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A Consideration of Prison Ethics: Punishment vs. Rehabilitation - Essay Example

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A Consideration of Prison Ethics: Punishment vs. Rehabilitation

Although this is an extremely simplistic way of looking at the problem of punishment the fact is that over the centuries no-one has found an effective balance between the two ideals and that could be one of the reasons for our ever growing prison populations. Punishment At present the ideology in terms of punishment in American society at least, is retributive. This stemmed from a mid 20th century debate between the merits of rehabilitation and a form of fixed sentences that was uniform (and therefore fair) and applied to everybody. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and subsequent political acts took care of that and has been adhered through to present day. The philosophy behind this legislation is that rehabilitation is not effective for all individuals and therefore society needs to be protected from individuals who do wrong (against others or property) with the best way of doing that perceived as being incarceration or incapacitation (Zimring). One of the main issues in determining ethical ways of dealing with wrongdoers is that there needs to be an established set of roles and definitions that work within society to provide a system that all potential criminals are subject to. Rawls for example noted that defining punishment was not the same as justifying punishment; Justifying the use of prisons should be separate from any act of punishment (committing a person to such place); and that the practice of punishment must be justified through either forward thinking (consequentiality), or backward thinking (deontological). Based on his (and others) ideas it is generally agreed now that while the act of punishment might be the cause of some debate in terms of harshness and appropriateness, the justification for punishment is assumed. Secondly, that the justification for punishment comes from both consequential and deontological considerations. There are a number of reasons why punishment needs to be justified. Firstly punishment is a man-made action – it is not a natural fact and does not exist outside of the human experience. Therefore the rules that govern such action (human on human) are ones that should be considered ideal within society. Punishment as such is something that we as a human society decide to have and maintain within our society – it is a choice and as such could be done without. Although this is not likely to happen it has been proposed by the likes of Skinner in 1948 and Davis in 2003. One of the problems about punishment is the determination of whether or not the acts or depravations inflicted on the perceived wrongdoer are completed by an authoritative body, or by a sadist. The potential for an abuse of the power to inflict harm on another with impunity – indeed one that is actually sanctioned by society at the time cannot be ignored (Bedau). By their very nature punishments are severe, and one of the key issues still being debated today is what constitutes a cruel or inhumane act – where does the authoritative body draw the line especially for when the person being punished has committed acts that society find so distressing. Rehabilitation When it comes to rehabilitation most theories consider three basic ideas: 1. that the intervention is intentional and necessary; 2. that the method of rehabilitation relates directly to what is perceived to be the causal element of the offence in the offender and 3. that the proposed intervention will make it less likely for an individual to reoffend (Cullen and Gendreau). Unfortunately ...Show more


Although this is an extremely simplistic way of looking at the problem of punishment the fact is that over the centuries no-one has found an effective balance between the two ideals and that could be one of the reasons for our ever growing prison populations. …
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A Consideration of Prison Ethics: Punishment vs. Rehabilitation essay example
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