisoners as dire sentences are seeing decreased implementation due to the battle over prisoners’ rights. Rehabilitation as a concept in our prisons needs a massive revision. In conjunction with revisions to rehabilitation, the implementation of dire consequences for repeat offenders could act to further reduce crime.

Consequences have been the deterrent to crime since the invention of conventional justice systems. Execution was widely used as punishment for a number of crimes, but has recently, if you look at the whole of human history, been restricted only to murderers in our society. Mutilation, such as removing the hand from a thief, is still practiced in many places, but is viewed as cruel by much of western society. Castration of sex offenders has been proposed, even recently. It would involve either the physical removal of the genitals, or the use of suppressive chemicals to counteract the sex drive. Labor has also been a common component of the justice system, often hardly differing from slavery.

Execution was, at one point, the most effective deterrent to crime, removing criminals, and often the falsely accused, permanently from committing crimes. The threat of being put to death is the most powerful deterrent in the justice system. Due to the restrictions of what is considered a “humane” way to die, if there is such a thing, and the need for added security during executions, cost is now one of the hot-button topics for abolishing the death penalty. Many methods of execution are faster, cheaper, and just as humane as a lethal injection but, for often frivolous reasons, like being iconic of a particularly dark period of history, they have been ushered out of use. If the end result is the death of someone who has taken a productive life or lives from society, finding a more cost-effective manner of performing them would alleviate much of the undue pressure to abolish the practice.

Execution is reserved solely for those who have taken a life or multiple lives of productive, healthy members of society because of an unhealthy compulsion within the perpetrator. This concept makes an immense amount of sense if viewed from an objective standpoint where one considers the victims as functional members of society and the murderer a dysfunctional member. When the dysfunctional member commits the act of murder, they forfeit their own purpose by not only unjustly stealing away the life of the person they have killed, but adversely affecting the lives of the people close to or dependent upon the victim.

From this standpoint, murderers, upon conviction and the failure of their appeals, have no rights. As phrased by columnist Jeff Jacoby, “The execution of a murderer sends a powerful moral message: that the innocent life he took was so precious, and the crime he committed so horrific, that he forfeits his own right to remain alive.” False conviction and false execution rates are so far gone in our current justice system that just one case in the past thirty-five years has shown that an innocent man was executed. (Jeralyn) What sort of debt the state itself now owes the surviving family of the convicted man is a large hole in the justice system, but remains a subject for another time.

Mutilation, in reference to the subject of justice, most commonly refers to removing the hand of a thief. This is a generally symbolic act but also thoroughly impedes the physical capability of the thief, as well as providing negative psychological associations with stealing, furthering the urge not to continue the lifestyle. If implemented for repeat offenders who repeatedly fail rehabilitation, the effects of losing a limb would be the next most effective deterrent to theft.

Castration can also be considered a form of mutilation, even if it is through the use of chemicals. It provides a one hundred percent effective solution to repeat-offenders who have scarred and traumatized many people in one of the worst possible ways. It goes beyond what they deserve for their crimes and reaches into being the most humane treatment for everyone else they encounter. The humane treatment of victims and potential victims seems to go overlooked when the topic of humane treatment of prisoners is brought up. Protecting everyone else in the most comprehensive manner possible should always come first.

Labor has gone hand in hand with prison sentencing for ages. Even in recent history, the chain gang is an image seen often in movies and television, usually in an early twentieth century setting. In even more recent history, to combat accusations of slave labor and continue working toward more “humane” treatment of prisoners, prisoners have begun getting paid for the work they do in prison. This can help them prepare financially for life outside of the prison, help them pay money to their families, or just be saved for items they are allowed to purchase for use on the inside. Why their wages don’t go toward their own upkeep to reduce the amount of tax dollars needed to maintain their incarceration, repay damages and court fees incurred before their imprisonment, or be utilized in some constructive manner to alleviate the financial burdens of their victims remains a mystery to me. It would redefine repaying your debt to society, in the least.

Before addressing rehabilitation specifically, it is necessary to address pre-prison policies, such as three strike laws and mandatory minimum sentences. The three strikes law, originally implemented in California, is an attempt to retain convicted, three-time repeat felons by sentencing the offender to a minimum twenty-five year sentence. While this ought to stand as a strong deterrent to crime, it can backfire, leading to prison crowding, and the occasional disproportionate sentencing. This law is a step in the correct direction, but does not hold effective, deterrent consequences for specific crimes, making its implementation too broad and easy to abuse.

