INFORMATION

This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are essential to make our site work and others help us to improve by giving us some insight into how the site is being used. For further information, see our Privacy Policy. Continuing to use this website is acceptance of these cookies.

Rehabilitation

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
Parapraxis
Posts: 117
Joined: April 21st, 2008, 11:17 am

Rehabilitation

#1 Post by Parapraxis » June 15th, 2008, 8:21 pm

Sorry if this topic has been done before, my more recent interest in it stemmed from a debate I had with someone who had joined (and invited me to join) a Facebook group calling for the repeal of the anonymity of the killers of Jamie Bulger, for those not familiar with the story this Wikipedia article will fill in the gaps.

I argued that even if justice had not been entirely served, and even if that their grant of a "new life" was not entirely justified, any repeal of anonymity would likely lead to the kind of "mob justice" so readily advocated by papers like The Sun.

This then got me thinking onto the wider topic of rehabilitation, can people ever be rehabilitated? Should people be released from jail after committing murder, or should they be locked away forever, or worse?

Thus far, I have only come to some limited conclusions. I believe the death penalty is abhorrent and illogical; the current penal system in the UK focuses largely on punishment, and whilst I would believe this to be an important part of any rehabilitative process, it is not a sufficient factor on its own.

I often argue on the side that people should be rehabilitated, but then I find it hard to answer the question of whether people "deserve" a new life after, say, murdering someone.

Thoughts?
The poster formerly known as "Electric Angel"

Maria Mac
Site Admin
Posts: 9273
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:34 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#2 Post by Maria Mac » June 15th, 2008, 11:09 pm

A very interesting and difficult question, EA. As far as Jamie Bulger was concerned, I remember the case vividly so haven't read the link you provided. It was so horrific to hear and read about at the time than I can't bear to revisit it. But I do remember being shocked at the suggestion made by some people at the time that the children who committed this crime should get the death penalty! And I was appalled when, however many years later it was (six?), there was widespread opposition to their release. As long as they are now law-abiding citizens, I believe they are entitled to their anonymity, as is Mary Bell (a girl who killed other children in the 60s when she was a similar age to the Bulger killers).

That said, when an adult commits a horrific murder, I don't care too much if they spend the rest of their lives in prison. I definitely think some murderers get released too early. What I mean is that I believe in punishment as much as I believe in rehabilitation. I think that some killers might be rehabilitated very quickly - they could have made just one terrible mistake that they regret immediately and they will never make again - but I don't think that rehabilitation is sufficient grounds for release before they have spent many years in prison.

ColinAngusMackay
Posts: 109
Joined: August 20th, 2007, 1:02 am

Re: Rehabilitation

#3 Post by ColinAngusMackay » June 15th, 2008, 11:44 pm

Electric Angel wrote:Thus far, I have only come to some limited conclusions. I believe the death penalty is abhorrent and illogical; the current penal system in the UK focuses largely on punishment, and whilst I would believe this to be an important part of any rehabilitative process, it is not a sufficient factor on its own.

I often argue on the side that people should be rehabilitated, but then I find it hard to answer the question of whether people "deserve" a new life after, say, murdering someone.

Thoughts?
My thoughts are that while there is even the remotest possibility that an innocent person is convited the death penalty cannot stand.

Although the aim of the UK penal system seems to be punishment, it seems to actually work as an academy for serial offenders where they get taught new tricks-of-the-trade. This needs to change, but I am not an expert in that area so I don't know what needs to be done. I could come up with some ideas, but I don't think they would be much better than the Daily Mail's incitement to vigilate justice.

In terms of rehabilitation, I believe that it is possible to rehabilitate someone even after something like murder. Once rehabilitated and the risk to society is removed they should be free to rejoin it.

tubataxidriver
Posts: 375
Joined: August 3rd, 2007, 10:39 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#4 Post by tubataxidriver » June 15th, 2008, 11:55 pm

Perhaps the killers of Jamie Bulger should be released at age 18, and their places in prison taken up by their parents.

