Punishment VS Rehabilitation In The Criminal Justice System

Punishment VS Rehabilitation In The Criminal Justice System Pros & Cons

Criminal Justice Journal

Punishment VS Rehabilitation In The Criminal Justice System Pros & Cons

It is not a good time to be in prison in the United States. The purpose of prison is to make the offender realize that they have done something wrong due to which they are being punished. But what is the result of this? The main goal behind punishment is to curb crime by punishing the offenders so that they refrain from doing the crime in the future, but has this goal been achieved? Let’s see.

The psychologists are of the opinion that the current situation of the prisons has increased the number of offenders coming to the prisoners because of nature and practices that are being adopted in the jails.

In the late ’70s, the prisons’ prime focus was on the rehabilitation of the offenders, and it was part of the US prison policy. The offenders were allowed to learn some skills and work on their mental health through proper consultation with the psychologists so that they can be reintegrated into society.

Since then, rehabilitation has taken a back seat, and the “get tough on crimes” has been adopted, which means that the offenders will be punished rather than rehabilitated. The statistics show that this policy of getting tough on crimes has been counterproductive. The number of offenders in prisons has increased, and the crime rate is also growing constantly.

So, this brings us to the point of how is punishment different from rehabilitation? And what are the pros and cons of both these practices? If you have similar questions in your mind, stick to the article because we have exciting material for you to read.

Rehabilitation Versus Incarceration

Rehabilitation is a process in which an offender is given a chance to realize his/her offense and learn how he/she can change the mindset to prevent crime in the future. In other words, rehabilitation is the criminal mind’s soft processing to reintegrate it back to society.

On the other hand, Punishment (Incarceration) puts the offender behind the bars of the cell so that he can think of his offense. The process is a harsh way of making criminals realize their mistakes, but punishments can often become counterproductive.

This table will give a balanced comparison of Rehabilitation vs. Punishment.

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This Table will give a balance comparison of Punishment Or Rehabilitation

Through rehabilitation, the re-entry of the offender into the society is easierPunishments do not offer any help to the offenders and they are on their own in the cell of a prison
Mostly, rehabilitation is not being used on the adult offenders rather its being given to the Juvenile offendersPunishments are mostly used for adult offenders 1
Rehabilitation has different programs such as drug addict rehab program, violent behavior rehab program and so on.Punishments are not usually followed by a set program. The offenders are on their own to work on their problem and the ability to reintegrate into the society strictly depends upon the individuals efforts
The rehabilitation programs are less costly and more effectiveThe punishments are more costly. The amount of money spent on one prisoner per year can be up to $70,000.


This brings us to the point that rehabilitation is a much better option than punishment because it would help an offender become a peaceful citizen and live a normal life. Secondly, as a society, it is everyone’s responsibility to fix a broken person. One might think that until and unless it is not harmful to me, I shall stay away from it, but that’s not the case.

One day or another, the criminal mindset in the society will become harmful for you; therefore, it is the responsibility of every citizen to support rehabilitation programs so that they society can have more peace and fewer crimes.

Through the rehabilitation programs, it can be ensured that the majority of the segment of society is law abiding rather than few people abiding by the law.

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Effectiveness Of Rehabilitation In The Criminal Justice System

Punishment is only a way of making an offender pay for the crime committed, but it will not change his/her behavior. Rehabilitation ensures that the offender learns from mistakes and becomes a reformed citizen. Punishment aims to serve justice, whereas rehabilitation has a much wider objective – it aims to improve the overall situation of society by reforming criminals . Punishment does have its benefits because it discourages other people from committing crimes and also acts as a deterrent (Beel & Graham, 2010).

Punishments such as death sentence, life imprisonment etc. may seem like severe punishments; however they are not very effective in rehabilitating offenders or preventing other people from committing crimes. Offenders who commit serious crimes such as murder will also come from backgrounds of rehabilitation so they will have been subjected to punishments as a child which reinforces the idea that Punishment does not work. Punishments such as imprisonment can lead to prison subculture. This is where prisoners support crime and criminals, because they are made to feel as if they belong in prison by being deprived of their freedom, being disrespected and also being physically punished .