Mandatory minimum sentences are similar to three strikes laws in that they hold judges to a minimum sentence for a criminal convicted of carrying a specific amount of hard drugs. Drug cases are particularly sensitive due to the large amount of mitigating factors involved in drug trade, stemming from motivation to association with other implicated parties. Laws of this type do not allow for the careful examination that severe sentencing must entail to be properly implemented.

Rehabilitation programs, as a whole, are mildly effective, with the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing a 67.5% re-arrest rate for criminals released in 1994 and monitored until 2001. (BJS) The 1990’s were the years with the first big push toward prison rehabilitation, as well. The results are not at all promising. The methods used for rehabilitation, as well as deceit or dishonest incentive for rehabilitation contribute to failure, yet could be easily done away with.

Proper psychological evaluation through the use of tests like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and regular meetings and instruction with a psychological professional would be far more effective than rehabilitation programs presented in a classroom setting for many reasons. The type of questions asked on the test do not openly allow for deceit and are designed to pinpoint any existing mental disorders the prisoner may have. This is immensely important for separating a sincere inmate who wishes to be rehabilitated from an insincere inmate who wishes to use the program to shorten their prison sentence or is simply in the program because they are required to be. The diagnosis of mental disorders aids both honest and dishonest inmates, allowing for personalized care.

Cost is a major concern when taking the individual approach to rehabilitating inmates, but a handful of psychologists rather than a dozen or more instructors can divide their time easily to handle the usual class load of twelve to twenty inmates. Providing that one professional keeps open office hours during the day for impromptu counseling while the others keep scheduled appointments with inmates, care for the inmates would be constant and wholly supportive. Providing comprehensive care that undercuts the surface desires of an inmate through differed evaluation of their behavior and motives is the single biggest missing piece of rehabilitation programs nationwide.

Presenting rehabilitation in a classroom setting also presents the problems that all classrooms present. Retention rates are low, distractions are more abundant than in one-on-one discussion, and all people are more apprehensive to share in front of others than they are in private. This method seems to be born simply from the notion that there has to be some sort of rehabilitation program or the prison will appear bleak and hopeless for both the inmates and the outside population that are concerned for them. Good intentions are not enough and simply throwing together programs to keep up appearances is as insincere as the prisoners that pass through them just so they can get out on the streets and go back to their life of crime.

Failure to respond to personal psychological treatment and rehabilitation through severe insincerity or mental issues such as borderline and anti-social personality disorders would help the prison system identify people who may become repeat offenders before they re-offend. This would flag them for intensive treatment and, perhaps, medication or therapy tailored to them so that they can become well. With a comprehensive system of this type in place, combined with the deterrence of the proposed severe consequences for repeat offenses, recidivism would drop sharply. The current system is one of compromise and weak effort and well-mannered citizens are the ones who pay for it. Sentences and rehabilitation must be overhauled if we are to see a reduction in crime.

Works Cited
Jacoby, Jeff. "Execution Saves Innocents..." 28 Sept. 2003. Web. 24 May 2010. <>.

Jeralyn. "Forensics Show Texas Executed an Innocent Man." TalkLeft: The Politics Of Crime. 25 Aug. 2009. Web. 02 June 2010. <>.

Langan Ph.D., Patrick A., and David J. Levin Ph.D. "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994." Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). 19 July 2002. Web. 26 May 2010. <>.


Castration, Death Penalty, Death Row, Death Sentence, Execution, Mutilation, Prison, Prison Rehabilitation, Prisoners, Prisons, Rehabilitation, Repeat Offense, Sentences, Sentencing

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author avatar Junto
I'm a college student from Oregon. I've always had a knack for writing and I currently focus on analytical, argumentative, and general essay-based writing. I'm experimenting with fiction, dialogue, and screenplay writing as well. I am active as a mil...(more)

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author avatar leylucs
11th Jul 2010 (#)

great article! thanks for sharing!

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author avatar Artur Victoria
30th Jan 2011 (#)

I just realized the importance of the issue

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