Criminology Essays - Punishing Treating Preventing

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Punishing Treating Preventing

Punishing, treating and preventing crime

An obvious question to pose regarding offenders is, how can they be prevented from recidivism? Examining the effectiveness of ways in which the judicial system responds to offenders will only enhance the understanding of how reoffending can be removed.

One of the many ways in which a judicial system can respond to crime is by imprisoning an offender. Imprisonment can serve a number of possible functions including; retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and reform (Putwain and Sammons, 2002). Whether or not prison works is under constant review and there is much disagreement on which of the possible functions should serve its purpose (Bottomley and Pease, 1986; Home Office, 1994; Zamble, 1990). Together with questioning if it is an effective response to crime, there are numerous psychological effects of imprisonment (Dooley, 1990; Heather, 1977; Rasch, 1981; Zamble and Porporino, 1988).

Besides imprisonment, legal systems all over the world have a variety of other means of punishing and rehabilitating offenders. Different countries favour different methods but in Britain and the US, the most common forms of non-custodial sentences are fines (Caldwell, 1965; Feldman, 1993; Walker and Farringdon, 1981), probation (Oldfield, 1996; Roshier, 1995) and community service (Evans and Koederitz, 1983; Schneider, 1986). There is evidence that, for some offenders, these forms of sentence are at least as effective as imprisonment and have a number of additional benefits. In particular, they are cheaper to administer than custodial sentences.

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The various custodial and non-custodial measures employed by judicial systems are designed to serve a number of purposes of which rehabilitation is only one. The failure of judicial sanctions to make a significant difference to crime rates (Lipsey, 1992) has prompted a number of psychologists to put forward rehabilitation programmes based on psychological principles. These differ from judicial sanctions in two important ways (Putwain and Sammons, 2002). Firstly, their aim is solely to reduce the probability of reoffending, rather than exacting justice on the offender.

Secondly, they are based on psychological theories of offending instead of the notions of ‘human nature’ on which judicial sanctions are often based. A large number of these interventions have been tried, however those behavioural and cognitive treatments for offending have had the most success for instance; token economies (Ayllon and Milan, 1979; Cohen and Filipcjak, 1971; Hobbs and Holt, 1976), social skills training (Blackburn, 1993; Goldstein, 1986; Spence and Marzillier, 1981) and anger management (Ainsworth, 2000; Novaco, 1975).

All such measures, both judicial and psychological are forms of crime prevention insofar as they aim to prevent offenders from committing further crimes. However, this is only one approach to preventing crime and is not what is usually meant by crime prevention. Brantingham and Faust (1976) have made a useful distinction between primary, secondary and tertiary crime prevention.

Primary prevention refers to reducing opportunities for crime without reference to the individuals who commit it. Zero tolerance (Bratton, 1998; Sherman, 1997; Wilson and Kelling, 1982) together with environmental approaches such as closed circuit television surveillance (Burrows, 1980; Horne, 1996), target hardening and defensible space (Newman, 1973; Feldman, 1993; Wilson, 1980) are examples. Secondary prevention refers to measures directed at those at risk of becoming involved in crime to prevent them from doing so. Tertiary prevention refers to preventing further criminal behaviour by those who have already offended such as anger management.

It is evident that that the utility of judicial measures in preventing reoffending is limited. In particular, for most offenders, imprisonment seems to be no more effective than non-custodial sentencing, which may be seen as preferable, as it is cheaper for the authorities and less detrimental to the offender. There has been inadequate success with psychological interventions, though cognitive-behavioural techniques appear to be more effective than purely behavioural techniques.

Finally, it appears that the large range of crime prevention strategies that reduce the incidence of offending have a key impact in decreasing crime in a particular area. Nevertheless, there is evidence that such crime is simply displaced to other areas. Rigorous enforcement of the law, even for minor offences suggests a reduction in crime but only if used in conjunction with other measures to improve the quality of policing in a particular area. Whilst all such measures have some impact albeit minimal in many cases, none can justifiably be called a solution to the problem of crime.


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