Crime is an important phenomenon in any society as it causes huge psychological and economic damage to societies and individuals. It is only natural that any community, including the American one, will try to control crime through its executive, judiciary, and legislative agendas. Deterrence is a significant concept and the foundation of the American justice system. It is a form of law enforcement initiative that aims to apprehend offenders and to convince the would-be delinquents that they will be taking the risk of definite detention and penalty if they proceed and perpetrate. The deterrence laws help to inhibit the punished individuals from committing other offenses and preventing law-abiding citizens from violating the regulations. Although there is no consensus as to which deterrence approach is the best, the combination of incarceration and rehabilitation contributes to reduced occurrence of recidivism and improves the efficiencies of the American correctional facilities.
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What ‘Method’ Seems to Be Working Best for the United States?
Deterrence plays an important role in the American society as it helps to prevent future crime by warning individuals and the public about the dire consequences of law infringement. Both general and specific deterrence are good for the US community because they respectively help to impede people from committing an offense in the future. According to Walker (2015), the rate of perpetrating a given crime is inversely related to certainty, celebrity, and severity of punishment designed for that particular illegal act. Therefore, the deterrence method, which would be the most efficient for the United States, is the one determined by certainty and severance of the penalty.
The utility maximization theory reveals that the rate of crime diminishes certainty and severity of penalty or conviction increases. Moreover, there is a consensus that certainty of punishment has greater importance than severity of punishment in their purpose of deterring crime. Death penalty is one of the deterrence approaches in the United States (Walker, 2015). However, it has promoted vigorous debates as many people have continued to question its morality, constitutionality, and practicality. Therefore, the only deterrence method, which best works for the country is a combination of incarceration and rehabilitation.
Impacts of Deterrence on Recidivism
The effects of deterrence, especially jail sentences and prison, are crucial for public safety and reduction of costs associated with placing delinquents behind bars. According to Travis, Western, and Redburn (2014), the influence of incarceration on recidivism is complex and mostly depends on a specific offender. While imprisonment, as well as longer confinement, increases the occurrence of recidivism for some criminals, in other cases, it may mitigate the risk of recidivism.
The theories, which support longer sentencing of felons, posit that deterrence through incarceration leads to significant reduction in recidivism as it causes the development of emotional responses of the offenders such as anxiety, fear, and guilt. Hence, these emotional feelings compel delinquents to avoid indulging in illegal acts, which may lead them to similar types of punishment. Bohm (2016) further asserts that longer sentences may make the criminal offenders conclude that if they engage in new felonies, it will be costly to them since the latter will lose their earnings as well as other benefits, which come as a result of enjoying freedom. When particular kinds of punishment such as imprisonment and arrests accumulate, the criminal impulses gradually vanish due to the ability of the penalty to cause different types of reactions from the lawbreakers. Firstly, the malefactors usually estimate that they are more likely to be punished for their new crime (Worrall, 2014). Secondly, delinquents experience serious difficulties in accepting and coping with the imprisonment, as they grow older. Thirdly, offenders increase the awareness of the extent of their previous convictions especially the severity of possible subsequent sentences. Finally, criminals develop greater fear of being punished. According to the rehabilitation model, it is assumed that certain problems appear as a result of psychological, physical, and social causes, which can be diagnosed and afterwards treated or at least mitigated. Therefore, these observations imply that deterrence will reduce the likelihood that offenders will perpetrate.
Deterrence through incarceration has also produced negative effects with regard to recidivism. According to Walker (2015), when inmates are imprisoned, their social bonds are weakened. Besides, these social ties include workplace, familial, economic, and interpersonal relationships. When such important bonds are destroyed, delinquents are more likely to engage in new crimes thus increasing the risk of recidivism.
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Should We Just Lock People up Like We Do and Throw away the Key until Their Time is Expired?
Lawbreakers should always be held accountable for their offenses. While incarceration is one of the ways through which criminals bear the responsibility for their actions, it is also true that there are many alternatives to imprisonment. Additionally, incarceration can be inextricable connected with other corrective measures such as rehabilitation. It is the common knowledge that prisons contain the facilities where malefactors are deprived of their freedom through confinement while serving sentences for the crimes they have committed. While this is necessary to ensure that criminals are accountable for their wrongdoings, the concept of correctional settings should not only be restricted to subtracting the freedom of lawbreakers but should also involve other services, in particular rehabilitation. Therefore, it is not prudent to just lock delinquents in prison and forget about them until they serve their sentence but inmates should be allowed to undergo rehabilitation and other forms of correction.
The primary idea of rehabilitation through incarceration is that any person who has served time in prison would not want to return there once they are released (Currie, 2013). According to NAACP, even though the American population constitutes only five percent of the world population, it accounts for 25 present of the individuals in the custody globally (Jackson, Bradford, Hough, Myhill, Quinton, & Tyler, 2012). Moreover, the National Institute of Justice recently reported that over three-quarters of criminals are re-incarcerated within the first five years of their freedom. The issue of costs for keeping inmates in prisons has drawn a lot of attention from economists and policymakers. The expenses of maintaining convicts have become enormous, as more prisoners are locked in the penal institutions. Thus, all these problems have raised questions whether the criminals should just be kept and ignored in the places of confinement.
Although it has been estimated that prison rehabilitation may cost a lot of money to be established and implemented, it has been observed that these services are essential in cutting the rates of recidivism. Hence, this may translate into positive impacts since the number of people in the American jails may significantly decrease thereby leading to substantial reduction of expenses, which may save taxpayers from maintaining numerous criminals. Walker (2015) contends that educational, drug rehabilitation and vocational programs can minimize the probability of re-offending, and this may enable delinquents to contribute to nation building. It is important for the prisoners locked in the penal institution to be provided with the appropriate rehabilitative services.
The use of a combination of incarceration and rehabilitation seems to work best for the United States as a means of deterrence. Although deterrence, especially longer jail terms, has proved to mitigate the risks of recidivism, it may lead to negative effects, which usually include weakened social connections of the prisoners and lack of emotions, which are necessary to enable the latter to overcome their bad behaviours. Therefore, it is not efficient just to imprison the criminals and neglect them; they should rather experience relevant rehabilitative initiatives.