According to several sources, including the eleventh edition of the text book “Corrections in America”, punishment is probably the least effective method in dealing with criminal behavior. The idea that retribution must be administered is viewed by some to be archaic and out of step with the advancement of the modern justice system. Justice administrators are now beginning to question the efficacy of a system that promotes suffering, merely for the sake of suffering, without the production of tangible or statistical results to show that the punishment has any validity in crime reduction. The most effective method of punishment is when it is used as a threat to coerce or otherwise motivate offenders to seek rehabilitative treatment. This works for non-criminals but has little effect on those people who are already involved in the criminal lifestyle. It not only doesn’t work on criminals but can have an opposite boomerang effect. Criminal behavior sometimes increases with punishment. Punishment applied within a jail or prison system often breeds a negative backlash of violent results such as defiance, abuse, nonconformity and belligerence. Prisoners and hardened criminals are not scared of being punished. For the most part, they do not think about the consequences of punishment when they are in the process of committing their crimes. Statistics about the effectiveness of punishment speak for themselves. It isn’t working. The most glaring evidence is the increase in crime itself while under a system dominated by the punishment approach. There are many reasons why it doesn’t work. Punishment focuses on the criminal and not the crime. This is part of the mistake and often makes for the evolution of a more sophisticated and anti-authoritarian criminal. They learn how to be better criminals and how to hate the system even more. Offenders become hardened to the punishments and the process loses what little value it may have ever had. Punishment does not work. The shift in the modern Justice system is moving toward other methods of intervention such as treatment and prevention, which include the restorative justice and traditional Peacemaking approaches.
Treatment of Offenders calls for the criminals to be accountable for their own actions. It tries to make the wrongdoers recognize the effect that their behavior has had on themselves and on society in general. Treatment is not very effective but has a better rate of reducing recidivism (repeat crimes) than punishment. Some treatment methods work better than others and some populations or types of criminals respond better than others. The focus of treatment is not on taking away the criminal mentality but allowing it to be curbed so that the wrongdoer may choose a positive behavior instead, along with the rewards that the positive behaviors bring about. The treatment approach does not totally exclude punishment like the punishment approach excludes treatment, but reduces it greatly. The approach of treatment is to reintegrate the offender back into his or her community. When a criminal is accepted back into their community they have a chance to rehabilitate. When they feel that there is no place for them and they are unwelcome, then it is much easier for them to lash out against a community who does not want them around. Some early forms of treatment have been education and vocational training. Now treatment includes individual and group therapy along with reentry programs to help them ease back into society. Victims are being involved in the process as well and restitution to them is sometimes included as part of the healing process. Treatment systems usually have a flexible sentence that allows for the individual to be released when they exhibit the appropriate behavior. Treatment approaches have a poor success rate but they are better than those of the punishment approaches. If we want to really have an impact on crime we need to address the issue before it gets out of hand by helping people to never choose that path in the first place.
Prevention has become an increasingly popular and viable method of dealing with crime. It has been shown that one dollar spent on prevention can save the state and federal prison systems more than ten times that much money when compared to the price of incarceration. Prevention is a cost effective method with greater statistical results than either punishment or institutional treatment programs. Prevention deals with the social attitudes of the community and stresses a change in ideology that actually becomes incorporated into the psyche of individuals it affects. Certain high risk behaviors are identified before they can blossom into full blown criminal behaviors. They are targeted through education, positive rewards and specific prevention oriented programs. Youth are particularly receptive to the positive benefits of the prevention technique. Diversion programs within the juvenile justice system are instrumental in providing effective prevention to criminal behavior and the criminal mind set. Criminal sentences are waived upon completion of certain programs and requirements. A combination of the three techniques, with emphasis on prevention and early treatment is probably a more effective approach than any of the three alone. We need to prioritize our method of dealing with crime by what is most effective. This seems to be prevention and treatment, followed by punishment as a last resort. The Peacemaking/Probation Department focuses on healing our people rather than punishing them. We need to bring the wrongdoers back into the circle and help them to help themselves.
Austen J. Brauker