[Solved] rehabilitation vs incarceration

Get Better or Get Jailed

            Crime rate is increasing, which also means that more and more apprehended offenders are crowding the already jam-packed correctional facilities. And while this problem stems from various factors, attention is turned on how this can be addressed. The increasing number of criminal offenders is alarming, and concerned authorities in all levels of jurisdiction debate whether rehabilitation or just incarceration would solve the problem. Rehabilitation is a better choice as it focuses into helping offenders change and make better use of their lives.

            The classical theory of criminology indicates that punishment is better in creating deterrence while the positivist theory of criminology states that rehabilitation can reduce crime (Larrabee, 2006). Theorists are still debating over which between rehabilitation and punishment can have positive effects on offenders and can reduce crime.


            The 1970s signaled a time of rising crime rates and prison unrest which brought disappointment to rehabilitation. Certain beliefs are still influenced by the classical and positivist theories of crime, thus encouraging debate whether rehabilitation or incarceration would be the best for an offender. Punishment would not be the right approach to improve the administration of justice and the inmates’ quality of life. Rehabilitation is a more appropriate choice for crime control because it dispenses harsher sentences and removes judicial discretion (Cullen and Gilbert, 1982).

            Rehabilitation has been dominant in the correctional system until the 1970s when larger disorder observed in the American society encouraged criticisms in the criminal justice system. The conservatives believed that rehabilitation enabled the state to be merciful to the offenders while the liberals believed that rehabilitation allowed the state to “act coercively against offenders.” The society came to accept rehabilitation around 1900s as the reform of offenders was given attention (Cullen and Gendreau, 2000).

            Rehabilitation refers to processes which facilitate one’s attainment of the highest level of independence and the best quality of life (The Ohio State University Medical Center, 2008). According to some, rehabilitation is an effective measure to deter crime. When offenders are supervised through rehabilitation, it can have a “more lasting effect” and can keep them from engaging in criminal activities because rehabilitation teaches them how to better adapt to the community. Through the academic and trade skills that they learn from rehabilitation programs, offenders can find employment and can experience belongingness in the community (Larrabee, 2006). This is the purpose of the criminal justice system – to turn lawbreakers into law-abiders (Cullen and Gendreau, 2000).

            Rehabilitation can lead to positive changes and can eliminate problems that are associated with incarceration such as employment challenges upon the release of offenders. Rehabilitation offers offenders with opportunities for job training and academic skills. Also, offenders who are under probation can be with their families and can find employment under supervision (Cullen and Gendreau, 2000). From the viewpoint of those who served time in prison, rehabilitation is a cost-effective measure. Offenders who were apprehended due to drug abuse would do better in rehabilitation which serves comprehensive treatment, education and job training (Schwartz, 2001).

            There are also cases when rehabilitation is the best option. For instance, non-violent drug offenders who have committed crime in order to support their drug habit need treatment. Incarcerating them will not make them better individuals. To address this problem involving those who are under substance abuse, drug courts have been established in certain states in the United States. Substance-abusing offenders are placed under strict supervision as they undergo treatment. Drug courts also offer programs such as family counseling, job skill training and skill enhancement services. Results of various researches studying the effects of rehabilitation showed that treatment is more effective, as compared to incarcerating the user (Cullen and Gendreau, 2000).


            Statistics showed that in 2001, around 5.6 million adults were in prison. A higher percentage of black males and Hispanic males are incarcerated compared to whites (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007). With these figures, prisons in America are overcrowded, housing mostly Latino and African Americans. Incarcerating offenders would protect the public and punish the offenders. But this does not mean that crime will be reduced. In addition, some people believe that prisons are just for those who are the most violent. Those who are non-violent offenders should not be incarcerated for long periods of time (Jacobson, 2005).