Rehabilitation has a better chance of working because it makes offenders feel wanted and needed whereas punishment may lead them to feel worthless and helpless (Beel & Graham, 2010). Punishing an offender may cause resentment from the community therefore reducing their chances of ever becoming accepted again. Punishing an offender sets them apart from society making their integration back into normal life difficult. Punishment also doesn’t tell the offender what they did wrong and how to make up for it. Punishment can cause criminals to feel anger towards their victim, society and even correctional facility staff .

Rehabilitation is better because rehabilitation programs are designed with help from psychologists, criminologists etc. These professionals understand that punishment alone will not eradicate crimes hence they design rehabilitation programs according to the needs of each individual (Beel & Graham, 2010). Punishments may change an offender’s attitude in future crimes but it does not work on all offenders who commit different kinds of crimes. Punishments do not give any explanation as to what went wrong or why the crime was committed so it does not prevent other people form committing similar crimes. Punishments are just a method of giving justice to the victims who have suffered in some way. Punishments also do not tell offenders how they can make up for their crimes by helping others…

This brings us to the point that rehabilitation is a much better option than punishment because it would help an offender become a peaceful citizen and live a normal life. Punishment is only a way of making an offender pay for the crime committed, but it will not change his/her behavior. Rehabilitation ensures that the offender learns from mistakes and becomes a reformed citizen. Punishment aims to serve justice, whereas rehabilitation has a much wider objective – it aims to improve the overall situation of society by reforming criminals . Punishment does have its benefits because it discourages other people from committing crimes and also acts as a deterrent.

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Punishment VS Rehabilitation In The Criminal Justice System Pros & Cons

We have discussed the benefits of rehabilitation for society and individuals. We must examine punishment vs. rehabilitation pros and cons so that you are in a better position to understand both the practices that are followed in the prisons.

Severity And Context Of Punishment

The ideas of punishment and rehabilitation are somewhat similar if we see both these terminologies in the context of Child punishment. We often punish the kids in our homes for off-limits behavior, but our goal is not just to punish them but also to realize that such behavior will result in punishment.

Similar is the case with the prisons; the end goal is to reduce the crime rate through punishments and rehabilitation.

Researches published by WJ and Henry S. Einstadter, in “Criminological Theories: An Analysis of its Underlying Assumption,” debates that punishments are the right way of curbing the crime. Still, they must be followed by some reinforcement so that the results are being achieved. So what does this comply with? In simple words, this means that Punishments must be accompanied by some rehabilitation process so that offenders are reintegrated into society.

Secondly, the research argues that punishments must be moderate because harsh punishments can lead to aggression, evasion, and alienation. For example, if a criminal is being given severe punishment for the first time he committed the crime, fear of prison will fade away from his mind, and he will start committing a crime more often.

So, the takeaway from these arguments is that there are pros of moderate punishment followed by some reinforcement; on the other hand, there are cons for harsh punishments.

Words And Reality

According to the official prison policy, the prisons are made for rehabilitating the offenders, but in reality, the harsh prison conditions generate more aggressive behavior. The prisons are overcrowded and poorly managed due to which aggression is taking birth in the minds of offenders.

Secondly, the jail staff’s rude behavior and guards with the prisoners and poor management and disrespectful behavior of the team is associated with retributive punishment rather than coercive punishment. 

The idea that punishments are retributive rather than coercive gives birth to the concept of punishment vs. rehabilitation. Whereas in coercive punishments, the offenders are being rehabilitated through the education, skills, and improvement in mental health through proper consultations with the psychologist.

So, the behavior of the jail staff, bureaucracy, and guards with the offenders is becoming the real cons for the term punishment. On the other hand, if coercive punishments are adopted, many offenders can be reintegrated into society as peaceful citizens.

Making The Example

It is a widespread perception that crime can be reduced by setting an example. The idea behind this perception is that once you give punishment to the offender, it would set an example for himself and other people; hence they will refrain from violating the law.

