Pros and Cons of Punishment Vs. Rehabilitation in the American Criminal Justice System

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Pros and Cons of Punishment Vs. Rehabilitation in the American Criminal Justice System

This essay will discuss the pros and cons of punishment versus rehabilitation in the American criminal justice system. It will compare the effectiveness, ethical implications, and societal impact of both approaches, examining current trends and alternatives in criminal justice policies. Also at PapersOwl you can find more free essay examples related to Crime.

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The Vicious Cycle of the Criminal Justice System

Millions of inmates in the American prison system know their concrete home well. Many of these inmates have been behind bars multiple times before. When released from their sentence, these people are thrown into the constantly changing and unforgiving world. Commonly, some realize that they cannot make it on their own. In some instances, they resort back to crimes because they are desperate. After committing more crimes, for they can not act appropriately in the real world, they return to the system.

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This system is designed to hold prisoners until their time is up, with no proper rehabilitation or consideration for those people.

Punishment vs Rehabilitation: A Tale of Two Scenarios

Our prisoners do not get a chance to rehabilitate themselves. They get stuck in a neverending system, ruining their lives. In a fictional scenario, a man robs a store, probably because he is at a difficult point and desperate for money. He is sentenced to five years in prison for armed robbery. The world can change a lot in five years. It took the creators of the iPhone, for example, five years to invent and create the first touchscreen phone.

This man is isolated for five years inside his concrete cell. Now labeled a criminal, he is released into the harsh world with nothing but what he had as he walked into the concrete box five years ago. With no job and no way to get a job, this man becomes desperate again because employers frown upon criminal records. The only thing he knows to do that will get him money fast is to commit more crimes. Committing these crimes is his easy way out but also his way back in. He ends up in prison, only to lose more time. The more time lost behind bars, the more he is separated from the real world. So the cycle of the system starts all over again. If this man had been able to rehabilitate himself or had helped with rehabilitation, he could have avoided this scenario.

In an alternate scenario, a man robs a store and is sentenced to five years in prison, just as the man before. The prison takes him in and allows him to educate himself. Instead of being isolated, he is taught how to socialize and be civil. This man has access to computers and can prepare for a job where the number of workers is dropping. After five years, this man is released and quickly finds a job in the field where he studied. The prison could write recommendations for prisoners since employers frown upon criminal records. Now, this man has a way to support himself and does not have the crushing weight of failure that the prison systems we have today imply.

Pros and Cons of the Current Prison Environment

The environment in which we spend most of our time determines our behavior and how we look at life. Prisons and jails are cruel and unhealthy environments. If we were to change that harsh environment to something more civil and kind, our prisoners would behave civilly and kindly. Our prison systems have too many cases of rape, abuse, and neglect. In this kind of environment, no wonder so many people keep coming back. “The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested for at least one serious new crime, and more than half are re-incarcerated within three years of release” (Petersilia). The prisons are not designed to rehabilitate. They are sentenced, then thrown back into the world like they were taken from it. They do not know how to function in the outside world properly, so we must positively influence them.

“[California] spent nearly $10 billion on corrections last year, or about $50,000 per prisoner. (The national average is $23,000.)” (Petersilia) $3,000 per inmate is what California pays towards their rehabilitation. Many inmates do not even go through the programs available before release. We, as taxpayers, are already paying billions to keep criminals behind bars. If the prison systems were to focus on rehabilitating these criminals, they could learn to be civilized in the outside world. Rehabilitating our inmates would be cheaper for the taxpayer in the long run. Their money would not only be used to house and feed inmates but to help them pursue a good job or even a career, allowing them to participate in the community and the economy after they are released.

Investing in Rehabilitation: Economic Implications and Job Opportunities

American jobs, such as plumbing, welding, carpentry, roofing, and many other laborious jobs, are running out of workers. Not many people want a job such as these, so they could be filled by inmates willing to better themselves and work hard in the real world. Prisons need to implement a job training system. Maybe even allow people to pursue a career through the wonders of the internet. Sometimes we need a little push in the right direction, and our prison system is not doing very well at that. Inmates should be productive and learn different skills and traits while isolated. It may take more money to execute this system properly at first. In the long run, the prisoners would not come through the system as often, saving taxpayer money by keeping those recurring inmates out. The rehabilitated inmates could make a life for themselves without resorting to crimes.

When considering “rehabilitation,” one usually imagines a center for drug-addicted people looking for help. The Quapaw Rehabilitation Clinic is for people dealing with drug abuse and other related circumstances. They have housing for people who just got out of prison for drug-related crimes and are looking to better themselves. These people are moved into Quapaw apartments with the same gender and a curfew. The staff even help find them good jobs. They have to pay a certain fee, and they all pitch in to buy necessities for the house.

The Quapaw facilities are for drug addicts only. This is the kind of system we need for all prison facilities and ALL inmates. If we were to house them, give them jobs, and monitor them, they could return to the world prepared. “Research demonstrates that offenders who earn a high school equivalency diploma while behind bars are more likely to get jobs after release. Those who receive vocational skills training are more likely to get jobs and higher wages after release” (Petersilia). Inmates who receive training and education are likelier to thrive outside prison. The more they thrive, the less likely they are to reenter the system.

A Vision for Reform: Changing the Paradigm of America’s Criminal Justice System

This system is in desperate need of fixing. More and more people are sent to prison every day. America has the highest prison population in the world. That is because people end up getting stuck in the system. To not fix this social injustice, our overpopulated prisons will become even more overpopulated. We would be spending millions of dollars to keep more people behind bars when they will just be released and caught again. The system is a cycle.

America needs to focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment. Our prisons take the word “punishment” too seriously. They beat inmates and give them no chance to do better. They treat prisoners like animals when they are just people. People deserve second chances because everyone makes mistakes. These mistakes should not determine how the rest of one’s life goes. Abuse and rape are all too common in this system. We need to start with a different training method for the correctional officers. They need to be more compassionate and help the criminals do better instead of teaching them how to be worse.

The American prison system is harsh. Punishment is favored over rehabilitation. The whole system is designed to keep inmates isolated, and it is hard to get out once you have been in. The prisons are overpopulated, the prisoners are mistreated, and the taxpayers pay money to have these people return to their concrete homes. The environment in which the prisoners are determines their behavior. We need to implement an education system and, more importantly, a job training system in which inmates may learn a trait or skill that would be helpful in the outside world. So many jobs are losing workers. These jobs no one wants will give recently released inmates a headstart on life. Helping these inmates get off on the right foot is our only hope of eliminating this social injustice in the system.


  1. Petersilia, Joan. “Beyond the Prison Bubble.” National Institute of Justice, The Wilson Quarterly, 2011,
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Pros and Cons of Punishment vs. Rehabilitation in the American Criminal Justice System. (2023, Aug 21). Retrieved from