Society and Crime
The purpose of this paper will serve to provide an overview of how the impacts of crime affect public policy, sentencing, practices, and operations of correctional institutions, along with a societal response to those impacts. We will attempt to examine why there is a need for punishment and crime (or not), take a look at the emphasis on current punishment and/or rehabilitation, and how multiculturalism and diversity may affect the responses to crime.
Society’s views of crime and punishment have changed and evolved since medieval times when punishments were harsh and mainly influenced by the church and punishments were handed down to keep them from committing crimes by filling their hearts with fear. Some of those punishments ranged from floggings, brandings, tortures, fines, and public shaming to more severe punishments like cutting off body parts and, of course, death (Siegel, 4th Edition). Society looked upon these punishments as not necessarily fair but “just” and befitting the crime. Societal views of punishment have evolved just as criminal punishments have evolved. Society’s attitudes toward hangings (which do still exist) and electrocution via the electric chair have evolved as society began to view both as cruel and unusual punishment. Society now views prisons as a form of punishment—if one is incarcerated, they are typically serving punishment befitting the crime.
In today’s world of criminal justice, it is believed justice equals punishment. When someone commits a crime against others, a debt to society must be paid by serving time (punishment) appropriate to the crime. Taking offenders off the streets and incarcerating them in prisons is seen as a protection for society; therefore, a crime is committed, the offender receives a sentence to prison thus removing the said offender from the streets and protecting society from further harm. This view can be true; however, we will see there may be other options for offenders rather than simply sentencing someone to prison.
The emphasis on punishment or rehabilitation is an ongoing debate in society among the everyday citizen and policymakers alike. One legal definition of punishment, like incarceration, is: some pain or penalty warranted by law, inflicted on a person, for the commission of a crime or misdemeanor, …” (UpCounsel, 2020). Using this term of punishment, in simple terms, constitutes sentencing an offender to prison to serve a specified period of time, with perhaps rehabilitation services, and eventual release. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, encompasses programs and services to help change criminals into law-abiding citizens providing mental health therapies, substance abuse rehabilitation programs, and medical programs to care for medical issues inmates may have while at the same time keeping the prison population safe from illness and disease, vocational training, educational programs, religious programs including instruction and religious services, to name just a few. These rehabilitation programs are for the benefit of offenders to assist them in overcoming issues and providing a pathway for successful re-entry into communities. The rehabilitation programs may be mandated by the courts as part of an offender’s sentence, and/or for those with lesser charges the offender may be directed to services on the outside, perhaps a live-in facility. Looking at the two options of punishment and rehabilitation leads me to this conclusion. Offenders who have committed serious crimes and have serious charges against them should be sentenced to serve time in prison and be mandated to rehabilitation programs within the prison to help resolve their issues. Those with lesser charges are not going to benefit from being in prison next to hardened criminals and will become more productive receiving outside ongoing treatment.
Since at least the 1970s, there has been a continuous shift in sentencing laws, impacting prisons, the “get tough on crime” policy, and present-day conditions. The war on drugs precipitated speeches by politicians about getting tough on crime meaning to be as harsh on criminals as the law allows. This policy along with sentence restructuring of handing out the harshest sentence possible and mandatory sentencing have all led to the mass incarceration of criminals and the overcrowding of facilities. Sentence reform needs to be ongoing, especially by policymakers. Someone who steals $10 worth of marijuana does not warrant being sentenced to prison for 15 years! Likewise, rehabilitation alternatives need to be considered for those who don’t need to be incarcerated in prison next to a hardened long-term prisoner.
Lastly, taking a look at multiculturalism and diversity indicates treatment may not always be fair when it comes to other ethnicities and races. It is said diversity and multiculturalism are more prevalent in the justice system than in the rest of society, and that various races have an extremely high rate of incarceration versus Caucasians. It is also written that if a specific group of people is alienated from a system due to disparities, there is a distrust of that system (Weedmark, D., n.d.). We need to be more trusting of all ethnicities and remove racial overtones from our makeup, just as all cultures and ethnicities need to have more trust in the US criminal justice system.