Jul 15, 2020 in Research

Is Prison the Right Place for Criminals or should there be Alternatives?

Over two thirds of people who are given a prison sentence have a mental health problem or learning disabilities and this implies that there should be alternatives to imprisonment in order to enhance recovery and avoid reoffending. Erin Dean who is a freelance journalist argues that there are approximately 100 diversion and liaison teams in the UK  whose function is to ensure that mental health offenders are treated and thus prevented from entering into the criminal justice system where possible. People can either be assessed in police cells or court holding buildings and most of them are usually distressed because they do not know where they will end up when they are sentenced. This paper argues that there should be alternatives to prison sentences instead of incarceration of offenders. 

Using the Rogerian model of argument, it is believed that there is a possibility of solving a problem when people decide to seek for a common ground. Carl Rogers who was a renowned psychologist argued that it is important to seek a line of argument that is less one-sided, confrontational, and more compromising that would deliberately lead to consensus building. When it comes to the criminal justice system, there are those individuals who support prison sentences that will act as deterrent measures in order to prevent offenders from engaging in crime. Conversely, groups such as the Court Assessment and Referral Service (CARS) are made up of professionals who offer face-to-face assessment to inform courts when it is necessary to prevent an individuals from being given a prison sentence. It is important to note that several individuals do not imagine repeating the same offence since on most occasions their acts were as a result of mental health problem.  

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The Opponent's Position

People have always known that prisons are places that are meant from criminals and that the society has a right of locking away people who have been found to be social deviants. The obvious reason why offenders should be incarcerated is that they have decided to go against or deviate from the rules that have been established by the society. Criminals do not obey rules and they instead decide to make their own rules. These are the people who steal, kill, assault, and rape other people and therefore the society has a right of taking a stern action against such offenders. The fact that innocent people are often victimized by the criminals implies that all individuals who are found guilty should be considered as undeserving class of citizens who should be imprisoned. Were it not for people who choose to break the law, citizens would not have to pay huge amount of taxes to cater for the law enforcement agencies as well as the total costs maintaining the prison system. 

Studies have also shown that prisoners are usually given a huge amount of time to have leisure which they do not deserve taking into consideration that they have broken the law. For instance, prisoners participate in a wide range of sporting activities, are given education, watch television, and are provided with other luxurious treatments which are paid for by tax payers. The fact that most citizens struggle to pay for the cost of keeping offenders in a comfortable position is not justice. Although this does not mean that offenders should be treated cruelly or tortured, their prison life need to be unpleasant and hard. Since the prison system may not have the right of taking away the life of prisoners, it needs to drastically reduce their privileges and rights so that prisons can be disliked by all individuals. 

The Need for Alternatives to Prisons

The National Probation Service is faced with a challenging task as people call for major reforms in the criminal justice system that will minimize prison sentences and population. The European jurisdiction proposed a system of administrative crime for offences that are minor. This concept gives powers to the Crown Prosecution Service to impose various forms of financial sanctions to individuals who have committed these minor offences in order to avoid a prison sentence. In addition, scholars such as Antony Bottoms have analyzed empirical evidence showing that there is no relationship between prison sentences and crime reduction. Factors that have an impact on the rates of crime instead of sentencing patterns are demographics, socioeconomic conditions, and rates of detection. Therefore, when government authorities tackle these areas, there have a higher possibility of reducing crime and prison sentences. 

The general public tends to fear an increasing climate of criminal behavior and disorder. However, a report by the University of Cambridge public opinion project (UCPOP) showed that when the general public is involved in the criminal justice system, there is a high level of satisfaction since community supervision is considered as ‘givers’ instead of ‘consumers’ of help. Moreover, Sue Rex is one of the scholars who have put emphasis on the communicative approach of communicative sentences. She is of the opinion that when it comes to offender management, policy orientation in the future needs to focus on encouraging “desistence” among criminals instead of relying on the current ways of confronting the offending attributes of the criminal. Some of the alternatives to imprisonment include fines, police cautions, conditional discharges and they deviate from the financial penalties that are often imposed by prosecutors. 

Analysis of the Two Positions

It is evident that those who support a prison sentence for offenders and those who propose alternative sentences have raised valid reasons that can lead to a common ground of reducing incidence of crime. To start with, groups that believe that offenders should be imprisoned have produced evidence that people who decide to break the law are not fit to live in the same society as law abiding citizens. This is because they intentionally commit crime and are at a high risk of posing threats to the wellbeing, safety and general calmness of the society. On the contrary, those who support alternatives to prison sentences have shown that most offenders usually have mental problems which motivate them to commit crime. The same offenders usually detest their actions and do not believe that they would have acted as they did were it not for their mental health condition. Therefore, if authorities could implement programs that lead to non-custodial sentences as well as treatment procedures, most offenders would be rehabilitated and become law abiding citizens. 

Nurses and other professionals have also focused on assessing and providing healthcare and other forms of support to offenders instead of sending them to prison. Reformation of the criminal justice system would see people who have been proven to be having mental health problems being provided with care that would prevent them from becoming re-offenders. Several teams of experts have started to working with law enforcement agencies, social services, the courts, and the NHS to come up with alternative measures to prison sentences. Studies have also shown that young men who have a history of repeated offences tend to be reformed when they are subjected diversion and liaison services. What this basically means is that not all offences deserve prison sentences, and that most offenders are at a better opportunity of reforming when their behaviors are managed away from prison.   

Proposal/Significance of Alternative Sentences

Imprisonment is seen as a product that has good intentions, but it is important to note that not all good intentions lead to good policy. This implies that it is necessary to have good results and this can only be achieved when the society manages to implement alternatives to imprisonment. Studies have shown that not all offenders who are imprisoned end up being reformed citizens after they complete their terms. Therefore, law enforcement agencies need to come up with programs that will promote rehabilitation of offenders in order to reduce the possibility of committing crime in the future. Authorities can link up with agencies such as CARS and Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust which have played a significant role in reforming mentally disturbed offenders and enabling them to be absorbed back into the society. The courts need to determine the severity of the crime that is committed by the offender before giving a prison sentence since this may end up hardening an individual. 

It should also be noted that not all offenders decide to commit crime or victimize the innocent public. Apart from the mentally disturbed offenders, other individuals who commit petty crimes such as shoplifting or using illegal substances may be motivated to participate in such activities by the need to satisfy an urgent need. Furthermore, most first time offenders who are not involved in violent crimes need to be subjected to a wide range of community reformation centers that would play a significant role in reforming these individuals. Evidence suggests that alternatives to prison sentences are usually effective in reforming an individual and have a higher chance of preventing a person from turning into a hardcore criminal. 


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