January 30, 2014RCLEvery so often, news of heinous crime reaches our ears through the web, newspaper, or television. The Aurora Shooting that occurred during the midnight premier of the Batman movie horrified and terrified many citizens, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting caused cries of panic and anger. Why would these people commit such a terrible act? Could we have prevented such disasters from happening? What if gun control laws have been stricter, would such crimes still have happened? The law is difficult to change especially since the Right to Bear Arms is the second amendment of our constitution, the supreme law of our nation, that has been around two hundred years. Now the question is, how do we punish these people, and how effective are these punishments?
When we think to our childhood, the way we learned that our actions were wrong or unacceptable was through punishment Right? Or was it through rewarding the right behaviors? Most people believe that punishment is indeed effective because they use it in everyday situations whether it is firing employees at the workplace for disorderly conduct or scolding children for trying to take a toy from another child. Punishment is a method of deterring negative behavior that has been passed down through generations. Punishment is effective to subdue unwanted behavior, and it is usually painful, physically or psychologically, so people tend to avoid punishment. Punishment also enables people to condition responses so that associations between behavior and positive or negative reinforcement will lead to an automatic response to avoid such punishment.
The effectiveness of punishment depends on several factors: Frequency of punishment, immediacy of punishment, and positive reinforcement on positive or good behavior. However punishment may also have serious negative effects if not carried out properly. Such effects include avoidance or escape, alienation of the punished, aggressiveness, and reimplementing punishment in the punished. So what draws the fine line between effective punishments and detrimental punishments?
The government regulates crime through policing. There is evidence that has proven that increased levels of policing has significantly reduced crime, and this is even more effective when such policing is specifically designated towards certain crimes or problems. Charles Murray conducted research on crime and punishment and concluded that executing severe sentences can reduce the amount of occurring crimes and that crime rate decreases when sentences per crime rises. He declared that the cause for the decline in criminal activity for 1990-2000 is a higher rate of imprisonment, which provides a deterrence and incapacitation effect. However others disagree that increasing the severity of the punishment may not actually reduce the occurrence of these crimes since crime rates have actually risen over the years, and correlation does not imply causation. Unemployment could be just as much a cause of crime rather than increasing the severity of the punishments. If severe punishments were effective, is prison effective? After all, that where we place people who have committed felonies or severe crimes.
So how effective are prison sentences as punishment? It tends to depend on the prisoner and the type of crime that has been committed. For most people, prison is a severe punishment, but what about that other small percentage? There is a wide variety of reasons that motivate criminal activity from biological predispositions, personality, location, deprivation, and cognitive thinking. From conducted research, it is proven that the majority of prisoners are male, black, hispanic, or non-white, between eighteen and forty-four years old, and relatively illiterate compared to the rest of the population. However, more importantly, the re-arrest rate is a whopping 63% or 84% for juveniles, and almost half of those offenses are for violent actions. So it seems that the idea of prison didnt really deter these criminals from committing illegal acts once again.
Research has proven that the most effective way in reducing such criminal acts is simply through education. Inmates with at least two years of college education have a 10% re-arrest rate compared to a 62% re-arrest rate. Prisoners with associates degrees have a re-arrest rate of 13.7%, 5.6% with a bachelors degree, and 0% for those with a masters degree.
So if education seems like a better and more positive reinforcement for deterring crime, why are we still using imprisonment? What if we focused on educating criminals in prison rather than re-arresting criminals or extending their prison sentence? Rather than emphasizing severe punishment, we should focus on positive reinforcement and education. It may not entirely prevent crime, but it will hopefully prevent prisoners from committing illegal acts.
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