What do you see as the primary goal of our prison sytem today--punishment or rehabilitation? 

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mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I know that this answer is far removed from the time of the question, but I must comment on this.  The goal today is more punishment than rehabilitation, but it needs to swing back.  Remember that almost all of the prisoners will be returning to society and WILL live among us.  Do we want to have them ready to work and become a contributing member of society, or do we want them angry and determined to get back at the constant punishment?  I understand the frustration about the pell grants, but if they are educated, perhaps they can find a job with a living wage to support a family.  I am an on call crisis counselor for the county jail where I live, and using my long experience, I try to get them to calm down and think about how to better themselves during their prison time.  Many of them want to improve, but having no support all their lives, see improvement as a hopeless task.  Rehabilitation changes that view, gives them hope, and when they return to society, will feel that they have a chance.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the pendulum has swung quite far in favor of punishment rather than rehabilitation.  While certainly job and educational training programs exist in the prison system, the focus remains on mass incarceration.  More than 2 million Americans are currently serving time, and some prisons are at 150% of capacity or more.  This allows little funding and manpower to supervise training inmates for work outside the walls, or for psychiatric help and counseling to help address possible root causes of criminal behavior.  Prisoners are basically warehoused, in my opinion, and in some cases by private for-profit corporations.  This is sometimes referred to a the Prison Industrial Complex.  Even if rehabilitation was the goal of both society and government, the population behind bars would need to shrink to a reasonable size before rehab policies could be pursued.

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the advent of private prisons certainly points to punishment over rehabilitation. Essentially, the more people incarcerated, the more money those prisons will make. The private prison system has also become so politically entangled that there isn't any likelihood of reform soon. Take Arizona for example. Governor Jan Brewer's campaign chairman and policy advisor is also a lobbyist for Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the nation. They also hold an exclusive contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so any illegal immigrant arrested in Arizona is sent to one of their facilities. With the recent uproar over illegal immigration (manufactured I think, to some extent- illegal immigration has actually dropped over the past decade), it seems that the focus has been put squarely on punishment.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It would be interesting to examine the rate of re-offending in prisons to consider the effectiveness of rehabilitation measures in prisons in the US. Some argue that prisons by there very nature encourage prisoners to re-offend - some become so institutionalised within the prison system that life outside of it becomes very difficult, and other critics of the prison system argue that prisons allow for sharing of ideas and the birth of "universities of crime". Of course, sociologically speaking, it is also important to look at the make-up of the prison population to consider if there are other societal reasons for prisoners committing crime. Are the majority of the prison population black and male for example? Why is that?

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The United States pays lip service to the ideas of both punishment and rehabilitation, but I believe that more time and effort is spent on rehabilitating prisoners. What I believe might be more effective is the Japanese style of prison-as-punishment. The Japanese penal system has a significantly lower recidivism rate than that of America, due to the brutality of prison life.

Nevertheless, I do see the value of educating prisoners so that when they are released they are able to seek gainful employment. In the United States, we have a school-to-prison pipeline for many of our high school dropouts, particularly young males of minority ethnic status.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many would agree with post #6.  In Florida where I went to college, my senior group of future teachers went on a field trip to the local prison as one possible place to work in the future.  It didn't take long for me to decide that I would never again walk willingly into a maximum security prison...the language and vulgarity was astounding and offensive...but these men were actually getting college degrees with Pell grants (free money that doesn't have to ever be repaid) from the government.  I couldn't get a Pell grant, but they could.  Hummm.  Of course, this was several years ago.  Perhaps now that has changed.

sboeman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps first we should understand that people are put into prisons as a punishment for their crimes - they are not put in there for no reason other than to simply be rehabilitated.  Once incarcerated, however, it is the duty of the facility to rehabilitate their prisoners in order for them to be properly integrated back into society.  Prisoners do need effective coping skills, support, and monitoring while attempting to re-enter society-this seems to be a moral imperative, both for the welfare of the ex-convict and also for the safety of the community.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that we pay attention to punishment pretty much to the exclusion of rehabilitation.  I think that this will continue in the foreseeable future.  I say this because rehab costs money and also seems to reward prisoners for their crimes (go to jail and get job training).  So it will seem like using tax dollars to reward the bad guys.

ibnumd | Student
In reply to #1:
epollock | Student

The system punishes them in more ways than one and actually produces a stronger, more hardened criminal than before. I think the punishment does fit the crime especially in a maxmimum security prison in the West or Midwest. They are so brutal in places, criminals get their just desserts.

krishna-agrawala | Student

Prisons in many countries do perform some kind of rehabilitation activities for the prisoners. For example, prisons in India do offer opportunities for the prisoners to learn some trade skills such as carpentry. However, the primary purpose of prison sentence continues to be punishment. The rehabilitation activity, if any, is more as a means of helping a person to earn a living after undergoing the punishment rather than as a means of reforming the individual of their criminal tendencies, or in general improving their ability to earn their livelihood by honest means.