Prison institutions are monumental in design and are essential in the criminal justice system. Some people may even think that these institutions are permanent features of the American society (Gottschalk, 2006). However, incarceration is just a temporary solution to crime. It affects not just the offender but the family and society as well. Although the number of years served in prison depends on the crime committed, the number of inmates is still growing. This means that incarceration is not as effective as people think it is. Especially those who are victims or are relatives of victims of offenders believe that incarceration would be the primary justifying punishment for offenders (Cullen and Gendreau, 2000).

            Many see incarceration as costly, as the country spends about $30,000 annually to feed, house and clothe the offenders. This amount does not include construction costs and other maintenance costs. To address this, alternatives were introduced to reduce incarceration costs. These alternatives include “boot camps” (Larrabee, 2006). However, many still despise incarceration. There are cases when offenders should have done better at rehabilitation. This is true for those who are sentenced for years in prison because of drug charges. Incarcerating them will not make them better. Releasing them will not be beneficial as well because they might return to their drug habits. Again, cases like this contribute to the overwhelming cost of incarcerating offenders. There are also studies which showed that incarcerating non-violent offenders does not diminish the number of drug users. Not even the threat of incarceration deters offenders from using drugs (Sparks-Myers, 2008).

Incarceration can greatly affect the offender’s psychological well-being. Studies showed that when offenders are separated from their families, it drives them even deeper in depression whereas offenders can frequently see their families when under rehabilitation. Furthermore, incarceration leads to cases of single parenting. Moreover, incarceration contributes to alienation and social disorientation. Upon release from incarceration, offenders experience stigmatism, employment problems, and social isolation. More often than not, the public views them as bad persons, and this also has effects on the offenders as they become social outcasts (Cullen and Gendreau, 2000).

Incarceration can also affect the economy. When the economy suffers, incarceration increases because unemployment is at its peak. Furthermore, it affects the community, especially when incarcerated offenders are less prepared to re-enter the community. This can lead to challenges in employment and stability. The families of offenders are greatly affected, too, because they tend to be left in foster care. Situations like this are further worsened when the family is poor. When a parent is incarcerated, poverty levels increase. Furthermore, relationships are never the same at the return of an incarcerated parent. When families are affected, the society as a whole is also affected because incarceration weakens family structures and interaction between neighbors (Brown, 2007).

            For the victims of offenders, they want swift punishment rather than rehabilitation. They are not the only ones who favor punishment. The public sees punishment as “the primary justification for sentencing.” In addition, people perceive courts who render a punishment lower than incarceration as being easy on the offenders. And mostly,

people believe that incapacitation can surely prevent future crimes rather than allowing them to be put under programs that may give them the chance to go back to their old ways (Larrabee, 2006).


Brown, P. (2007). The consequences of mass incarceration. Associated Content. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/422912/the_consequences_of_mass_incarceration.html?cat=17

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2007). Criminal offenders statistics. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/crimoff.htm#prevalence

Cullen, F.T., and Gendreau, P. (2000). Assessing correctional rehabilitation: Policy, practice, and prospects. Criminal Justice. 3, 109-162.

Cullen, F.T., and Gilbert, K.E. (1982). Reaffirming rehabilitation. Ohio: Anderson Publishing Co.

Gottschalk, M. (2006). The prison and the gallows: The politics of mass incarceration in America. United States: Cambridge University Press.

Jacobson, M. (2005). Downsizing prisons: How to reduce crime and end mass incarceration. United States: NYU Press.

Larrabee, A.K. (2006). Punishment vs. rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. Associated Content. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/89124/punishment_vs_rehabilitation_in_the.html?cat=17

Schwartz, C. (2001). Rehabilitation vs. incarceration: Non-violent women drug offenders. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://www.prisonerlife.com/articles/articleID=16.cfm

Sparks-Myers, D. (2008). Incarceration vs. treatment for drug and alcohol related crimes. Associated Content. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1105346/incarceration_vs_treatment_for_drug.html?cat=17

The Ohio State University Medical Center. (2008). Rehabilitation. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/stroke/rehab/Pages/index.aspx



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