Ethical Considerations and Implications
Ethical Considerations and Implications
To digress into the philosophical and ethical discussions of state punishment is not to alienate the concept of punishment from justification for crimes done but to offer an insight into the principle of proportionality. Ideally, it is not possible to stifle concerns of the legalized infliction of harm and the trampling of inalienable human rights even in the face of incriminating evidence on the part of the offender. Punishment serves to advance the state’s responsibility of maintaining harmony through legal infliction of considerable harm for the purposes of retribution for wrongs done and the maintenance of law and order in the society.
Reflections of punishment are as old as the very onset of philosophical thinking (Ryberg 2004). The proportionality principle lies at the very core of legislative reforms that determine the structure of the state punishment system (Ryberg 2004). It is the meeting point between philosophical thinking that purport to eliminate the structures of punishment on one side and penologists on the other hand. Because the existence of punishment of criminal acts is not a matter of question in recent days, proportionalism only seeks to determine the extent to which certain crimes may be punishable.
It is about quantitative distribution of punishments and that is why it elicits ethical tones. Surveys of public opinion have always been harsh on the criminal. When this is coupled to political pressure on the judicial system to institute harsher penalties, notable ethical implications may arise with respect to the application of the law proportionately to the seriousness of crime as well as policy objectives of the legal statute. A crisis of confidence has always marked the ability of the criminal law and criminal justice system to built a just and crime free society (Fagan 2008).
Several statutes have been enacted to try and achieve this end objective but there still remains a gap in community justice. Supermaximum Prisons Supermaximum prisons or “supermax” prisons as they are commonly called are ideally jails within prisons. The prison is a classic scenario of an enclosure where individuals are kept as they undergo correction. However this controlled environment does not prevent some individuals from engaging in assault or violent acts, incite disturbances, prey on weaker and vulnerable inmates, attempt to escape or exhibit any other form of disruptive behavior (Riveland 1999).
Since order and safety remain the basic priorities of the correctional facility, such people must be isolated from the general prison population as they exhibit behavioral characteristics that threaten the order and safety of the prison populace. Different correctional facilities have their own form of such isolation. Some call it disciplinary segregation, punitive segregation or just segregation to differentiate it from the general prison housing. Such a confinement exists in complete isolation.
Structurally, it is a single, windowless cell where inmates are made to spend 23 or more hours a day. In such isolation, inmates are solely dependent on staff that patrols the tiers, push mail, toilet paper or meals through small spaces in the heavy doors. For the few minutes that prisoners gain the opportunity to be led out, they are often shackled and cuffed under full prison guard. This only happens during showers or a little solitary wander in the yards. The extremity of the confinement defines the prison systems success in isolation (Rhodes 2005).
According to the prison officers or the media these are the manifestations of the worst cases of criminal behavior. While it can be confirmed that there are cases where such confinement is meant only for prisoners who have been convicted of serious crimes, the reality is that most of these cases involve prison misbehavior by individuals under protective custody or those convicted on minor offenses. Statistically, United States prisons may be holding up to 20,000 people in such conditions (Rhodes 2005).
Therefore for minor behavioral discrepancies an individual may receive a gift of a punitive and individualistic form of punishment. There are a number of select factors that are independent of prisoner behavior but which propagate the shift towards segregation units. From political pressure on the judicial system for harsher sentences, economic deprivation of the low income rural localities, inherent population pressure in prison establishments and staffing issues, the supermax prison phenomenon is rife in America today and policy backups to address this clearly defined ethical issue is non existent.
Rhodes notes that such facilities are seldom put under the limelight in public prison debates and budgetary allocations. When this is coupled to the fact that the facilities are completely out of bounds to the ordinary public arena, salient ethical issues arise that need to be addressed. The pragmatical and philosophical aspect of the supermax phenomenon presents grave complications to the forgotten prisoner languishing in solitary confinement (Rhodes 2005). Health studies have found out a direct nexus between solitary segregation and the pathological development and progression of mental illness.
Initially, decompensation sets in as a result of psychological damage caused by isolating an individual from fellow inmates (Lovell 2004). The cost-benefit, operating costs, legal and ethical issues of supermaximum facilities raise an uproar in debates. While the continued construction of supermaximum facilities can be attributed to political pressure, the overall constitutionality behind the insistence on such programs still remains unclear (Riveland 1999). Priority on human control has given rise to a host of debilitating mental conditions.
Research publications are more focused on the eventuality on recidivist criminal behavior while the damage to the psychological integrity of inmates takes a backbench. When large numbers of characteristically dissimilar inmates are incarcerated, such diversity has the potential to potentially damage any notable correctional improvements creating a situation where the prisons act only as a maturing ground for worse cases of criminal activity. Unfortunately, policy makers have not been as astute in presenting solutions to such ethical dilemmas like they legislate for the building of segregation units (Riveland 1999).
Several research studies on the supermaximum prison facilities have concluded that despite the insistence that such facilities are necessary for meting out harsher sentences, they only serve to increase the prevalence and incidence of mental illnesses and sink budgetary financial allocations with no apparent social or economic benefits (Pizarro et al 2004). Legal ambiguities have been the cause of dire ethical implications and complications as regards punishment policy making initiatives. Zero tolerance as a concept is not fully defined even though it is representative of an approach to policing.
Legal debates have raged as to the true nature of the term. Invariably, it has been linked to a variety of definitions. Being tough on crime is an example of the definition of the term. While being tough implies that something is about crime in general it usually lacks requisite explanation as regards punishment. Curiously though, being tough on crime has been the most commonly accepted denotion of zero tolerance policing and as such legal enforcement has been in the context of being tougher ion crime through harsher penalties.
On the other hand, zero tolerance policing implies a strict non-discretionary context of law enforcement. Such a definition explains a key aspect of law enforcement where police activity is at its highest and the community at large takes a precautionary measure to desist from falling into the hands of the law enforcement offices. Moreover under such a policy, officers arrest or report offenses with no exception to the type of illegal act committed (Marshall 1999).
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 10 January 2017
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