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Criminal Sentencing Assignment, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 987

Essay

Introduction

This paper examines the concept of criminal sentencing within the context of the US legal system. The purpose of criminal sentencing is defined together with concepts of deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and retribution.  The term is broadly used in the context of the Criminal Justice System in order to define the trial judge’s judgement for a guilty verdict.  A trial judge bringing in a sentence of 10 years imprisonment may only be a start point in the sentencing process. There may be appeals and later the decision of parole boards may reduce the original sentence.

The sentencing structure in US law is categorised in accordance with the type of crime that has been committed. For example : “ life imprisonment, or if the maximum penalty is death, as a Class A felony;  twenty-five years or more, as a Class B felony;  less than twenty-five years but ten or more years, as a Class C felony” (Cornell University Law School, 2011).  The purpose of criminal sentencing is essentially threefold: punishment, crime reduction, and reparation[1]

Concepts of Sentencing

Retribution

This concept in law dates as far back as the biblical Old Testament; the concept of ‘an eye for an eye’. It means a person who has purposely violated the law deserves to be punished for the offence committed. Further, said punishment should befit the crime or severity of the crime. Under this ruling a person who has been convicted of homicide should warrant the death penalty.  Retribution must not be confused with revenge; the latter implying that some form of moral satisfaction is obtained. (Larry K. Gaines, 2010).

Deterrence

This takes the approach that the goal of sentencing should act in the capacity of prevention of a criminal act. The object of setting examples to others that certain types of criminal behaviour in society will not be tolerated and receive harsh sentences.  The deterrence would be based upon the value to society.  Hence a Class B felony you would expect the criminal not to get less than 10 years in Jail.  One of the big issues associated with this is that it assumes the person committing the crime is capable of logical decision making process. In many cases this is not the case and as such leaves the concept somewhat flawed. (Larry K. Gaines, 2010).

Rehabilitation

Many view rehabilitation as the most humane approach to sentencing and punishment. It follows the premise of removing offenders from society i.e. prison terms, for their crimes but working with them during the period of incarceration to adapt or modify their behaviour so that they can return to society as valued citizens. It is the concept of a cure for their ills as opposed to just disregarding them as felons who should be removed from society.

In the USA over the last 20 years the concept of rehabilitation has been largely rejected in favour of other methods i.e. deterrence, retribution and incapacity. The fact that a large number of the American prisons are privatised has resulted in less tolerance and perseverance towards the rehabilitation model. In fact many prisons of the privatised model add 30 days to the sentence of any inmates for any infraction of the rules. The ‘for profit’ model of privatised prisons has been criticised as lacking in incentive towards the rehabilitation of prisoners. Another part of rehabilitation has been concerned with reconnecting inmates to their families. Most inmates have become disconnected with family relationships in a distressed state or becoming disconnected.  This can be an important part of the rehabilitation model. (Daniel J. Bayse, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Jul., 1991), )

Incapacitation of Prisoners

This essentially refers to removing those convicted of serious crimes from society i.e. Prison sentences. In this way they are unable to commit crimes outside of the prison walls. In the USA this has been one of the ways the justice system has dealt with drug offenders. There have been two types of incapacitation defined: (1) Collective – a reduction in crime by modifying sentences i.e. minimum mandatory impacting large numbers of people and (2) Selective – a control mechanism based upon individual selection looking at those offenders who pose the greatest risk to society.  (Gennaro F. Vito, 2007).

This model has been widely adopted in the USA. Critics have stated it to be ineffective because during the period of prison growth (the 1980’s and 1990’s) the incarceration rates continued to rise.

Conclusions

In 2002 the number of people in USA prisons exceeded the 2 million mark – “By midyear 2002, America’s jails held 1 in every 142 U.S. residents. Males were incarcerated at the rate of 1,309 inmates per 100,000 U.S. men, while the female incarceration rate was 113 per 100,000 women residents.” (Longley, 2011).  This obviously points to the need for a new approach around the rehabilitation model.  Although this method has its difficulties there is a need to change the behavioural modifications of prisoners and get them back to society as trusted and valued citizens.  Much of this needs to be focused on drug rehabilitation and treatment of mental illness.  There is a differentiation in the treatment between what prisons can do and that of hospitals for those with psychological problems.  The current prison situation remains alarming when factoring in the trend and rise of juvenile crime. It has been questioned as to whether this is more a sociological problem than that of legal jurisdiction.

Works Cited

Cornell University Law School. (2011). Sentencing classification of offenses. Retrieved 2 3, 2011, from Cornell University Law School: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00003559—-000-.html

Daniel J. Bayse, S. M. (Vol. 40, No. 3 (Jul., 1991), ). Family Life Education: An Effective Tool for Prisoner Rehabilitation. Family Relations, 254-257 .

Gennaro F. Vito, J. R. (2007). Criminology: theory, research, and policy . London: Jones & Bartlett.

Larry K. Gaines, R. L. (2010). Criminal Justice in Action: The Core. Belmont CA: Wadsworth.

Longley, R. (2011). U.S. Prison Population Tops 2 Million. Retrieved 2 3, 2011, from about.com: http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/censusstatistic/a/aaprisonpop.htm

[1] As defined by the Halliday Review, Criminal Justice Review Committee in the UK Dec 2001.

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