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History of Corrections Essay

The corrections system in America began mostly with the arrival of William Penn and his “Great Law.” This was back in 1682; the “Great Law” was based on humane principals and also focused on hard labor as a punishment. The corrections system really began to take hold in North America in the late 1700’s with the idea’s and philosophy of Beccaria, Bentham, and Howard. These philosophies were based on the thought that prisoners could be treated and reformed back into society. This hard labor was used as an alternative to other cruel forms of punishments that were used in earlier times such as physical abuse or even brutal death.

In 1790 came the birth of the Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The penitentiary was different than other systems in that it isolated prisoners, “ …isolated from the bad influences of society and one from another so that, while engaged in productive labor, they could reflect on their past miss-deeds…and be reformed,” (Clear, Cole, Reisig). The American penitentiary and its new concept was observed and adopted by other foreign countries. The Pennsylvania system of the penitentiary was based on inmate isolation so that they could ponder their past behavioral choices. In this system the inmates were confined to labor on their own. In New York they had a different system, known as the Auburn system. This system differed from the Pennsylvania system because inmates would come together during the day to do their work and labor but were otherwise held in isolation.

In the early 1900’s a group of progressives sought to reform the ways of the corrections system. Their ideas about the cause of crime were more centered around the social, economic, and psychological pressures on people. The progressives brought up programs that were discussed in 1870 at the Cincinnati meeting. These programs included probation, parole, and other indeterminate sentences that are still used in corrections today.

As we can see the penitentiary system has changed over the years. As we advance and learn more as a society, we are able to fine tune these programs for all parties involved. Overall, the key point of all of these systems and the ultimate goal is public safety. Keeping our people safe and moving in a peaceful direction is essential to our society.

Goals of Corrections

The corrections system in the U.S. has five main goals when dealing with criminal sanctions. Originally the system had four main goals: Retribution, Deterrence, Incapacitation, and Rehabilitation. Later on there was much focus placed on a fifth goal: Restorative and Community Justice. These goals are designed to be effective toward different types of criminals and a combination may be used in many cases.

Retribution, also known as Deserved Punishment, is much like the old saying “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”(Clear, Cole, Reisig). Basically this is a punishment where the severity of the sentence should fit the severity of the crime. If a criminal has done wrong to someone then they deserve to feel that same wrong doing.

There are two types of Deterrence used in corrections. The first is just a general deterrence, which is a method of using punishments and making them visible to the public with the goal of deterring others in the public from wanting to commit crime. Public hangings were once used as this type of deterrence. The other type is directed toward the criminal in hopes that they will not repeat crimes in the future. The punishment is to be severe enough to discourage any future criminal activity. This type is called Specific Deterrence. “Deterrence theory contends that if the public knows the consequences of deviance, many individuals will not commit a crime” (Long).

Incapacitation is typically understood as the detainment of a criminal. The goal of incapacitation is to keep criminals from being able to commit further crimes. There are several different ways of using incapacitation. Reducing the movement and involvement of a criminal in society will hopefully reduce crime on the streets. “… incapacitation focuses on the characteristics of the offenders instead of the characteristics of the offenses”(Clear, Cole, Reisig).

Rehabilitation is more of a therapeutic method to help the criminal ditch crime and become a constructive member in society. “Rehabilitation involves teaching inmates silks and trades that will, hopefully, give them a chance to become law-abiding citizens once they are released from prison” (Long). This method is looked at as more of a treatment than a punishment, to guide the criminal to make better choices and live a better life.

Restorative or Community Justice is a fairly new concept. It is aimed more at repairing damages caused by the crime to the victim(s) and the community involved. In this method the victim lays out conditions for the offender and what is necessary to help repair any losses. The community provides assistance to help restore the offender to the community. Some say that this method can be dangerous and bypasses certain safeguards.

The goals of corrections are solid efforts to reduce crime. There are many improvements that could be made. As we learn and test these methods, they need to be fine tuned and have the bugs worked out. If something isn’t working in the appropriate way it needs to be addressed and refocused. I think that many of these goals will become weak and maybe overlooked with the new AB 109 bill and other reforms currently taking place in California Corrections.

Prison Sanctions

There are three types of sentencing structures used in the corrections system. Each type leaves some discretion for the judge and varies on the goals for the criminal. The different methods used are called: indeterminate sentences, determinate sentences, and mandatory sentences.

Indeterminate sentences go in line with the idea of rehabilitation. These sentences usually have a minimum and a maximum term. It is a range and the courts use this range to determine parole and it is somewhat based on the amount of time given for a treatment program. The purpose behind this form of sentencing is incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation.

Determinate sentencing is quite the opposite from indeterminate, hence the name. This sentencing structure follows the concept of retribution mainly. Retribution is a deserved punishment, so basically the offender is given a length of sentence based on the crime that was committed. It is a fixed sentence that goes with the specific crime committed. After the offender has served his time he is then released and is free to go without any parole or program ties.

The third sentencing structure is mandatory sentencing. This structure is based on the crime committed. It has a minimum time period attached to certain crimes that the government deems fit. This type of sentencing does not take into account the different circumstances of the crime but only looks at the crime itself. “The ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws, now adopted by several states and the federal government, provide one example of mandatory sentencing”(Clear, Cole, Reisig). The purpose behind these sentences is incapacitation and deterrence.

The sentencing structures are all a bit different. I am not sure if I can say for sure that I agree with any one more than another. I think the best way may be a good mix between indeterminate and mandatory. I do agree with the idea of the rehabilitation concept to an extent but the severity of some crimes should absolutely be accompanied with a minimum period to ensure some justice.

Probation, Parole, and Intermediate Sanctions

Probation, Parole, and Intermediate sanctions all seem to stem from similar concepts and ideas. Each of these forms of punishment seems to be a way of easing the harsh criminal laws for certain offenders in some cases. They were all developed in order to provide different means to support the offenders’ restoration in society.

Probation, which began with John Augustus in 1841, allows the offender to serve out a punishment in the community while under supervision rather than be sent to prison. John Augustus is known as the first probation officer. He began by helping people with bail back in Boston in the 1830s. It was introduced as a way to “… alleviate the harshness of the criminal law” (Clear, Cole, Reisig). It is now a form of sentencing that includes investigation and supervision and is used in every state today.

Captain Alexander Maconochie, who I believe is actually an ancestor of mine but will need to do more research, created a system back in the mid 1800s that would reward prisoners based on their good behavior. He developed stages that prisoners could go through based on their conduct that were like steps to freedom. He is the founder of the concept behind what we call parole today. His staged system was to gauge the offenders willingness to accept society’s rules much like parole is supervision back into society with a set of rules. This system is also a way to ease the intensity of criminal law for those with good conduct.

Intermediate Sanctions came about a bit later but for very similar reasons. Some expressed these reasons as: “… imprisonment is too restrictive for many offenders, traditional probation does not work with most offenders, and justice is well served by having options in between” (Clear, Cole, Reisig). These were other ways of softening the criminal laws for offenders based on certain circumstances. These intermediate sanctions were aimed at lower risk offenders as a type of rehabilitation effort. The different intermediate sanctions include programs such as: community service, restitution, home confinement, boot camp, and more.

I would have to agree with the basis of all three of these programs. I think that there are many offenders that would fare well in these types of sentences. However, these are more for the lower risk type offenders that have shown good conduct and that may have a chance in becoming a functioning part of society. There are many other higher risk offenders that do not deserve the option of these sanctions. It is better for the safety of the public that these sentences are highly monitored and that the offenders are ready to be placed back in society.


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