The researches do not have to provide an argument in favor of this perception. Instead, they argued that if a youngster who has committed a crime will be exposed to other professional criminals in the prisons, there are high chances that he will become one of them

So, the perception of making an example is wrong, and young criminals should be put in rehabilitation facilities where they are exposed to professional psychologists. The latter can work on their mental health.

Worsening The Problem

The retributive punishments are producing more criminals; therefore, the crime rate in society will increase. For example, when an offender is released after completing the punishment, he/she will not return as an average law-abiding citizen; instead, he/she will have a more criminal mindset.

Due to retributive punishments, prisons act as nurseries of criminals and crimes; therefore, the policy of punishments needs to be changed to have more law abiding citizens.

Juvenile Rehabilitation Vs Punishment 

The USA was the first country in the world to introduce the system of rehabilitation and punishments for the Juveniles. The only goal was to rehabilitate the children with a criminal mindset. Approximately 300,000 children are serving in the Juvenile court, but the question is, do we need prisons for Juvenile?

Since we all know that children are the best learners, they can adapt and learn anything we want them, so what is the purpose of punishing them?

There has been a long debate over this subject, and both sides have their arguments. The people who are in favor of punishments come up the logic that since they have violated the law willingly and knowingly, they must be given their due punishments

 While the other side argues that more emphasis shall be made on rehabilitating the infants rather than punishing them. Since they are young and not habitual, it will be easier to work on them.

Whatever the case is, the United States is the turning point in terms of Juvenile rehabilitation vs. punishment. In the upcoming years, the United States supreme courts’ decision and other courts will decide whether the country continues to practice retributive punishments for the juveniles or comes back to ideal rehabilitation practices.

Juvenile rehabilitation and punishment are two different approaches to dealing with juvenile offenders.
Juvenile rehabilitation focuses on addressing the underlying issues that led to the offending behavior and helping the youth become productive members of society. This approach typically involves therapy, counseling, education, and skill-building programs. The goal of rehabilitation is to help the youth understand the consequences of their actions and learn how to make better choices in the future.

On the other hand, punishment is focused on holding the youth accountable for their actions through consequences such as detention, fines, and community service. The goal of punishment is to deter future criminal behavior and to hold the youth accountable for the harm they have caused.

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Rehabilitation can be more effective in addressing underlying issues and reducing recidivism, but it can also be more expensive and time-consuming. Punishment can be a quicker and more cost-effective solution, but it may not address the underlying issues that led to the offending behavior.

In practice, many juvenile justice systems use a combination of both rehabilitation and punishment, intending to balance the need to hold the youth accountable for their actions with the need to address the underlying issues and reduce recidivism.

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What Is The Purpose Of Rehabilitation For Prisoners

Rehabilitation is a process through which the prisoners are reintegrated into society to become law-abiding citizens. Through rehabilitation, it is ensured that the number of offenders in society is being reduced.

There are two primary purposes of rehabilitation. The first one is that the people who are addicted to a crime can be normalized so that they can have a normal life, and the second purpose is that the crime rate of the society can be reduced.

The process of rehabilitation revolves around these essential elements. 

  • Educational Courses in prisons
  • Teaching Job Skills to the offenders so they can have a respectable source of income
  • Counselling through psychologists and social workers.

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Why Is Rehabilitation Better Than Punishment

Rehabilitation is often considered a better approach than punishment for several reasons.

  • First, rehabilitation addresses the underlying causes of criminal behavior, such as mental illness or addiction, which can help prevent future crimes. Punishment, on the other hand, only addresses surface-level behavior and does not address the underlying issues.
  • Second, rehabilitation can help individuals improve their behavior and decision-making skills, reducing their risk of re-offending. On the other hand, punishment often does not provide individuals with the tools and skills they need to make positive changes in their lives.
  • Third, rehabilitation can provide individuals with a supportive environment where they can receive the help and support they need to make positive changes. On the other hand, punishment often involves isolation and exclusion, which can make it more difficult for individuals to reintegrate into society and make positive changes.
  • Finally, rehabilitation can positively impact public safety by reducing the risk of re-offending and preventing future crimes. On the other hand, punishment may not always be effective in reducing the risk of re-offending and may even increase the risk of recidivism in some cases.

