Blogs by PROD: The Problem with Punitive Justice
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IntroThere are different schools of thought on what criminal justice should look like, and two of the approaches are punitive justice/ retributive justice versus restorative justice/ rehabilitation. Punitive justice refers to criminal justice that focuses more on punishing criminals, while restorative justice recognizes crime as a symptom of an individual needing rehabilitation and help. This rehabilitation could take on the form of encouraging prisoners to get involved in occupational training and addressing their psychological issues.
The Problem with Punitive JusticePunitive justice has some key features to philosophy. It is based on the idea that punishment has the ability to alter a person's actions and actually deter prisoners from committing crimes in the future. Moreover, its philosophy asserts that prisoners will only take responsibility if they face sufficient punishment. It is also guided by the idea that bad actions should be met with similarly severe actions.
US criminal justice used to include much more emphasis on rehabilitation, but a marked shift toward more punitive measures in order to “crack down on crime” began in the 1970s. The focus on punishment over rehabilitation has meant drastic cuts to programs that are essential to helping prisoners become functioning and contributing members of society upon release.The rationale of punitive justice is often a mask for justifying cuts in spending that go toward reducing prisoner quality of life and successful reintegration into society.
It is also notable to point out that in many states, a felony conviction actually bars or limits these formerly incarcerated individuals from being able to seek public assistance and affordable housing. These prisoners are expected to rejoin society yet they aren't afforded the same assistance as others, despite having great potential to benefit from it. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that generally it is perfectly legal for potential employees to perform background checks and deny positions because of a criminal history. This can make it very difficult for them to find (legal) work. For individuals who had already resorted to crime previously, it is small wonder that recidivism rates are so high when even more odds are stacked against these individuals when they leave prison than when they entered.
It also has led to a huge growth in the size of US prison populations. As of 2020, we have 2.3 million incarcerated individuals in the US, including those in prisons, juvenile detention centers, psychiatric facilities, and other detention facilities. At a rate of 693 per 100,000 residents, the United States leads the world in mass incarceration with the highest rate per capita of prisoners.
Though just a brief overview of some of the issues associated with our punitive justice system, it is clear to most how our broken criminal justice system is a problem that exacerbates itself. Research actually suggests the severity of punishment does little to deter crime, even if it is draconian, so much as certainty of being caught does. So this punitive justice seems to not only be ineffective at reducing crime, but it actually may contribute to more due to the way it further disadvantages former convicts.