In the past, punishment had been in the form of revenge but evolved to formal systems determined by laws and processes. The four eras to be discussed in this system are 1800s, 1900s, 1980s and 2000. Jails were merely stations to hold prisoners before they could be deported, executed, whipped, or given other forms of punishment. Today however, confinement too is a mode of punishment. Punishment for offenders is based on four premises namely deterrence, societal retribution, rehabilitation and incapacitation (Hall, 2008). The correctional system evolves with changing times to cater for new forms of crime.
In the 1800s, the objective was to rehabilitate as opposed to punishing wrongdoers. Zebulon Brockway, a superintendent of Elmira Reformatory in New York proposed the reforming of inmates through education (Levinson, 2002). Prisoners who performed well were released early; while those with low performance had their sentence lengthened. The legislation in New York had not clearly defined the duration of imprisonment; Brockway thought that reform through education would be the best way of determining how long an inmate could stay in prison and when he could be released. He viewed parole as the best alternative to incarceration. The problem with this system was in differentiating between the truly reformed, and those feigning reformation for parole.
In the 1900s, Brockway’s method was gradually replaced by strict discipline. Due to this, there was increase in aggression and rioting among the inmates. To curb this, recommendations made by the Wickersham Commission were reintroduced. Prisoners were grouped based on the security threat they posed. The less serious criminals were confined in prison farms where they were forced to work the farms and in forest camps. Inmates were also given vocational training to equip them with skills to earn a living once they were released. With such relaxed atmosphere in prisons, the rate of crime increased as the 1900s progressed. The result was a tougher system in the 1980s.
In this era, there was realization of the failure of the reform and parole system. Inmates who were released on pretence of reform continued to commit crimes. This caused an outcry among the public, causing reforms in the prison system. The three-strike legislation was introduced, whereby if a person was convicted of a serious crime on three or more instances, the court was obliged to give them a longer sentence. In addition, the death penalty and chain gangs were revived; there was reinstatement of boot camp prisons and in some states, parole was done away with (Levinson, 2002). These systems had been used in the medieval times but were modified to suit the 1980s.
The major reform in the year 2000 was the definition of capital punishment for serious offenders. Clear laws were enacted to govern execution. Capital offences include murder, treason and in some instances, sexual offences. Criminals convicted of these were sentence for life in prison, imprisoned in isolation, or as a last resort, given the death penalty. The correctional practices of the past eras have influenced present-day correctional systems. Today’s policies and reforms on prisons are a combination of all the above policies. Less serious offenders have the opportunity to be released on parole based on good conduct; a method introduced by Brockway. The decision on whether to grant, revoke and the conditions for parole are determined by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Capital punishment is another example. Practiced in ancient times, it was a form of restitution where no formal laws existed. Brockway’s method however, seems to be the most beneficial for correctional facilities. This method puts focus on the changing the behavior of the offender rather than just punishing. It is most suitable for less serious offenders, who will eventually return to the community. Educating and giving the vocational training ensures that they stay relevant to their society.
There exists room for improving the current practices on correction. Prison warders should be courteous when dealing with prisoners, especially the less serious offenders to ensure co-operation and reduce the occurrence of riots in the prisons. Prison authorities must also be keen on the needs of the inmates. A lack of concern is one of the major causes of violence in the prisons. Extracurricular activities should be given priority. Basketball, swimming, football and other sports will help the inmates relate better with each other and with other members of society when they are released. It will also reduce the chances of depression, a common cause of suicide among prisoners.
Hall, D.E. (2008). Criminal Law and Procedure. Kentucky: Cengage Learning.
Levinson, D. (2002). Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Volume 4. California: Sage.
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