The primary purpose of the corrections system is to improve public safety and contribute to the maintenance of a just society. Individuals who are under probation, confined in jail, or sent to prison and other community-based facilities for the crime they have committed are in the process of undergoing corrections. These correctional facilities aim to keep criminals from committing any more crimes (incapacitation) and in some cases, they are used to rehabilitate people and set them up for a new beginning with improved education, job and social skills and a new outlook in life (rehabilitation).
The current goal of corrections being implemented in our justice system today leans more towards a retribution approach. This philosophy is followed in many jurisdictions, including the United States, where retribution is a core element in legal proceedings involving violations of international law, human rights and war crimes. Essentially, retributive justice revolves around the idea that severe crime should be punished more harshly than minor crime. According to Maiese (2003), “it is a retroactive approach that justifies punishment as a response to past injustice or wrongdoing. The central idea is that the offender has gained unfair advantages through his or her behavior, and that punishment will set this imbalance straight.” In short, because offenders fail to play by the rules, retribution “acts to reinforce rules that have been broken and balance the scales of justice (Maiese, 2004).”
Since our correctional facilities follow the fundamental purpose of retribution, rehabilitation procedures, which pertain to any intervention that attempts to reduce an individual’s chances of engaging in crimes, are merely complementary at this point. Although correctional facilities have correctional psychologists on staff, the incidence of psychological interventions which aim to alter the offender’s thinking, emotions, and attitudes and dissuade the offender from committing crime in the future is still less than ideal.
Although there are several variants of the retributionist theory, I am in favor of the retribution approach in such a way that instilling in people’s minds the fear of being incarcerated and made to pay for your crime can also serve as a deterrent. When an individual is sent to prison as punishment for committing a crime, the person’s freedom, movements and access to basically everything is restricted. People who have done time define prison as a place where dignity, privacy and control are given up to guards and prison administrators, where isolation and boredom can lead to insanity and where the simplest necessities seem like luxuries. It goes without saying that the experience during incarceration can convert and hopefully reform a criminal. At this point, there is still much to enhance in the efficiency of our corrective institutions. Perhaps our justice system may draw more efficiency from a psychological viewpoint where psychotherapy and counseling can reinforce the punishment principle. By restructuring the behavior of inmates, there can be hope of reform on their part once they are freed.
While a crime that is followed by some form of reprimand and punishment is a noteworthy cause, I still support the notion that people who are incarcerated should be given solid counsel, support and encouragement to discourage them from feelings of resentment and contempt. Retention in a correctional facility can only be considered effective if in the end, it warrants reform on the part of the offender.
Maiese, M. (2003) Types of justice. Retrieved 4 June 2007 from Beyond intractability.org http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/types_of_justice/.
Maiese, M. (2004) Retributive justice. Retrieved 4 June 2007 from Beyond intractability.org http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/retributive_justice/.