Maria Mac
Site Admin
Posts: 9273
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:34 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#5 Post by Maria Mac » June 16th, 2008, 12:18 am

ColinAngusMackay wrote: My thoughts are that while there is even the remotest possibility that an innocent person is convited the death penalty cannot stand.

Although the aim of the UK penal system seems to be punishment, it seems to actually work as an academy for serial offenders where they get taught new tricks-of-the-trade. This needs to change, but I am not an expert in that area so I don't know what needs to be done.
I agree with you on both counts, Colin. I don't know if anything much has changed since the early 90s when I was a lot more interested in the Criminal Justice System than I am now but I recall reading that the recidivism rate at the time was over 80%. One notable exception (there may have been others) was Grendon psychiatric prison in the south of England which treated serious sex offenders and had a recidivism rate of about 2% so they must have been doing something right. One problem was that to transfer into Grendon from other prisons, the offenders had to demonstrate remorse and that they did actually want to be rehabilitated. Some prisoners didn't so they just stayed where they were, got released after some time and soon reoffended.

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#6 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 16th, 2008, 12:50 am

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson are both about 25 now, tubataxidriver. They were released seven years ago.

I remember being shocked and horrified at the time of James Bulger's killing (strange that everyone always calls him Jamie, even though his parents didn't), not only about the manner of his death, but also at the idea of two ten-year-old boys being put on trial as adults for murder. I thought they were far too young for that, and far too young to be sent to prison, and I thought, still think, that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised from ten to thirteen or fourteen. I also remember reading about some children who committed murder in one of the Scandinavian countries being rehabilitated within their own community, without anyone baying for their blood or branding them as "evil monsters", and thinking how much more civilised that was.

If that had happened with Venables and Thompson, there wouldn't have been any need for anonymity. But of course the great British public wouldn't have stood for it. And if I remember rightly, it was just a few days after James Bulger's death that the prime minister, John Major, stated that society needed to "condemn a little more and understand a little less". That still makes me seethe with anger.

Emma

tubataxidriver
Posts: 375
Joined: August 3rd, 2007, 10:39 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#7 Post by tubataxidriver » June 16th, 2008, 2:26 pm

Emma, I didn't realise that it was so long ago. My point, badly made, was that Venables' and Thompson's behaviour was probably more to do with a lack of moral guidance in their upbringing than any inherent "evil", and that if society wants to prevent this sort of thing happening it should look at parenting rather than punishment. While we as humanists might not subscribe to the written form of "Thou shalt not kill", we would certainly subscribe to the spirit of it in the form of the Golden Rule. Have we done enough to ensure that those elements of society, who for one reason or another do not follow a moral code, are encouraged to adopt one and apply it?

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#8 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 16th, 2008, 4:31 pm

tubataxidriver wrote:My point, badly made, was that Venables' and Thompson's behaviour was probably more to do with a lack of moral guidance in their upbringing than any inherent "evil", and that if society wants to prevent this sort of thing happening it should look at parenting rather than punishment.
I do agree with you, up to a point. I just don't think it helps to talk of punishing the parents [---][/---] though I realise now that you were saying that to make a point. Actually I think both Venables's and Thompson's mothers have been punished enough. They were both subject to attacks in the street after the murder, they've been vilified in the press for years, and they have their own guilt to deal with. Even before it happened their lives were pretty tough (see "Did bad parenting really turn these boys into killers?", by Audrey Gillan, Guardian, 1 November 2000.) They were clearly troubled adults, and had no doubt been troubled children. And whose fault was that? Their parents? Or is there some broader blame here, attached to society as a whole?
tubataxidriver wrote:While we as humanists might not subscribe to the written form of "Thou shalt not kill", we would certainly subscribe to the spirit of it in the form of the Golden Rule. Have we done enough to ensure that those elements of society, who for one reason or another do not follow a moral code, are encouraged to adopt one and apply it?
Perhaps we do need to do more along those lines. However, I don't believe that many people, even people who live blameless lives, follow a moral code, at least not consciously. I believe we mostly rely on instinct to judge what's right and what's wrong. And that instinct develops as a consequence of all our many experiences from a very early age, the way we are treated and the way we see other people being treated, the way other people react to the way we behave, the television programmes and films we watch, the games we play, the books we read (if any), and yes, the lessons we're taught ... I don't think it helps to lay the blame solely on parents, or on schools, or on violent videos, or on the absence of moral (usually religious) guidance, or even on social deprivation. Or, for that matter, on high levels of testosterone and low levels of serotonin, or some other inherited or acquired biological characteristic. Although perhaps all those things have a role. It's clearly very complicated and we need to make a much better effort to understand it. Understanding it doesn't mean condoning it.

