Corrections Purposes of Punishment

Prisons as correctional institutions were an establishment of the 19th century and was predicted by may that as a correctional institution the prison facility was not going to thrive for long. However, even as we cross into the 21st century, the prison has continued to be part of the criminal justice system despite the failure to comprehensively address the functions and purposes that were the basis for its inception. The major question then arises on how the institution has managed to survive the challenges of the previous and the current century.

One fascinating aspects of correctional component regarding criminal justice system can be found in the prison institution which was established way back in the 19th century. Despite many experts predicting that the prison institution would decline during the 20the century, the institution has continued to thrive even in the 21st century. Prisons were introduced as correctional tools to the criminal offenders and have continued to serve the same purpose in the 21st century even in the wake of other options. In general, correction encompasses secure detention facilities including prisons and jails, but it also includes the personnel and the different programs offered to the offenders. Such programs includes probation, parole, rehabilitation, counseling, restorative justice and drug and alcohol therapy (Reynolds, 2010, para 2). In a nutshell the corrections are part of the criminal justice system that serve to separate the criminals from the society through the provision of housing and programs to the offenders convicted of criminal behavior thereby facilitating the loss of freedom for the offender. Apart from the death penalty, imprisonment is regarded as the most serious form of punishment that a free society may condemn an individual for committing a crime. This paper will look at the reasons that have resulted in the survival of imprisonment as a correctional tool despite the prediction of its failure by experts of the past centuries.

Prisons in the US
The very first true American prison was established in Walnut Street Philadelphia in the year 1791 by the Quakers with three objectives which included ensuring public security, reforming prisoners, and enhancing humanity to those members of the society who were unhappy (Smith,  Dickey, 1999). Education was introduced in the prison in the year 1798 and has since been part of the prison system in the US leading to the controversy surrounding the prison system regarding the purpose they were meant to serve. The debate arises on the issue of rehabilitation versus punishment. According to a report prepared by Richard J. Coley and Paul E. Barton entitled Locked Up and Locked Out An Educational Perspective on the US Prison Population, a significant reduction has been recorded in the state and federal spending on correctional education programs especially in the 1980s and the 1990s. In 1994, the Congress passed a legislation prohibiting the inmates from receiving the Pell Grants and thus de-funding post-secondary education to the prisoners (Coley  Barton, 2006).

The prison population has always been on the increase with a reported 700 increase in the population between the years 1970 and 2005. According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trust entitled Public Safety, Public Spending Forecasting Americas Prison Population 2007-2011, the increase of the inmate population is far from over. The report predicts that both the state and federal prison population shall increase by approximately 200,000 inmates come 2011 which will in effect raise the US prison census to over 1.5 million inmates. Incarceration levels are projected to continue with the upward trend to reach the rate of 550 incidences for every 100,000 or rather one in every 182 Americans (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2006).

The prisons have traditionally been dominated by the males but a closer look at the statistics reveals that the women population is steadily rising. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts report, the women inmates are projected to grow by 16 by the year 2011 compared to 12 increase for the male population. The report also established that some regions andor states have higher general growth rates in the prison population. For instance, in the West, Midwest, and the South, the growth in the population is expected to be on the rise by double digits between the years 2006 and 2011with the West expected to record an 18 increase (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2006). The table below shows prison population growth rates in ten States

10 Highest-Growth States
(By percent increase)
Montana 41Arizona 35Alaska 34Idaho 34Vermont 33Colorado 31Washington 28Wyoming 27Nevada 27Utah 25Source Pew Charitable Trusts, (2006).

Punishment as a correctional means can not be reduced to a single meaning since it is considered as a societal establishment that embodies and condenses variety of issues. There is need for one to explore the various dynamics and the forces of punishment in order to come up with a multifaceted picture of meaning and the action upon which it functions (Smith,  Dickey, 1999). Punishment in this case is considered as a legal procedure for which offenders of criminal law are predestined and endorsed to. The process involves interlink between the processes of law making, conviction, sentencing, and the administration of penalties (Sycamnias, 2010, para 8). Though legal punishment serves various roles, its fundamental aim is to reduce andor contain criminal behavior in the society. However, some theorists have refuted the assertion that punishment controls crime with the argument that penalty does not serve this end and therefore there is need to look at the other explanation of the scenario. To Emile Durkheim, if a transgression was not pathological then retribution is not capable of penalizing it (Berman,  Saxbe, 2010).

