A Critique Of Philosophical Approaches To Criminal Justice Reform

A Critique Of Philosophical Approaches To Criminal Justice Reform People are arrested every day in the United States. They are put on probation or sent to jail, and sometimes they are let out on parole; there are millions of people affected. In 1995 alone there were over five million people under some form of correctional supervision, and the number is steadily increasing. The incarceration rate is skyrocketing: the number of prison inmates per 100,000 people has risen from 139 in 1980 to 411 in 1995. This is an immense financial burden on the country.

Federal expenditure for correctional institutions alone increased 248% from 1982 to 1992. Obviously something has to be changed in the justice system. If the crime rate is rising this much, the correctional justice system isn’t functioning properly, and needs to be reformed. Many people have offered theories as to what should be done with the prison system, the extremes being retributivism and the therapeutic model, but what they all seem to have overlooked is that there is no single system that works for everyone. Blanket generalizations as to the nature of the criminal mind cannot be made. Every criminal is different, with different motivations and different psychological characteristics so that different things are required to make them repent or deter them from further criminal activity, and I believe that the solutions offered are not enough to lower the crime rate and prison population.

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Something needs to be done on a more fundamental level so that fewer people turn to crime in the first place, thereby providing the prison system with the freedom to improve the attention it gives to the people that do become criminals; my solution is a combination of economic reform and educational opportunity that would give people less reason to commit crimes. The extreme right reform proposition, retributivism, is flawed mainly because it seems to assume that showing people that what they’ve done is wrong will always accomplish something, and that every prisoner can be shown that his crime was a moral wrong. This is not the case for many prisoners. There are people who steal and sell drugs simply because they have no other means of survival. There are people whose lives in the outside world are so terribly difficult that for them, prison life is a cushier existence than their ordinary day-to-day existence, and many of these people intentionally commit crimes so they will be arrested and thrown in jail, simply so that they can get a decent meal and a bed.

For these people, even if they feel that their criminal existence is indeed a moral wrong, prison does nothing to make them repent or change their way of life. They have no choice but to steal or to sell drugs, because they have to make a living somehow, and if this is the only way they can do it then prison time will not change the way they see things. Also, there are criminals who either do not see or do not believe that what they are doing is a moral wrong, and no amount of punishment can convince them that they shouldn’t have done what they did. If they reject the categorical imperative, no punishment can change their minds; prison time is then a waste for them as well. They committed their crimes without fear of punishment, and they will continue to commit crimes after they are released, and they don’t feel any remorse.

What then is the point in putting these people in jail? They are simply taking up space. Something else must be done to keep these types of people from committing criminal acts. The extreme left proposition, or therapeutic model, is also flawed. Believing that criminal behavior is a psychological disorder that can be treated through therapy may be true in some cases, but certainly it cannot be proven to hold true for all. The same group of people I mentioned before is an exception to the therapeutic rule: people whose lives depend on drug sales and theft will not be changed by psychological treatment. They simply do what they have to do, and after they are released from therapy, they will go back to stealing, because they have no other way to earn a living.

Then there are people who cannot be cured by any amount of psychological therapy. They will sit through the counseling sessions, perhaps play along with the therapist’s games, but once released, they will rsum their criminal habits. And even among those who can be positively affected by psychological treatments, there are so many different psychological disorders and personal idiosyncrasies that no single treatment plan can cure all of them. Another argument against the therapeutic model of criminal justice is this: people pay thousands of dollars a year to see psychiatrists, completely of their own accord. If people are willing to pay for this, why should they avoid committing a crime, if the only punishment they are likely to receive is psychological treatment? The therapeutic model is not only a poor deterrent, it has the potential to increase the crime rate. Psychiatric treatment is expensive. If one could obtain counseling for free simply by getting oneself thrown in jail, I think that many people would do so without hesitation. People who would otherwise commit no crimes could very well choose to do something they wouldn’t otherwise think of.

Obviously the therapeutic model is no solution. Other people propose a solution combining the retributive and therapeutic models of justice, which is more of a utilitarian view. They would have criminals sent to jail for their crimes, and given psychological counseling while incarcerated. This is a nice idea in theory, and the most reasonable proposition in my opinion, but the simple fact is that prisons are too overcrowded to give each prisoner the treatment he deserves. There are too many prisoners and not enough money.

As a blanket solution to the problem of criminal justice reform, I agree that the utilitarian view of prisons is the most desirable policy, and th …