Retribution is “punishment administered for a wrong committed” (American Heritage Dictionary). Rehabilitation means “to restore to useful life, as through therapy and education” (American Heritage Dictionary). What has the best results? So far it seems as if rehabilitation is the better of the two forms of punishments. People expect offenders to come out of prison reformed and to be productive members of society. Retributive justice inflicts pain on the offender. This only teaches the offender to inflict pain onto others. Rehabilitating offenders through education and programming gives them the tools they need to survive when they are released from prison.
Offenders are afforded the opportunity to take advantage of programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, jobs within the prison, religious programs, treatment programs, and educational opportunities. Often times, when an offender enters prison without a high school diploma or a general education diploma, the sentencing judge will require the offender to obtain their GED as part of their sanctions.
In former President George W. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address, he stated, “This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison. America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” (Justice.gov) Some of the many ways to try to reduce offender recidivism include harsher punishments for crimes, using evidence-based practices, and the use of determinate and indeterminate sentencing. The use of indeterminate sentencing and the subsequent change to determinate sentencing helped control prison populations, but had little to no effect on the reduction of recidivism. Harsher punishments mostly have a reverse effect of the rehabilitation of offenders, and only teach the offender that it is ok to inflict pain onto others. The current use of evidence-based practices have shown promising results of reducing offender recidivism by thirty to forty percent, however, about two-thirds of offenders still reoffend and return to custody.
So what is next? The basic needs of an offender releasing from prison are a job, a place to stay, and a healthy support system. Some groundbreaking studies and ideas to reduce offender recidivism in the future include the use of day fines, continued programming outside of prison, and removing the criminal history box off of job applications. These new ideas are still in the early stages of their trials, but could show promising results.
The United States uses fines usually in conjunction with another form of punishment, i.e. incarceration and probation. Judges are...