By: Nate, Rob, Key, and Maklayne
When surveying the present day American prison system, one can confidently say that retribution is the philosophy and model upheld by most prisons. Although, it has not always been this way. Most European prisons were founded not to incarcerate, but to rehabilitate and punish, often through labor or work under the person one committed the crime against. Prisons themselves were built to hold someone for a short period until their punishment was finalized, they were never meant for extended holding or making people trade in life time for redemption. 18th century America brought a change to the prison system through the Pennsylvania Quakers, who believed that crimes needed to be paid for in a more serious manner. They piloted the combination of serving extended time in a prison while also completing hard labor (Barnes 37). Over time this system expanded and became widely accepted—soon separation by isolated cells became part of the principles, and the incarceration structure we know now was born.
Today, incarceration around the world takes on many different shapes. America’s system still operates under the 18th century retribution ideal, but many countries have updated their structures and see those incarcerated as people worthy of rehabilitation. Norway, for example, uses the concept of “restorative justice.” They do not have bars on windows, the guards are friends of the inmates, and they work on setting up a successful life after prison (Benko). A problem with the Norwegian system, however, is that the maximum sentence is only 21 years (with a review at the end of the 21 years that can add more time in five-year increments). So, when it comes to cases like that of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a domestic terrorism attack in Oslo, it is often debated whether 21 years of solely rehabilitation based incarceration is truly enough.
Retribution versus rehabilitation systems of imprisonment has been a hot topic in the United States for years. It is debated whether rehabilitation is an adequate way to make someone understand the severity of their crimes or if retribution must always be involved. Is one better than the other, or must they be used together to “change” someone?
Maklayne: Why do you see rehabilitation as the superior method of incarceration?
Nate: The ultimate goal of our legal and penal systems is not to punish offenders for their crimes but to deter crime itself. I’m sure if one asked the victims of a crime if they would prefer to punish the offender of that the crime had never occurred in the first place, they would certainly choose the latter. Retribution is a legalized violence based on a hardwired moral sentiment to punish wrong doers. It works quite well at a tribal level of social organization in which any behavioral divergences or social destabilization likely leads to demise of the entire group, but with the exception of a few dozen indigenous tribes, humankind now lives in a global, technologically advanced civilization which is a far different environment that the ones our ancestors in the Pleistocene epoch evolved from.
We have developed sciences which show that antisocial behavior is caused by a host of biological and social factors, yet those who propound retribution still rely on primitive fold psychologies which assign all moral responsibility to the individual based on groundless metaphysical suppositions such as self, free will, sin, etc. Also, our modern culture has the necessary infrastructure and technological know-how to modify behavior for the purpose of deterring crime without recourse to violence. To retain the outmoded social practice of retribution is now not only barbaric it is also ineffective. Multiple studies show rehabilitation model reduce recidivism whereas retribution only further acerbates the offender’s antisociality and contempt for authority. Two categories of criminal in particular demonstrate the superiority of rehabilitation over retribution.
In the case of drug addicts and child molesters, the use of punishment to deter future offenses is utterly useless. The former, regardless of their good intentions, are incessantly compelled to satisfy their addiction despite the likely consequences of imprisonment, poverty, ill-health, and even death. The main mechanisms behind their addiction are chemical, to use anything else but a chemical cure is futile. Psychotherapy, a prayer, nor prison time will have much effect on their brain’s chemical dependence. The latter are even more resistant to retribution as in most cases their proclivity to molest children is intertwined with their psychosexual development. Many offenders were themselves victims of sexual abuse as children which later shaped their beliefs and behaviors regarding sex. How do you use punishment to modify a sexual fetish that emerges from trans-generational abuse and other sexual deficiencies? To use retribution to change such behavior is akin to “praying the gay away”. Only a rehabilitation model can hope to address this problem along with the entire spectrum of criminality.
Rob: Nate was asked, “Why do you see rehabilitation as the superior method of incarceration?” Which he responds with nothing more than rhetoric. Albeit a lengthy response to but a simple question, like any politician he wants you to become lost in an enchanted forest of words. First, Nate attacks the moral and metaphysical ideas underlying retribution but does not mention similar presuppositions underlying rehabilitation. As he says, “Retribution is a legalized violence based on a hardwired moral sentiment to punish wrong doers.” I say, is rehabilitation not a “legalized violence based on a hardwired moral sentiment” to force people into the mold of socially defined normality?
