Punishment is an issue that has divided philosophers, with some proponents of retributive approach believing that it is not wrong especially for those that committed crime and thus deserve it. Others hold the belief that punishment is wrong and evil and can only be justified if it benefits the ‘greater good’ or the society in general, a rationale known as the utilitarian approach. This judgement means that the community is allowed to inflict punishment in its many types as long as the results will benefit the majority of the population (Pollock, 1997).
History and Evolution of Corrections
Throughout history, there have been many changes, reforms and advances related to punishment and this process can be categorized into different eras. This history begins with the appearance of retributive approach, followed by the utilitarian age and finally the rehabilitative/ reform era.
Before the American Revolution, religion was the key component that held together every aspect of life, thus, crime and sin were treated as the same thing. The society at that time relied on corporal modes of punishment as a way of dealing with crime. This process included use of corporal methods of punishment such as flogging, pillory, mutilations among others (James, 2014). During this period there was a particular emphasis placed on public displays of punishment as ways of discouraging other members of the society from committing criminal acts. Punishment in this era was used as a way of returning deviant individuals back to the fold with punishments implying anything that was seen as offensive or a deterrent from the social norm. Efforts of dealing with crime and anything similar was thus seen as retributive and rehabilitation method or anything close relating to the root of a specific criminal act (Blomberg and Lucken, 2010).
Until the 18th century, prisons were used for detaining individuals deemed to have behaved improperly violating socially accepted order, albeit for a short period, until a verdict was reached on what mode of punishment would be administered (James, 2014). The agrarian nature of this era’s society did not allow keeping individuals locked up for long as productivity depended on them. However, a change of the times prompted a shift in mindset regarding prisons and imprisonment. These events coincided with a period commonly referred to as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ that saw wholesale paradigm shifts in the societal way of life and especially in crime and corrections (Stohr and Walsh, 2011). According to Blomberg and Lucken (2010), “the rhetoric of the Enlightenment suggested that misguided individuals could be persuaded to exercise moral restraint, good judgment, and self-control” (29).
This age coupled with the industrial revolution and occurrences such as the emancipation of slaves and influx of immigrants brought about many changes to the society. The USA was anti-urban society rising many changes such as commercialism, which led to new experiences as well as bad phenomena such as greed and poverty. The ideas of prison thus required re-thinking, so it could be used to punish those that committed acts contrary to the benefit of the society (James, 2014). Philosophers at the time came up with many ideas on how to build prisons that were effective yet humane and economical. Examples of prison systems include the Pennsylvania and Auburn prison systems whose competing ideologies raised a lot of questions.
The Rehabilitative/ Reformatory Era
The Pennsylvania and Auburn systems caused tensions, and thus the reformatory era was born in the late 19th century. This event was influenced by established systems in Australia and Ireland that were based on psychological concepts of positive and negative reinforcements (James, 2014). In the systems they used good behavior as a condition for early release, with this practice being introduced by Captain Alexander Maconochie (warden of Norfolk Island) and Sir Walter Crofton. Their ideas would lead to the notion of parole that was introduced in the American prisons of the latter 19th century. Principles and ideologies that were created during this era aimed to reform criminals so they can re-enter into society as the basis of correctional policies of today.
An Alternative to Imprisonment
The number of ctiminals continues to increase at alarming rates, which has an impact on the society in terms of families broken and the financial burdens taken by the governments. Imprisonment has received widespread criticism on its inability to achieve the intended goals of sentencing. One of the alternatives is Intensive Correction Orders (ICOs). This procedure is an efficient rehabilitative model that allows an offender to serve their sentence in a community setting under the watchful eye of court-approved supervising officers. These offenders are subject to specific assessments by said officers and are required to meet different conditions before they are considered eligible to re-join the community (Hatzistergos, 2010). ICOs serve to punish offenders while they are still in the society but with restrictions and deterrents. This process aimed to ensure the safety of other members of the community. This mode of rehabilitation enables positive social re-integration, unlike traditional sentencing. This method has a wide range of benefits such as reducing overcrowding, lowering government costs and improving rehabilitation as well as reducing recidivism.
this approach will benefit criminal justice system as it will limit the costs
and enhance the willingness of criminals to compensate their offences and lead
proper lives thereafter.
Pollock, J. M. (1997). Prisons: Today and tomorrow. New York: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
James, K.A. (2014). The History of Prison in America. Medium.com. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@kirkajames/the-history-of-prisons-in-america-618a8247348
Blomberg, T. G., & Lucken, K. (2010). American Penology: A History of Control (Enlarged Second Edition) (Vol. 1). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
Stohr, M. K., & Walsh, A. (2011). Corrections: The essentials. New York: Sage Publications.
Hatzistergos, J. (2010) Crimes (Sentencing Legislation) Amendment (Intensive Correction Orders) Bill 2010, Second Reading Speech, 30 June 2010. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/nswbills.nsf/1d4800a7a88cc2abca256e9800121f01/1411439e02349760ca257727001c64bf/$FILE/LC%204810.pdf>.