What are the alternative philosophies to the punitive philosophy currently popular in the US correctional system? Is it feasible? 

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The punitive system that the United States uses in its prison system is actually one of the less effective and beneficial prison systems in the world. It focuses entirely on punishing and incarcerating criminals, intending to remove them from the streets and correct behavior by giving them negative reinforcement, punishing...

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The punitive system that the United States uses in its prison system is actually one of the less effective and beneficial prison systems in the world. It focuses entirely on punishing and incarcerating criminals, intending to remove them from the streets and correct behavior by giving them negative reinforcement, punishing them for their behaviors.

A rehabilitative prison system is much more beneficial in the long run and has been used to great effect in Scandinavian nations for quite some time. This system focuses on rehabilitating the incarcerated person by teaching them marketable skills, giving them counseling, and encouraging positive activity. Rates of recidivism are significantly lower here than in America, and formerly incarcerated individuals typically reintegrate back into society with complete success.

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The current justice system in the US centers on the punishment of crimes through fines and imprisonment. Various alternatives to the current approach have been suggested and tried in limited ways. Some methods used in the past have been abandoned as cruel and unusual punishment. An example of such a method would be the public shaming of putting an offender in the stocks in the public square. More compassionate modern approaches include treatment, community service, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.

For certain crimes, particularly violation of drug laws or crimes committed by the mentally ill, putting the offender in a treatment program makes sense. Resolving the addiction or mental health issues may put the person on the path of lawful behavior without exposing him or her to the harsh and often damaging prison environment. Assigning an offender to perform community service in lieu of spending time in prison theoretically allows the person to contribute to society rather than become isolated from it.

Perhaps by learning to be a giver rather than a taker, the offender will cease his or her life of crime. Rehabilitation involves training the offender to perform a useful trade or service and may involve physical exercise and behavioral coaching. The idea is to teach the person how to live well without violating the law.

Finally, restorative justice focuses on requiring the criminal to restore to the victim the property taken and fix the other harm caused by the crime. This method involves sentencing circles that include the criminal, victim, community representatives, and justice system workers. The sentencing circles determine the best way to repair the damage caused by the crime. When criminals have to meet their victims face to face and apologize, their crimes become real to them. The criminal may even receive the forgiveness of the person harmed. Proponents believe that restorative justice has the most potential to reform the current punishment-based justice system in the US.

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The punitive model or the model of retributive justice certainly has alternatives that are both more humane and more efficacious. They are more efficacious because they do a better job of preventing recidivism, something that the punitive retributive model does nothing to address. The most radical alternative is transformative justice. The idea here is to rehabilitate offenders instead of incarcerating them, especially since many of the people punished by the current system are first-time offenders or people with ameliorating factors in their upbringing. Transformative justice focuses on the individual as well as on the larger community and seeks to rehabilitate offenders as productive members of a community. It allows survivors to heal and offenders to be held accountable while at the same time respecting the humanity of the offenders and making sure that they never commit similar offenses again. Restorative justice programs that already exist are the best example of such a system.

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