M: Do you believe that a rehabilitation model of incarceration is enough for someone who has committed a serious crime like rape or murder? Would retribution need to be involved as well?
N: Your question begs another: What does one mean by enough? It is imperative for society to engage this question if its carceral systems will be able to achieve some semblance of logical coherence and practical effect. From a retributive perspective, “enough” signifies a quantity or quantum of justice in the form of deprivation, abuse, pseudo-moral instruction, financial restitution or simply time. Now from a rehabilitative perspective, the question of enough implies a skepticism of any methodology that eschews violence to modify behavior. This is based on a general ignorance of the mechanisms behind human psychology as well as the new technologies we’ve developed to manipulate those mechanisms. Retribution is the first and last resort of those policy makers who don’t really understand crime or for that matter, human nature either. They can only use the primitive tools of pleasure and pain to produce an effect. Proponents of rehabilitation, in contrast, has access to a mountain of data collected from several fields of research which they can then use to design their models. So, your question should be revised as: Is our species civilized enough to properly manage its social deviants?
R: Nate did not even answer the question. He speaks of the need to define the word “enough” but fails to provide the positive definition he needs. He defines it negatively by contrasting it with retribution’s quantified sentences but fails to provide any meaningful alternative, true politician magic, in circles we go.
Keylahn: Rehabilitation is the re-integration of a convicted person into society. Would you say that prisons are working towards this for most prisoners?
Rob: The answer to this question is yes, for the past several years as it pertains to Ohio’s prison system. There are now several re-integration prisons. Further, Ohio operates on a security threat level. Level one’s are the lowest threat while level 5 are the highest and considered the most dangerous inmates and are constantly under scrutiny. Ohio has been working to help these inmates that may be released soon to lower their security level to a level 1 or 2 in order to be moved to a lower security prison; minimum security prisons for level ones are usually medium prisons as well for level 2 inmates. Here these inmates have plenty of movement ability compared to a close (level 3) or maximum (level 4) and super max (level 5). This allows inmates to redevelop social skills before returning to society, and if at all possible to take a re-integration program before their release.
Nate: Despite Ohio’s new tier system, rehabilitation as practiced in these prisons is simply an exercise of going through the motions in order to fixate larger and larger sums of federal assistance ($$$$$$$). My opponent praises the elbow room and other benefits of these lower security level they still operate on the principle of retribution. The staff at these prisons still carry and use pepper spray and hand-cuffs. They also use threatening language and physical violence to intimidate inmates into submission.
K: How would you say that rehabilitation and punishment are related? When they are two distinctly different things?
R: Punishment is considered retribution in principle; however, when talking about rehabilitation in the prison system I believe under utilitarian principle, the two are nearly identical in character. Retribution seeks to punish purposely through pain to create deterrence, and incapacitation to protect society in order to achieve justice. Prison rehabilitation does not seek pain as in retribution, however, through rehabilitation pain is created as a byproduct, this occurs when rehabilitation incapacitates an inmate in order to rehabilitate while it protects society which, also creates deterrence.
Although retribution deliberately creates pain as its punishment for justice, rehabilitation also subjects persons to pain. Both incapacitate, create deterrence and protect society in their views for justice, the only difference is where rehabilitation concerns itself with what to do with the inmate while incapacitated. Therefore, the two opposite sides of the justice spectrum are very similar.
N: My opponent’s insistence that incapacitating people is in all casesa form of punishment boggles my mind. A parent who assigns a curfew to a child does so to protect not punish. Medical authorities that quarantine a sick population do so to arrest spread of a disease not punish the afflicted. Placing a senior citizen in a nursing home is to ensure them a certain quality of life not punish them. The incapacitation used by rehabilitation models is not to punish the offender but to protect the citizens. Rehabilitation and retribution models are fundamentally incongruent.
There were obviously some interesting points they both made concerning the similarities and differences between retribution model prisons and rehabilitation model prisons. They could both be argued for as the right or wrong way of running a prison system. Although both gave valid reasons to their arguments Nate’s argument for that they cannot be performed together is the truth. It is almost impossible to have a prison that can perform both in the same vicinity. They are two completely different forms of running a prison, and the retribution model prison had been ingrained so deeply into our culture that different aspects of the retribution model even spills over into the culture of rehabilitative prisons. The rehabilitative model prison and retribution model prison cannot be performed together.
Harry Elmer Barnes, Historial Origin of the Prison System in America, 12 J. Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 35 (May 1921 to February 1922)
Benko, Jessica . “The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison.” The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2015.