Of course not everyone who ends up in Prison ends up being a recidivist. There are many ex convicts who have paid their debt to society and have went on to become productive members of the community. However, this is a small percentage. According to a 1994 U.S. Department of Justice report, 65.7% of prisoners released for that year, were rearrested for new offences within three years of their release (Langan, 2002). This means that at least 35% were not recidivist. Of those that are, there are many factors that contribute to an ex convicts recidivism. One factor is
the incarceration of non-violent offenders. Another, is the way our society views and labels criminals. The view of ex convicts by many in society is what leads many ex convicts to commit a new offence, and yet another, is the forms of punishment our society hands out to criminals.
In the American justice system we do not use retribution as a means of punishment for criminals. Although retribution is the oldest form of punishment in the world, the United States uses more modern methods such as deterrence by removing the offenders from society through incarcerations in prisons and work camps. The American Justice system also employs the method of rehabilitation. The idea behind rehabilitation is that the inmates can work on the problems that led them to commit crimes in the first place and thus when they are released they are rehabilitated and will not go out and commit more crimes. Finally, when all else has failed the United States uses societal protection. Similar to deterrence, societal protection gives protection to society from criminals by incarcerating them or by putting them to death. Many states have now enacted the "three strikes" law, which says after criminals are convicted of a third felony, they must receive mandatory sentences without the possibility of parole (York, 2007).
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The criminal justice system's method of punishment has a negative effect on American society as a whole. No one would say that a criminal should not be punished for committing a crime, but it is often what society considers criminal that is the biggest problem. Drug addiction, for example, is a disease; however our society has criminalized it. Instead of sending drug abusers to rehab, they are often incarcerated with little or no help for the problem that landed them in prison, in the first place. Since our society places more importance on the upper class
than they do the lower class, it is no wonder that the majority of offenders are of the lower class, mostly black. Those are the people who see that the money they cannot make legitimately can be quickly earned by slinging crack rock on street corners. Then, they have the means to provide better lives for their mothers, wives, and children. Even though selling drugs is illegal, many risk being arrested because the money is better than anything they could ever earn legally, and they are able to be the provider in the family.
Why is it that so many felons return to a life of crime? Why is it that so many felons end up committing new offences within three years of being released from prison? One reason is the view that society has as a whole of felons. Once a person has been convicted of a crime, that person's conviction will follow him for the rest of his life. A felon is limited to what they can and cannot do in this country. 13 states have denied the right to vote to convicted felons. On every job application it asks if the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony. Many employers do not want to hire convicted felons, making it hard for newly released convicts to find meaningful employment. This may be one reason that Steven was such a recidivist.
The prison population in America is growing with hundreds of felons added to the Prison system every week. In 2000 there were approximately 1,300,000 Americans incarcerated in Federal and state prisons. By 2006 the number of state and federal prisoners had risen to 1,600,000 (Sabol, 2007). Given these statistics, it does not seem that any method of punishment currently employed by the United States criminal justice system is any better than the other. For instance the punishment for murder could be death, but not in every case.
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An example of this would be the case of Andre Johnson, a high school senior who was gunned down outside a store in Dalton Georgia in early 2007. Andre's murderer only received 25 years in prison, and the murderer only has to serve 70% of that before he is eligible for parole. Since this man who took this young person's life will only be in his early to mid-thirties when he gets out, how is this punishment? After all, the murderer still has his life. Andre, on the other hand, will never be able to continue his life in 12 or 15 years.
Incarceration or societal protection does seem to be the most effective form of punishment. If the offender commits a particularly heinous crime then they can be put to death, or incarcerated for the rest of his or her life. In fact, the crime rate is slowly declining due to the tougher sentencing the courts give to offenders, with the crime rate falling 25% over the last 20 years (Liptak, 2008).
America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with violent and non-violent offenders making up the prison populations. Having so many criminals incarcerated is a positive benefit for our society because it keeps the criminals off the streets. However, it can have a negative impact as well. By spending all their time with other felons, Many offenders only learn how to be better criminals, so that when they get out, not rehabilitated, they go on to commit more crimes. In the end the working part of society is the one who ends up paying the real price, because it is their tax dollars that is paying for prisons and the upkeep of prisoners.
In conclusion, there needs to be a change in the way the criminal justice systems handles offenders. A start would be separating non-violent offenders from violent offenders. The non- violent offenders and society would be better served by placing non-violent offenders on
supervised parole and probation and having officers who make sure that their felons are getting real help for their problems. This seems to be a more practical approach for non-violent offenders instead of the current approach of sending non-violent offenders to prison. If these type of changes could be made, there would be less recidivism of those who had mental, drug, and alcohol problems were given treatment for their diseases instead of incarceration.