Still, I suppose that suggesting that there are reasons for such terrible behaviour in a child that are outside the child's control would seem to be the thin end of the wedge to some people. Because what's true of a ten-year-old could be true of a twelve-year-old, a fourteen-year-old, an eighteen-year-old ... At what age, if ever, do we have to take responsibility for our actions? For how long can we wriggle out of guilt by blaming it all onto some combination of parents, teachers, society, biology? When does free will kick in?

Trouble is, I'm not convinced that it ever does. I'm not sure I believe in free will. There's an article on the Council for Secular Humanism website, "Crime and Causality: Do Killers Deserve to Die?", by Thomas W. Clark, Free Inquiry 25(2), that discusses the problem of free will in relation to the death penalty, and I find it pretty convincing. But the question could just as easily have been asked: Do killers deserve to be imprisoned for life? Do any criminals deserve to be imprisoned at all? Is punishment ever deserved, ever justified for its own sake?

I'm not convinced that it is. Rehabilitation? Yes. Restitution? Yes. Retribution? No.

Emma

Maria Mac
Site Admin
Posts: 9273
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:34 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#9 Post by Maria Mac » June 16th, 2008, 7:36 pm

Emma W wrote:There's an article on the Council for Secular Humanism website, "Crime and Causality: Do Killers Deserve to Die?", by Thomas W. Clark, Free Inquiry 25(2), that discusses the problem of free will in relation to the death penalty, and I find it pretty convincing. But the question could just as easily have been asked: Do killers deserve to be imprisoned for life? Do any criminals deserve to be imprisoned at all? Is punishment ever deserved, ever justified for its own sake?

I'm not convinced that it is. Rehabilitation? Yes. Restitution? Yes. Retribution? No.

Emma
I used to feel like that. I'll have a look at the article but I recall a book - Why Punish? by Nigel Walker - I read many years ago that persuaded me for a while that punishment wasn't necessary or desirable. I changed my mind when I spent many years working with victims of crime and realising how retribution was important to their recovery. Those that didn't get it, didn't recover and weren't able to move on with their lives. This was particularly true in cases of serious violent and/or sexual assaults and with the relatives of murder victims.

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#10 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 17th, 2008, 11:07 am

Maria wrote:... I spent many years working with victims of crime and realising how retribution was important to their recovery. Those that didn't get it, didn't recover and weren't able to move on with their lives. This was particularly true in cases of serious violent and/or sexual assaults and with the relatives of murder victims.
When you refer to "those that didn't get" retribution, are you talking about where the perpetrators of these crimes are not even caught or convicted, or where they have been convicted but have been punished in a way that is seen as "unduly lenient"? In the first case I can see that that would be a huge barrier to recovery. And yet it is a barrier that many rape victims have to overcome, precisely because of the difficulty of proving that the crime of rape took place. The proportion of rapes reported to the police in England and Wales in 2004 that ended in a conviction was just 5.29 per cent. Even allowing for false accusations, that's a lot of rapists getting off scot-free. But that's not about punishment; it's about proof of guilt, and it's a different issue. (Though perhaps it's related. Where punishments are severe and perpetrators demonised, does the standard of proof have to be unreasonably high?)

In the second case, where punishment is not seen as severe enough, the argument is more relevant, but I think dangerous. The argument that "it is better for the victim" has been used to justify capital punishment in the United States. Victims need "closure", we're told, and killing a killer brings closure, enables victims (those still living) to "move on with their lives". If capital punishment is morally wrong (and I believe it is), then even if it's true that it benefits victims (and I don't believe it does), that is not sufficient justification. So the question of whether punishment for punishment's sake is morally right needs to be addressed separately from issues about victims' needs.