Why Punishment Is Better Than Rehabilitation

There are a few potential arguments for why punishment might be considered better than rehabilitation in some cases.

One argument is that punishment serves as a deterrent for criminal behavior, as individuals who are punished for their actions may be less likely to commit crimes in the future. Another argument is that punishment can provide a sense of justice and accountability for the victims of crime. For example, individuals harmed by a crime may feel a sense of closure and satisfaction if the perpetrator is punished for their actions.
Additionally, punishment can provide a sense of public safety by removing individuals who have committed crimes from society, at least temporarily. This can help protect the public from potential harm and reduce the overall level of crime in society.
However, it is essential to note that these arguments are not universally accepted, and there are counterarguments to each of these points. Many experts believe rehabilitation can be a more effective and compassionate approach to addressing criminal behavior.

Why Prison Rehabilitation Is Good?

Prison rehabilitation planning is an essential aspect of the criminal justice system because it aims to reduce the likelihood that an individual will re-offend upon release from prison. This benefits the individual and society as a whole by reducing crime and increasing public safety.

Rehabilitation planning typically includes various programs and services intended to address the underlying issues that led to an individual’s criminal behavior. These include educational and vocational training, substance abuse treatment, and counseling for mental health or trauma-related issues. By addressing these issues, individuals are better equipped to lead successful, law-abiding lives upon release from prison.

In addition to reducing recidivism, rehabilitation planning aims to improve the overall well-being of individuals in prison and prepare them for successful reentry into society. This can include providing access to medical and dental care and opportunities for physical exercise and recreation.

Additionally, rehabilitation planning can be helpful for the broader justice system. It can help to reduce the number of individuals who return to prison, which can lower the overall costs associated with the criminal justice system. Moreover, by reducing recidivism, rehabilitation planning can also reduce the overall crime rate, which can help to improve community safety and quality of life.

Overall, rehabilitation planning is important because it aims to help individuals to take responsibility for their actions and change their behavior in ways that reduce the likelihood that they will reoffend. Doing so also helps to reduce crime and increase safety in the community.

Pros And Cons Of Rehabilitation For Criminals

Rehabilitation is a common approach to criminal justice that aims to help offenders change their behavior and re-enter society as productive members. Some of the potential advantages of rehabilitation include the following:

  • Improved behavior and decision-making skills: Rehabilitation programs for criminals can help individuals improve their behavior and decision-making skills, reducing their risk of re-offending.
  • Increased independence: Rehabilitation can help individuals regain independence and improve their ability to live independently and make responsible decisions.
  • Reduced risk of recidivism: Rehabilitation can help reduce the risk of recidivism, or re-offending, by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior.
  • Improved mental health: Rehabilitation programs for criminals can help individuals improve their mental health by addressing underlying issues such as substance abuse or mental illness.
  • Increased employment opportunities: Rehabilitation can help individuals improve their skills and employability, leading to high employment opportunities.
  • Improved relationships: Rehabilitation can help individuals improve their relationships with friends, family, and loved ones by addressing underlying issues impacting their interactions.
  • Increased self-esteem: Rehabilitation can help individuals build confidence and self-esteem by improving their behavior and decision-making skills.
  • Increased ability to participate in society: Rehabilitation can help individuals improve their ability to function and comply with laws and social norms.
  • Increased sense of control: Rehabilitation can help individuals take control of their lives and make positive changes, increasing their sense of control and self-esteem.
  • Reduced risk of victimization: Rehabilitation can help reduce the risk of victimization by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior and assisting individuals in making positive changes.
  • Increased public safety: Rehabilitation programs for criminals can help improve public safety by reducing the risk of re-offending and preventing future crimes.

