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The central aim of a true prison system is the protection of society against crime, not the punishment of criminals. A tough on crime approach is appropriate in this day and age. Criminals and potential criminals need to see that committing a crime is a serious offense and seriously punishable by law. The programs that are in the communities are geared towards fighting crime which is obviously not working. The approach should reflect a strong systematic structure that involves a key system of elevated deterrence until then the prison population will continue to skyrocket at alarming rates. This essay will explore the current prison population and what should be done to curb recidivism, suggest the implementation towards a fast track in death penalty cases, propose an effective use of the "lex talionis" doctrine for violent crimes, and recommend a possible execution of a strong systematic structure for other crimes.
According to Schmalleger (2013), as of January 1, 2010, the nation's state and federal prisons held 1,613,740 inmates. Slightly more than 7% (or 113,462) of those imprisoned were women (p. 423-424). This influx of inmates equates free labor and has caused prisons to become a million dollar industry America. The revolving door of the Justice system is based on a consistent cycle that should be broken.
Many feel that the current system is biased. Many feel that in America, because of our high prison rates, we need to possess a more rehabilitative approach to crime. Society needs to realize that criminals are locked up because they do crimes and not lose sight of that fact. The need to return to the era in which prisons were built and run like factories is alive and well in the 21st century. Crimes are getting more aggressive. Offenders are getting bolder. In fact, going to jail and/or prison is being glamourized by the media. There are songs and music videos that uphold some of the actions that lead to incarceration. Prison should not be viewed as a "vacation".
Leaning towards a shift, as suggested above, some may argue that this as cruel and unusual punishment. This would be the precise goal of this new era of punishment. Prison should be seen as a horrible place to go and prisoners' rights should be limited as soon as the doors slam.
With the current state of the Justice system, there should be an adoption of a tougher treatment model to deter crimes from being committed as a whole. Unfortunately the justice system is set up like corporations today, and with the onset of new prisons, many prisoners know that they will be incarcerated, taken care of, and get out after a period of time as if they are punching a time clock.
In the United States the rate of recidivism is high. Recidivism is the probability that an individual will commit another crime within five years following arrest or release from incarceration. (Schmalleger 2013: 401) In fact when many prisoners are released, they are unable to deal with society and create crimes to return to the comfort of prison. One would think it would be cheaper to let them commit the crimes, than to use tax dollars to take care of them. In this case the facility should be less pleasant to make them not want to return. The prisoner's 8th amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment should strongly be critiqued in many criminal situations because it gives the impression that the criminal appears to have more rights than the victims. Strict guidelines are to be enforced in the situations involving probation and parole, but there is one thing that needs to be addressed by the system. A criminal that cannot find employment should not be returned to jail as a violation, it is hard for a person without a record to get a job, so imagine how hard it is to get a job if you had a record for burglary, but you were stealing to feed your children.
"Lex talionis" for violent crimes
The lex talionis doctrine was an early form of punishment that should be used today to deter criminals for committing crimes. Schmalleger notes, under lex talionis, the convicted offender was sentenced to suffer a punishment that closely approximated the original injury. This rule of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," generally duplicated the offense" (Schmalleger 2013:408). One may argue that this doctrine will violate the prisoners' constitutional rights.
Could one cry cruel and unusual punishment if they are receiving their just deserts when the punishment is equivalent to how the victim was offended? If this doctrine was in place and made available for the public to view, society would think twice about committing crimes.
New system for felonies and misdemeanors crimes
"From the perspective of Western jurisprudence, all crimes can be said to share certain features and the notion of crime itself can be said to rest on such general principles" (Schmalleger 2013:113). The lowest level crime is called an offense or infraction. This is used to specify minor violations of the law that are less serious than misdemeanors. For example, this could include things such as littering and certain traffic violations, including using a cell phone or texting. The middle level is a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is a crime that is relatively minor, such as petty theft, simple assault, breaking and entering, disorderly public and a list of others. This offense is usually punishable by incarceration in a local jail for a period of time that is typically one year or less. A felony is a far more serious crime; these crimes consist of murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, and burglary. There are also white collar crimes that are categorized as felonies. Today, many felons receive prison sentences, although the range of potential penalties includes everything from probation and a fine to capital punishment depending on jurisdictions. The sentences that involve incarceration are usually one year or more.
Misdemeanor and felony crimes should be grouped into one category. The crimes should be categorized on a level ranging from high to low, with an emphasis on individual sanctions. The higher level type crimes should only have the first initial occurrence and only one additional occurrence (2 strikes), after the second occurrence, they should be faced with life in prison. This form of punishment should be a form of deterrence. Yes the prison population is high, and this could make it higher, nonetheless if it is ultimately seen as deterrence, it may lower the prison population.
The argument against this approach would be that the power to make theses determinations would be in the hands of the justice system and it could be biased based on socioeconomic status. The current state of the Justice system is currently set up this way and with due process and a revised checks and balance system; bias has a low chance of happening.
Many suggest that when a violent crime such as murder occurs, and there is actual guilt, the perpetrator's rights should automatically be deleted. In the crime of murder, the victim has no rights because they are dead. For the criminal, there should be no trial and no due process. The "lex talionis" doctrine would be fair play in this situation. Once it is known that a person is truly guilty of killing someone, they should immediately be given death by lethal injection. Arguments against this approach may include cruel and unusual punishment, but the current approach drags this punishment so long. The aforementioned approach would cut down in prison cost. Today, an average of 12 years and 9 months passes between the imposition of a death sentence and execution (Schmalleger p. 358). Tax dollars should not be spent to continue to take care of these people for a life sentence with or without parole. A total of 3,215 offenders were under sentence of death throughout the United States on January 1, 2009. The latest statistics show that 98.2% of those on death row are male, approximately 43.9% are white, 13.2% are Hispanic, 41.7% are African American, and the remainders are of other races" (Schmalleger 2013:358). Seeing these numbers grow is not a solution to the victim's family members, in a way it institutionalizes them also. There are many members of victim's family that on a continuous basis, go to parole board hearings to voice their disdain if the inmate is released. These trips rehash the feelings that they felt when the crime was committed and can be a form of mental abuse.
What can we conclude? Well, tough on crime may not be the best thing, but the ideology is important. Getting tougher on crime may face obstacles, but due to the rising prison population it is needed. The future of America rest solely on the shoulders of the people that are willing and able to fight for a change. I have addressed the current state of prison populations and its revolving door, I suggested the implementation of a fast track death sentence, proposed an effective use of the "lex talionis" doctrine for violent crimes, and recommend a new direction for other crimes. These suggest would make an impact on society because no one wants to be uncomfortable.