However, there are many victim advocates who argue that the existing system of retributive justice is not focused on victims at all, unlike restorative justice. There's an article that's well worth reading, entitled "Punishment[---][/---]What's in it for the Victim? A Restorative Justice Discussion for Crime Victims and their Advocates", by Marty Price, J.D. It ends with a call to action for criminal justice reform:
I suggest to victims and victim advocates that you stop letting the criminal justice system sell you its party line; stop letting it sell you punishment as the cure for what ails you. In our mainstream criminal justice system, punishment is the "bone" that the system throws to victims, while offering little else. Victims and their advocates would do better to let go of their demands for more prisons and more punishment. Those demands are not serving the needs of victims or society. They are instead helping to perpetuate a system of retributive justice that is failing all of us. Let us work together to implement restorative approaches to justice that focus the attention of offenders upon the victims of their crimes, instead of upon the law and the legal system. A restorative justice approach concerned with righting the wrongs to victims and making amends, repairing the harm done (in whatever ways possible, including victim compensation) and restoring the lives affected by crime, offers us a much more hopeful vision for the future.
To return to my comments about responsibility, I can see that it may well be essential for offenders, both in order to participate in the process of repairing the harm done to their victim and for their own rehabilitation, to take responsibility for their actions. It may be essential for them to believe that their actions were chosen, a consequence of their free will. How can that be reconciled with the deterministic view expounded by Thomas W. Clark? I struggle with this, but I think it might be possible. For most of us, free will exists in the sense that we feel that we're free to choose our actions; we don't (usually) feel that we're being guided by external forces; within certain constraints we do what we choose to do, what we want to do, even if our choices and wants are ultimately determined by factors outside our control. Offenders who feel that they made a free choice may be able to take responsibility once they recognise the harm their actions caused. But if they believe that "I just couldn't help myself", then that belief itself becomes a factor determining their future actions. It's a vicious spiral. And it's hard to see how it can be broken.

Perhaps, though, it could be weakened if we had a penal system in which convicted offenders are encouraged to focus on the harm they've done to their victims, rather than on the severity of their punishment and the perceived injustice of that. The causes for their actions may be difficult to pin down, but the consequences are usually much clearer.

Emma

User avatar
wizzy
Posts: 149
Joined: September 10th, 2007, 7:54 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#11 Post by wizzy » June 19th, 2008, 6:43 pm

I think the most useful element of punishment is to act as a deterent. I'm sure that the reason many people don't commit some crimes because of a fear of being punished. I'll admit that whilst the majority of my law abiding behaviour is due to a higher level of morality than fear of punishment, the fear of getting points on my licence is part of my reason for not speeding.

However whilst prison may act as a deterent for people who've never been to prison it doesn't seem to be a very effective deterent for those who have been to prison. I don't really know much about rehabilitation, but I don't think it's currently very effective. I think part of the problem is that the punishment is not just a prison sentence it's a longer term criminal record, which makes it harder for an ex-offender to get a job, which must then decrease their quality of life and increase their chances of reoffending.

I do believe that people can and do change and that those who demonstrate that definitely deserve a second chance. I do believe people should be able to have anonyminity to protect them from "mob justice".

I can't remember if I've already commented on this elsewhere, but there was a few months ago a programme that was about several different (unconnected) women, who'd moved to a new area soon after Maxine Carr had been released from prison and whose neighbours had decided they were Maxine Carr and start threatening, throwing bricks throw their windows etc. Besides the whole fact that there was no good reason to think any of these women were Maxine Carr and that the neighbours were clearly stupid and/or just wanted to make someone's life miserable, even if one of the women had been Maxine Carr the behaviour of the neighbours were awful. I know the murders of Holly and Jessica were awful, but she didn't actually have any direct involvement, she just provided an alibi for Ian Huntley, quite possibly believing/wanting to believe he was innocent. I'm not saying she didn't do anything wrong, just that the public reaction was disproportionate.

minacolada
Posts: 15
Joined: June 18th, 2008, 3:55 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#12 Post by minacolada » June 20th, 2008, 1:58 pm

I'm totally against ANY punishment. Removal is a different thing as it prevents criminals from infringing on other peoples' quality of life. Often punishment does nothing, as proved time and time again.

