The fundamental purpose of the criminal justice system is to reduce crime by secluding those who break the law and correcting them. The idea is to reform them before allowing them to integrate back into society once again where they would ideally become model citizens. However, it is the way that this process is carried out that draws debate. Much of this discourse is based on political affiliation and the beliefs or principles that come along with these affiliations. On the one hand, liberals largely believe in rehabilitating law offenders through lenient methods which are meant to make them feel accepted by society such that the effort to correct them does not end up further alienating them or instigating rebellion and retaliation against the society. On the other hand, conservative movements advocate for strict punishment meant to suppress criminal behavior by instigating in felons and others who would consider committing a crime. Sadly, the latter prevails today despite the evidence reflective of its ineffectiveness.

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Rehabilitation versus Punishment in the Criminal Justice System

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Research on the subject shows that the current system of correction is largely ineffective. 76% of all felons released from prison are rearrested within five years of their release. The data seems to suggest that much of the prison population is constantly in rotation in and out of prison. Much of the discourse on the matter points at mandatory minimum sentences as the root of the problem. The policy dictates a predetermined minimum sentence tailored for each offence. This means that those found guilty of even the pettiest crimes face incarceration, often in the same correctional facilities as violent offenders. In this system, it could be argued that these petty offenders delve deeper into crime as a result of their integration with hardened criminals. It could also be argued as mentioned above, that the seemingly harsh punishments could motivate petty offenders to hit back at the ‘system’ for what one could easily validate as excessive albeit somewhat undeserved punishments. Ultimately, the data does not lie. The American criminal justice system is essentially flawed as far as correcting criminal behavior goes.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny the fact that crime rates in America have largely gone down in the last two decades. This is one of the main arguing points that supporters of the current form of correction will take up. However, while the fact holds true, it is worth noting that crime rates in America remain significantly high. Petty crimes aside, the number of violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants is about 320. In some ways, this could be taken to mean that the current system has experienced moderate success in deterring crime among potential first-time offenders. However, it is important to remember that whichever system is prevalent, it should both alleviate repeat offences as well as first-time offences. After all, the purpose of the justice system is to serve society by providing security and safety to the citizens. If indeed three-quarters of the released convicts find their way back to prison within five years, one could even go as far as saying that the current prisons system is edging on obsolescence.

Evidently, there is a profound need to overhaul the criminal justice system. Liberals and other supporters of rehabilitation would have the three strikes law abolished along with minimum mandatory sentences. However, while these laws contribute to the growing prison population, now the highest of any republic in recorded history, the solution to such a complex societal problem cannot possibly be as simple as this. Rather, the problem could lie with the predominantly hostile environment of America’s prisons. Rehabilitation through aggressive implementation of educational programs and encouragement of creativity and talent in prison could arguably go a long way in reducing the number of repeat offenders.