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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ethics and Punitve Modes

  • Given the state of overcrowding in prisons today which often leads to early release of prisoners, is the term “Corrections” a misnomer? Discuss and justify your answer.
To answer this, we have to look at several issues; what do we expect from the correctional system, does early release counter the efficiency of corrections, does the correctional system work as intended without considering the effects of early release, and whether the condition of overcrowding justifies early release at all.
To begin with, political considerations muddy the water of we expect from our correctional professionals. What society expects the corrections system to do can vary from election to election and might not be feasible with the resources allocated to them to do their duty, so we will focus solely on the theoretical and moral implications of punishment theory. Even here there is a contradiction. “In theory the purpose of corrections is to deal with the offender in such a manner so that he or she will not re offend and return to the system. (class notes.) However, Albanese asserts that “In moral terms, the ethics of punishment lie primarily in whether justice is done” (2010, p.105) So we will note the contrast between rehabilitation and justice, and consider our questions with this in mind.
How does early release affect the results of correctional policy? “In many states there has been an immediate backlash against such 'early release' proposals. Legislators, prosecutors, crime victims’ advocates, and others have been critical of plans to reduce the sentences of prisoners, .... Some claim that while these measures may help to reduce budget shortfalls, they come at the expense of crime victims and the communities where convicted offenders are returning to live, and where they may commit new crimes.“ (Police Executive Research Forum,2011, p.13). This indicates that justice is not served in the interests of the victims, and implies that rehabilitation is not successful.
However, is it early release that counters our expectation for correctional success, or are there other factors. Recidivism rates suggest that correctional efforts fail, with the rates as high as 70%. But that does not necessarily mean that it is there is a problem in the system. Chronic offenders are a major cause of recidivism; “data from Marvin Wolfgang's famous Philadelphia cohort study suggested that around 5 percent of offenders account for 40 percent of crimes “ (Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, 2014, para. 1) . This is precisely the crowd that needs to remain incapacitated, if they can reasonably be identified.
Finally, does overcrowding present such an issue that early release becomes a necessity? Perhaps the issues of correctional staff safety and lack of resources makes it necessary that prisoners are held in different circumstances then wandering around the yard shanking everyone that wanders by; even so, targeted releases of offenders that do not commit mala in se crimes would be in order. I bang the drum of mala prohibita mourning slowly but surely; no one listens, and the prisoners stack up, wasting criminal justice resources on every front.
  • Discuss the issue of capital punishment in the context of its use in correctional philosophy. 
Capital punishment fits within theoretical boundaries of several theories of punishment and correctional approaches. The correctional modes it fits within are retributive and incapacitative. There is debate over whether it acts as a factor general deterrent or not. Philosophically, it can be described as adhering to utilitarian theory, and to deontological,or one description of retributive theory. There are also theories which attempt to unify utilitarian and retributive theory, such as the one espoused by Hart. “A combination of utilitarian and retributive considerations are usually invoked in an effort to justify the execution of murderers.” (Murtagh, n.d., para. 29) Utilitarian theory weighs the good and evil of the consequences of an action, and it can be argued that the good result for society may be acquired by the execution of a criminal. Criticism of utilitarian theory is based on the possibility that an innocent may be executed to achieve that good, yet this criticism seems to constantly overlook the factors of severity and potential as values of the hedonistic calculus. It is clear (to me, at least) that the consequences of executing people helter skelter for short term benefits are outweighed by the long term damage to society. Retributive theory can be based upon the following analogy; “If a wrongful act is committed, then the person who has committed it has upset the balance of the scale of justice. He has inflicted suffering on another, and therefore rendered himself deserving of suffering.”(Murtagh, n.d., para. 11)

Albanese, J. (2010). Professional Ethics in Criminal Justice: Being Ethical When No One is Looking [VitalSouce bookshelf version].
Retrieved from http://digitalbookshelf.southuniversity.edu/books/9781256509936/id/pg106

Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. (2014). Consider repeat offending. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.popcenter.org/learning/60steps/index.cfm?stepNum=30
Murtagh, K (n.d.).Punishment. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from http://www.iep.utm.edu/punishme/#SH3a
Police Executive Research Forum (2011). The early release of prisoners and its impact on police agencies and communities in California. : The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, US Department of Justice Retrieved June 6,2014 from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=695692
South University Online. (2014). MCJ5003 : Ethics & Moral Behavior in Criminal Justice System : Week 4: Week 4 Overview. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from myeclassonline.com
I think you can compound those issues with the privatization of prisons, to start with.

I would also hypothesize that corrections staff is more subject to both bribery and fear of retaliation then the cop on the beat is;  a quick google search doesnt come up with anything for "retaliation against prison guards", but daily contact with the staff probably gives some inmates an idea of who they can "play"

And another quick google doesnt come up with any studies of prison corruption within the US, other than by advocacy groups.  So that's something for me to dig into a bit.

My knowledge of prisons is limited to the relations of street gangs to prison gangs, so I may have a skewed idea of the prison environment.

And finally, answering your question;  even with low training and low pay, corrections staff still holds great responsibility, so I do count them as professionals.  A profession can be rife with corruption and can still be considered a profession.


I don't think we should limit our justifications of any punishment, including the death penalty, to any one mode of thought.  However, in the case of the death penalty, there are three "mechanics" used to justify it (as rehabilitation can't apply).  The deterrent mode is certainly open to debate, although the evidence leans to the position that deterrence does not apply. The incapacitive mode works whether the criminal is behind bars or 6 feet down. You could then make the argument that the retributive mode is the factor that "justifies" the death penalty.  Although lex talonis is a clear enough legal prinicple in itself, it doesnt't explain a human need for vengeance on the social level; "Emile Durkheim, George Herbert Mead (1918), Thomas and Znaniecki (1945 ) and, in more recent times,Harold Garnkel (1956) and Kai Erikson (1966), commented extensively on the fact that deviant acts evoke group response" (Ross & Miller, 2001, p.1)  So some people have an intuitive social need for vengeance in order to restore the social relationship.  Some people don't, and there lies the political question.
Personally, I consider criminals as a personal enemy, and on that level alone I would support the death penalty.  And I mean criminals, people that kill, assault, rape, and steal; not "criminals" in the sense of people that say naughty things about politicians, or fat plebes guzzling Big Gulps and offending New York yuppies sippin sugar-laden lattes, or folks exercising Constitutional rights that offend ubersensitve suburbanites. (Although the death penalty is too much for theft)
Finally, the appeals process is something that needs to be looked at.  “There’s no reason in the world for a death penalty appeal to take 20 years,” Negron said from Tallahassee. “That’s not justice, that’s people making a mockery of the justice system.'”(Holsman, 2013, para 4).  Of course, that goes back to the ethical questions of a legal agent versus a moral agent..

Holsman, M. (2013, March 10).Negron bill would speed up appeals process for death row inmates. TCPalm. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/mar/10/negron-bill-would-speed-up-appeals-process-for/#global_site_login

Ross, M, & Miller, D.T. (2001). The justice motive in everyday life. Cambridge U Press. Retrieved June 6, 2014 from http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1917&context=faculty_scholarship

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