I'm not sure what I think about rehabilitation without looking at facts and figures, but in this case I support the idea. I think, although it is true a 10 year old must accept moral responsibility, they were at such a ripe age reconditioning and rehabilitation is much more possible than a middle aged criminal.

Ted Harvey
Posts: 172
Joined: September 10th, 2007, 4:41 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#13 Post by Ted Harvey » June 22nd, 2008, 5:38 pm

I’m uneasy about how an assumed need for rehabilitation in a case, requires the equal assumption that there was some sort of original ‘evil’ or ‘bad intent’ on the part of the perpetrators. Rather than about rehabilitation, the Bulger case for me demonstrated the acute need that many, if not most, humans have for a framework that somehow explains away all sorts of things so as to avoid having to contend with the reality of an amoral universe, chaos, arbitrary events and the utterly mundane frailty of the human condition – along with the inevitability of death.

Rehabilitation for me represents downsides on each side of the debating coin (does that work?). On the one side there is there the ascribing of original evil or bad intent, so that there may be rehabilitation. On the other side there is a belief in rehabilitation – maybe so that we can safely clutch to a belief that no human is irretrievably evil?

At the time, I followed the details of the boys’ case and there was for me a horribly inane, happenstance accumulation of little events and circumstances with a horrible outcome. There was for me no ‘evil’ as such, and I still doubt that there was even an especially thought-out ‘bad intent’ on the part of the two boys. I did deduce that everything about these young boys, their circumstances, their lack of moral comprehension and their intentions, were all shaped and determined by the adults and the adult world around them.

Much, much easier for all the adults concerned to shout ‘evil, evil! boys lock em up and throw away the keys’. But I also remain questioning about the need or applicability of rehabilitation of the boys – a moral educating or re-orienting yes, but rehabilitation… or is that what it is?

One aspect left me literally proud of Scotland; our Childrens Hearings system. Regardless, absolutely regardless, of what those two young boys did there was real ‘bad intent’ being practiced by all those adults who put them in an adult court system. I still recall one journalist describing how one of the boys in the court being confused, distracted and bored, and ended up playing at drawing out the loose threads in the seams of his seat. That to my mind suggested that the English penal system and all the adults involved could do with ‘rehabilitating’ before they were ever again allowed near children.

Excellant thread to have started and the postings are equally as good.

Maria Mac
Site Admin
Posts: 9273
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:34 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#14 Post by Maria Mac » June 24th, 2008, 4:06 pm

minacolada wrote:I'm totally against ANY punishment. Removal is a different thing as it prevents criminals from infringing on other peoples' quality of life. Often punishment does nothing, as proved time and time again.
Mina, you are saying there is a difference between punishment and removal but how are they different?

I see the protection of people from dangerous offenders who might hurt them by locking those offenders up as one of the functions of punishment rather than as something distinct from it. From the offenders’ point of view, I would think it’s the same thing: removal from their homes, their loved ones and the wider community – the loss of their liberty – is the punishment, surely?

Thanks for your post, Emma, and sorry about my tardiness in returning to this thread.

I said in my earlier brief first post that I had changed my stance on punishment after seeing close-up the devastation caused by violent offenders and pointed out that those victims who didn’t ‘get retribution’ didn’t recover. (I am aware, by the way, of how difficult it is to get a conviction for rape but this doesn’t actually change anything i.e. saying they ‘have to’ recover doesn’t mean that they do). The feeling that one’s life has been shattered by an act of gratuitous brutality is compounded by the knowledge that the perpetrator has got away with it and the belief that the perpetrator’s own life remains unaffected by what he did. I recall some cases where, several years after the crime, it was this aspect that preoccupied victims more than any other.

So, for me, another positive function of punishment is that it can help victims in their recovery from a traumatic experience that was not of their making. But I don’t think it is the sole function and nor do I mean that whatever the victim wants, the victim must get. I don’t actually think the victim is best placed to decide on what the punishment should be. (Indeed, it is conceivable that a victim might not want retribution or might actively want the offender to escape punishment.)