However, there are also some potential disadvantages to rehabilitation, including:

  • Cost: Rehabilitation programs for criminals can be expensive and may not be covered by public funding in some cases. This can be a barrier for some individuals who may not have the financial means to access the help they need.
  • Limited availability: Rehabilitation programs for criminals may not be readily available in all areas, making it difficult for some individuals to access the help they need.
  • Stigma: There can be a stigma attached to seeking rehabilitation for criminal behavior, discouraging some individuals from seeking the help they need.
  • Resistance to change: Rehabilitation often involves changing one’s behavior and lifestyle, which can be difficult for some individuals who may resist change.
  • Relapse: There is a risk of relapse for individuals undergoing rehabilitation for criminal behavior, especially if they do not have adequate support or follow-up care.
  • Co-occurring disorders: Individuals undergoing rehabilitation for criminal behavior may have co-occurring disorders, such as mental health conditions or addiction, which can complicate the treatment process.
  • Limited effectiveness: Rehabilitation may not be effective for everyone, and some individuals may not respond well to the treatment.
  • Lack of support: Individuals undergoing rehabilitation for criminal behavior may not have a robust support system to help them through the process, making it difficult to maintain progress.
  • Personal challenges: Each individual’s experience with rehabilitation will be unique, and some may face personal challenges that make the process more difficult.
  • Lack of motivation: For rehabilitation to be effective, individuals must be motivated to make changes and work towards their goals. Some individuals may lack the motivation to engage in rehabilitation, which can hinder their progress.
  • Risk of re-offending: Rehabilitation programs for criminals may not successfully prevent re-offending, and some individuals may continue to engage in criminal behavior even after completing a rehabilitation program.

Rehabilitation Instead Of Death Penalty

The use of rehabilitation as an alternative to the death penalty is an idea that has been gaining traction in recent years as more and more people have come to recognize the limitations and problems associated with capital punishment.

One of the main arguments favoring rehabilitation over the death penalty is that it is more humane and compassionate. The death penalty is a permanent and irreversible punishment. Even in cases where an individual is guilty of a heinous crime, many people believe it is not appropriate to end someone’s life as a punishment.
Additionally, rehabilitation offers the possibility of reform and redemption, but the death penalty does not. Rehabilitation programs provide individuals with the tools and resources they need to change their behavior and lead successful, law-abiding lives. This not only benefits the individual, but it also has the potential to make society as a whole safer by reducing recidivism.

Another argument in favor of rehabilitation over the death penalty is that it is often a more cost-effective approach. The death penalty is a complex and costly process involving lengthy appeals and expensive legal representation, while rehabilitation programs often come at a much lower cost.

Finally, the death penalty is a controversial and divisive issue, with many holding firmly held views on both sides. On the other hand, rehabilitation is generally seen as a more constructive and positive approach that can bring people together to work towards a common goal. Of course, rehabilitation is not a panacea, and it may not work for everyone, particularly for certain offenders. Some crimes are just too terrible, and the perpetrator too dangerous to be released back to society. But rehabilitation is still a worthwhile alternative in many cases.

Rehabilitation VS Punishment Statistics

The debate over rehabilitation versus punishment as a means of addressing criminal behavior is longstanding. Both approaches have their supporters and detractors, and research has shown that both can be effective under certain circumstances.
Studies have found that rehabilitation programs can effectively reduce recidivism (the rate at which convicted individuals re-offend) among certain offenders. For example, a meta-analysis of over 100 studies found that substance abuse treatment programs can reduce recidivism by as much as 30%. Similar results have been found for programs that address mental health and cognitive issues.
However, rehabilitation is not always effective, and predicting which offenders will respond positively to which types of programs can be challenging. Additionally, rehabilitation programs can be expensive, and their funding can be limited.
On the other hand, punishment is a more straightforward and cost-effective approach to dealing with crime. Imprisonment, for example, can incapacitate offenders and protect the public from harm. Longer prison sentences can also serve as a deterrent to others who might be considering committing a crime.
It’s worth noting that rehabilitation and punishment are not mutually exclusive, and the most effective criminal justice systems often combine both approaches. One way is through Rehabilitation programs inside prison facilities that aim to address underlying issues that led to criminal behavior, such as addiction, mental health, trauma, and education. With a measured approach and proper evaluation, these programs have been seen to have positive effects on offenders and society.
Overall, both rehabilitation and punishment have pros and cons. The ultimate goal is to design the criminal justice system to be fair, effective, and efficient, reducing crime and recidivism.


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