Despite being a delimited legal process, punishments existence and operation has always depended on a wide range of social issues both historical and sociological. For instance, according to Sycamnias
Modern prisons presuppose definite architectural forms, security devices, disciplinary technologies, and developed regimes which organize time and space - as well as the social means to finance, construct and administer such complex organizations. And as recent work has shown, specific forms of punishment are also dependent for their support upon less obvious social and historical circumstances including political discourses and specific forms of knowledge, legal, moral, and cultural categories, and specific patterns of psychic organization or sensibility. It is a product of tradition as much as present policy hence the need for a developmental as well as functional perspective in the understanding of penal institutions (Sycamnias, 2010, para 9).

It through the review of the retribution in comparison to the historical backdrop of the different structures of livelihood that a good understanding of the informal logic that underpins the penal practice. Punishment like any other institution has to interact with environment to form the mutual construction and configuration of elements in the social world (Sycamnias, 2010).

Trend in the Prisons
The prison population is set to increase and this shows that the institution will stay with us for yet unknown period of time. The main reasons that attribute to the increase in the prison population can be said to be the general population growth and increasing rates of crime. To the policy makers, the prison still remain at least in the public view as the most appropriate punishment that can be meted out on certain type of offences.  There is a misconception based on logic that the criminal activities in the society will be reduced when more individuals are held up in prison. In contrast however, no apparent cause and effect relationship has been established between the two variables. The subject matter on whether imprisonment really impacts on the crime rates can not be resolved by simple arithmetic as it requires some social policy calculus. The central issue has been the relationship between the effectiveness and cost of the prisons. The federal spending on the corrections has shot to over 50 billion from a about 10 billion in 1980s yet repetitive imprisonment has continued to be witnessed with more than half of the inmates finding their way back in prison within three years of their release (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2006).

Traditionally, punishment is usually meted to serve two functions which include desertion and utilitarian. With the desertion or retribution, punishment the criminals deserve to be held responsible for their activities and punishment need to be commensurate to the crime. In retribution, punishment is seen as deserved to be meted to the wrongdoers. On the other hand, the utilitarian aspect of the punishment is justified upon accomplishing some other objectives including crime control. Utilitarian therefore regards deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation as the best forms of punishment (Stanford University, 2009).

The prison debate
The current punishment model is responsible for having created its own inevitability and preserving its statusquo. Different ways of punishing have been taken for granted and this has contributed to the reluctance of deep thinking about punishment. The prisons as the main institution for punishment have provided a convenient description of criminality, and the subsequent penalties. Prisons have therefore been sanctioned at least in principle, leaving detailed matters to be settled by experts and administrators in specialized institutions that are set to serve the purpose-the courts. Since they respected for the decisions they make, the courts have created their own basis of truth and are designed in a manner that no one dares question their authority (Berman  Saxbe, 2010). The existence of the penal system has worked to reinforce the status quo and no one may suggest other possible alternatives to the problems. People have been made to believe that the penal system and the corresponding institutions just like any other establishments are founded on principle as opposed to nature (Sycamnias, 2010).

What people have failed to appreciate is the fact that institutions and their regimes are subject to challenge especially when they fail to serve the purpose that they were designed for. Despite the fact that prisons are institutions of the 19th century, there is a general doubt about the current penal system. This was witnessed towards the end of the 20th century due to the increasing cases of crimes in the 1960s.  During this time, apart from the high crime rates there was general prison instability along with the collapse in faith in the rehabilitation ideal combined to undermine confidence in penal progress and the inevitability of penal reform (Sycamnias, 2010, para 3). The penal system no longer seems to hold the rehabilitative values and ideologies that were the basis of its formation in high esteem. This has led to the systems conventional wisdom being irrational, dysfunctional, and counter-productive thus becoming a chronic social issue more similar to the crime that the system was supposed to handle (Pratt  Clark, 2005).

The prisons have raised numerous questions in regard to their ability and efficiency in controlling crime. Nevertheless, the prisons have continued to survive even in the 21st century and many claim that prisons have been able to survive due to their quasi-independent life that puts them in a position to overcome the vast substantiation in regard to their societal dysfunctional abilities. This includes the implementation of probation with relatively less force, the issue of fines, and the implementation of community corrections among other survival means.


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