I believe that the fact that crimes against the person are punishable by law says something about the value we place on human life and on individual personhood, if that makes sense. We each of us feel we should be able to live our lives without being assaulted, raped or murdered and punishing these crimes sends the message that this view is socially sanctioned: it is the norm. And I think this is the fundamental reason why the idea of retribution is important to both to victims and to people generally who find empathising with victims easier than empathising with offenders. If the offender goes unpunished the victim feels that they themselves (or the lives of their murdered loved one) aren’t considered important.

Does it matter if people feel this way and is it reason enough to deprive someone of their liberty and visit on them all the other consequences of having a criminal record?

Speaking as one who ascribes to human beings a high degree of free will over their actions, my answer is 'yes'.

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#15 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » June 25th, 2008, 10:44 am

Maria wrote:I said in my earlier brief first post that I had changed my stance on punishment after seeing close-up the devastation caused by violent offenders and pointed out that those victims who didn’t ‘get retribution’ didn’t recover. (I am aware, by the way, of how difficult it is to get a conviction for rape but this doesn’t actually change anything i.e. saying they ‘have to’ recover doesn’t mean that they do).
I'm sorry, I realise now that my comment did sound rather crass, as though I meant that rape victims should simply pull themselves together and get over it. When I said that rape victims whose attackers were not brought to justice or proved guilty 'have to' recover, what I meant to suggest was that it is incumbent upon society to try to find ways of helping rape victims recover without their "getting retribution", because most rape victims will not even get justice, whatever our penal system might look like. I also wonder whether, if there is a widely shared perception that one cannot recover properly without retribution, that might actually make things much worse for victims of offenders who are never brought to justice. Might it not be, at least in part, a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Maria wrote:The feeling that one’s life has been shattered by an act of gratuitous brutality is compounded by the knowledge that the perpetrator has got away with it and the belief that the perpetrator’s own life remains unaffected by what he did. I recall some cases where, several years after the crime, it was this aspect that preoccupied victims more than any other.
Yes, I completely understand that. But "got away with it" suggests to me that the perpetrator has not been brought to justice, or has not been found guilty, rather than that the perpetrator has been found guilty but has, in the victim's view, received an unduly lenient sentence. I am not suggesting that there should be no consequences for people who commit crimes, no loss of liberty, no withdrawal of rights. Just that the purpose of that withdrawal of rights should not include retribution. There are plenty of other purposes for it, and each of them is a subject for debate. I find Ted Harvey's comments about rehabilitation very interesting, and need to think some more about that. The deterrence aspect that wizzy raises also needs to be explored, but it strikes me that our current system of locking people up for long periods does not provide an effective deterrent. Incapacitation is often the most immediate purpose of incarceration, and I assume that's what Mina means by "removal". But it applies both to people who are considered to be responsible for their actions and those who are not. Violent offenders who are deemed mentally incapable are incarcerated [---][/---] sometimes indefinitely [---][/---] in order to protect people. And in those cases, the incarceration is not (necessarily) seen as "punishment" by society. We don't want those people to suffer; we just don't want them causing any more suffering.
Maria wrote:So, for me, another positive function of punishment is that it can help victims in their recovery from a traumatic experience that was not of their making. But I don’t think it is the sole function and nor do I mean that whatever the victim wants, the victim must get. I don’t actually think the victim is best placed to decide on what the punishment should be. (Indeed, it is conceivable that a victim might not want retribution or might actively want the offender to escape punishment.)
I realise that you were not suggesting that individual victims should be involved in deciding specific punishments. And I do agree that the needs of victims collectively should play an important part in deciding how we should deal with criminals, and what, in general, the consequences of their crimes should be. What I'm uncomfortable with is the focus on retribution, in the sense of perpetrators paying for the suffering they have caused simply by suffering themselves. We talk about criminals "paying their debt to society" purely by being locked up for many years. But actually those criminals haven't paid anything to society; they haven't contributed to society in any way. They are solely a cost to society. Restorative or reparative justice, it strikes me, is a much more rational way of getting criminals to pay for their crimes, as well as a more compassionate way, for the victims as well as the perpetrators.
Maria wrote:I believe that the fact that crimes against the person are punishable by law says something about the value we place on human life and on individual personhood, if that makes sense. We each of us feel we should be able to live our lives without being assaulted, raped or murdered and punishing these crimes sends the message that this view is socially sanctioned: it is the norm. And I think this is the fundamental reason why the idea of retribution is important to both to victims and to people generally who find empathising with victims easier than empathising with offenders. If the offender goes unpunished the victim feels that they themselves (or the lives of their murdered loved one) aren’t considered important.
If by "goes unpunished" you mean that there are no consequences for the offender, then I agree with you completely. If you mean that it is an essential part of that punishment that the offender suffers, in a way that somehow reflects the suffering that offender has caused, then I think that's more problematic. It's understandable that victims who have suffered themselves might feel that way, but I don't think it provides a sound ethical basis for determining how we treat criminals.
Maria wrote:Does it matter if people feel this way and is it reason enough to deprive someone of their liberty and visit on them all the other consequences of having a criminal record?

Speaking as one who ascribes to human beings a high degree of free will over their actions, my answer is 'yes'.
Reason enough? Gosh. That’s going further than I thought you were going. That would imply that even if incarceration doesn’t work, even if it doesn’t deter people from committing crimes, even if it doesn’t rehabilitate people, but rather provides environments where petty criminals are turned into serious criminals, even if it doesn’t do anything to enable criminals to make amends for their crimes, we should still do it because the needs of victims for retribution are reason enough?

But presumably you don't mean that. Presumably you would agree that our aim should be to reduce crime, and the impacts of crime, and to find the best possible ways of doing that. I believe that it’s possible, even likely, that a different system of justice, one that genuinely focuses on offenders paying their debts to society, and to their victims, by working for the good of society, and for the good of their victims, rather than on making those offenders suffer, would be a more effective way of reducing crime and the impacts of crime. Unfortunately, in order for our society to be willing to experiment with such a system, and find out whether it is more effective, people would have to let go of the idea that criminals must pay for their crimes by suffering.

Emma

Maria Mac
Site Admin
Posts: 9273
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:34 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#16 Post by Maria Mac » June 28th, 2008, 2:34 pm

I don’t disagree with the essence of what you’re saying, Emma. Of course I agree that our aim should be to reduce crime and the impact of crime. Nor do I think that the ‘focus’ of punishment should be on making offenders suffer; indeed, when it comes to violent crime I actually don’t think the offenders suffering through incarceration can ever reflect the suffering they have caused. (Offenders do suffer, of course, regardless of the punishment because, even with Community Service – which I think is a very appropriate form of punishment for most crimes - their freedom of choice is removed). I agree with your point about petty criminals being turned into serious criminals; that is why I am not in favour of imprisoning petty criminals. And yes, I agree that the criminal justice system should focus on offenders paying their debts to society and to victims in a constructive way.

Having agreed that our responses to criminal behaviour should focus on everything but making the offender suffer, what are we left to disagree on?

It seems we are left with just the most serious offenders who kill, maim and violate and whether these people should be punished even if their punishment doesn’t in any way compensate society or victims, doesn’t educate or rehabilitate them and doesn’t reduce crimes. What, in your view, would be an appropriate alternative response that might be tried in the case of a murderer or a rapist and how would the success or otherwise of such an experiment be measured? And, ultimately, what if any such experiments don’t work? Your post implies that unless punishment can have some tangible benefit, there should be no punishment and murderers and rapists should walk free. Is that what you really think?

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#17 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » July 1st, 2008, 12:27 am

Maria wrote:Having agreed that our responses to criminal behaviour should focus on everything but making the offender suffer, what are we left to disagree on?

It seems we are left with just the most serious offenders who kill, maim and violate and whether these people should be punished even if their punishment doesn’t in any way compensate society or victims, doesn’t educate or rehabilitate them and doesn’t reduce crimes. What, in your view, would be an appropriate alternative response that might be tried in the case of a murderer or a rapist and how would the success or otherwise of such an experiment be measured? And, ultimately, what if any such experiments don’t work? Your post implies that unless punishment can have some tangible benefit, there should be no punishment and murderers and rapists should walk free. Is that what you really think?
Yes. Though I don’t believe that there's any punishment that has no tangible benefit. Even capital punishment has a tangible benefit: it stops the offender from reoffending. In working out whether a particular punishment is acceptable or preferred, we would need to measure outcomes in a controlled way [---][/---] so we’d be looking at recidivism rates, during and after the sentence, as well as overall crime rates [---][/---] and then use them to draw conclusions about how effective the punishment is at achieving its supposed purposes [---][/---] deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, reparation [---][/---] and look at the results for those purposes in total, weighing up the benefits and drawbacks. We should also look at other issues that aren’t normally considered, such as the effect of the punishment on offenders’ families and communities. It would be an undeniably complex and difficult process, and I don’t know how it would be done. All I’m asking (it’s such a little thing, really) is that when it is done, the purpose commonly known as retribution [---][/---] requiring that the offender should suffer in payment for, and in proportion to, the suffering caused -- should not be part of the calculation. So, if we were to look at alternatives to incarceration for serious crimes, including murder and rape, we shouldn’t discount options like community punishment and rehabilitation orders, drug treatment and testing orders, curfew orders, home detention, electronic tagging, compensation orders, various offending behaviour treatment programmes, offender-victim mediation, or whatever other crazy ideas people come up with, in whatever combination, purely because they are “soft options”, in which the offender doesn’t suffer enough. We might discount them for other reasons, but not because they’re too lenient, per se. It may be that they are too lenient to work as effective deterrents for certain crimes, but then that’s covered under deterrence. It may be that they provide greater opportunities for the offender to reoffend while being punished, but then that’s covered under incapacitation. The widespread focus on retribution is a diversion, I think. It has led the public and the press to demand, and the judicial system to impose, longer and longer prison sentences. And I think it has very probably stopped us from devising better ways of dealing with and preventing crime, including serious violent crime. But I do agree that the focus, in the short term at least, should be on stopping sending people to prison for less serious crimes, like shoplifting and drug possession. Most of all, though, I think we should stop imprisoning children, and the severely mentally ill.

Emma

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#18 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » July 4th, 2008, 9:04 am

'They brought us in some peace'
It can be a cynical publicity stunt. But sometimes the visit of a musician to a prison can be a transformative experience for prisoner and player alike. Erwin James reports
Guardian, Friday July 4, 2008
Billy Bragg feels so strongly about what prison is meant to do that he founded a charity called Jail Guitar Doors (named after a Clash song) to provide guitars for prisoners. "As musicians, we all understand how music can help you transcend your surroundings," he says. "That is especially important in a prison, where the individual is often reduced to little more than a number in a greater machine. If we are trying to get people to reflect about why they are there and come to terms with what they have done, music might help to get to the root of that."

What does he say to people who might question the morality of giving treats to people who have caused harm to others? "The guitars are not a gift, they're a challenge. People have donated money to provide the guitars to support the people doing this work. We want prisoners who choose to get involved to rise to the challenge. I'm of the opinion that the majority of people in our prisons can be rehabilitated, can be reached. When we go in we are trying to give the message that there are people on the outside that give a shit."
Gareth Sands is the governor of New Hall women's prison and is responsible for initiating Foy Vance's recent prison gigs. How much does it cost to put in a gig in a prison? "Apart from the basic expenses, bringing in someone like Foy there is a minimum cost to the taxpayer and the rewards can be great. By introducing people to the performing arts, something that lots of us out here take for granted, it helps to break down barriers and brings some hope into prison life. We do education and offending behaviour work, but music can sometimes get to people and impact on them the way other things can't."
Emma

User avatar
jaywhat
Posts: 15807
Joined: July 5th, 2007, 5:53 pm

Re: Rehabilitation

#19 Post by jaywhat » July 4th, 2008, 9:16 am

I like the idea, where possible, of rehabilitation 'within the community' and a strong measure of 'paying back to society' rather than the mega cost of locking up for huge lengths of time.

Post Reply