As more prisons are built to meet the increasing number of criminals due to harsher sentences, lawmakers are wondering if prison serves its purpose as deterrence to criminal behavior. In turn, the American people are outraged at the rising costs of creating new prison facilities to meet the growing number of criminals. The American people want to know why taxpayers’ money is being used to house, educate, and provide medical care to criminals if the prison system does nothing to deter future criminal behavior. In reaction to the rising crime rates and public outcries, House Bill 773 has been proposed to be passed by the legislature. House Bill 773 if enacted, presented to the esteemed members of the legislature, will signify an increase of double the maximum sentence for armed robbery in a hopeful attempt to deter future armed robbery criminals. At a time when innocence is found in previously convicted felons and the amount of taxpayer’s money used for new prison reforms has increased over the last few years, this bill cannot be taken lightly. The proposal to HR Bill 773 comes in light of the times when the rates of armed robbery and other violent crimes are on the rise and the American people are demanding the legislature to create a solution. In light of facts though, doubling the armed robbery prison sentence is like putting a band-Aid over a gunshot wound.
Historical philosophers Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria determined through the establishment and the ideal of the Classical School of Criminology that human behavior is based and determined through free will choices and equal punishment of unwanted behaviors, when applied appropriately, would deter those behaviors (Schmalleger, 2007). The philosophy of the Classical School of Criminology has been used throughout centuries as Kings of ancient history would inflict harsh punishments, such as the cutting off an arm of a thief, as penalties for various crimes. Variations in the types of punishment issued as deterrence to crime as years have passed but the same concepts of the Classical School of Criminology remain today. This concept of equal punishment as a deterrent to criminal behavior derives from the idea of pain and pleasure as manipulators of behavior (Schmalleger, 2007). For example, if a child touches a hot stove and burns his or her hand then that child has learned through the discomfort of pain caused by the burn not to touch the hot stove in the future. Similarly, if a teenager comes home fifteen minutes later than the allowed curfew and is issued a weeks grounding as punishment then the teenager is unlikely to be late in the future. In reference to the issue of incapacitation as a deterrent to criminal behavior, the Classical School of Criminology’s concepts define that society provides benefits to individuals and those people who commit crimes and are incarcerated as punishment cannot reap the benefits (Schmalleger, 2007). Thus, when a criminal commits crime, incapacitation of the criminal protects society from crime and deters future criminal behavior of other would be criminals through the deprivation of benefits allowed to law abiding citizens.
Evidence indicates that on the contrary to the Classical School of Criminology concepts incarceration as punishment does nothing for decreasing recidivism or deterring future criminal behavior of other criminals. As of today over 2.1 million people, almost a 500 percent increase over thirty years, are incarcerated in the United States prison systems (The Sentencing Project, 2008). In fact, the United States has the largest prison system in the world (The Sentencing Project, 2008). While crime rates and the number of prison systems are increasing; however, a report by the FBI in 2007 (The Sentencing Project, 2008), indicated a decrease in violent crime compared to the previous two years. Similarly, according to FBI analysts, the overall crime rates, while at higher levels than Americans wish, have decreased slowly since the early 1990’s (The Sentencing Project, 2008). Even though crime rates were falling in the 1990’s, crime was still at alarming high enough rates that lawmakers acted through an enactment of tougher sentencing laws. As a result of the fear on rising crime rates, especially violent crime rates such as armed robbery, states enacted the famous Three Strikes Law in 1994 as one attempt to deter recidivism and violent criminals. However, since the law was not established until 1994 one cannot link the reform of prison sentencing to deter crime to the decrease of crime rates in 1990 before the law was enacted. Furthermore, crime had been already on the decline between 1990 and 2007 so surely the harsher penalty of the Three Strikes Law cannot be linked to the decline from 1994-2007.
In addition to the statistics on crime which indicates incarceration does not deter crime, numerous studies throughout the years have determined lengthier prison sentences only serves as a costly housing of those caught. Over fifty studies have been conducted since 1958 on the relation of incarceration as a deterrent to criminal behavior (Gendreau, Goggin, & Cullen, 2005). The results of those studies have all indicated four definite conclusions in reference to lengthier prison sentences. The conclusions show that prisons should not be expected to decrease criminal behavior, excessive use of prison sentences have extreme cost implications, further studies are needed as to what offenders are affected by incarceration, and the primary purpose of incarceration should be retribution (Gendreau, Goggin, & Cullen, 2005). In fact, the JFA Institute, which cooperates with federal, state, and local agencies to evaluate criminal justice practices has stated in its latest study that the prison system doesn’t deter crime and is “a costly and harmful failure” (Lott, 2007). Consequently, when the very agencies which assist in the evaluation of effectiveness of criminal justice practices finds no positive aspects of the practice, then other alternatives need to be sought.
Despite the numbers and studies contained in this paper indicating the dismal future for lengthier incarcerations as a deterrent, a light does exist at the end of the tunnel in the form of a new type of justice. In light of the evidence signaling the failure of the prison system to deter crime this criminologist advisor recommends the consideration and research of coupling the current prison sentence with restorative justice sentencing. Restorative justice sentences, such as the offender serving time in the community or paying restitution to the victim robbed, would not only restore justice to the community, deter criminal behavior, and recognize and restore the victim but save the taxpayer millions of dollars. Restorative justice recognizes that crime occurs against a victim not against the state and through restorative justice sentencing the victim gets restitution while the offender is held responsible for his or her actions (John Howard Society of Alberta, 1997). Through the use of Restorative Justice to supplement the current prison sentencing, offenders would be required to make amends to the victim and society (John Howard Society of Alberta, 1997). Furthermore, the community and victims are allowed to become involved in the restoration of justice after a crime has occurred (John Howard Society of Alberta, 1997). The concepts surrounding Restorative Justice that makes this ideal possible is that the criminal justice process has a responsibility to repair injuries to victims of crime, victims and communities affected by crime should be involved in the punishment process, and the government serves its purpose of upholding order while society upholds its responsibility of upholding peace (John Howard Society of Alberta, 1997). Hence, Restorative Justice Sentences such as restitution sentences, coupled with the maximum allowable prison sentencing today for armed robbery will prove far more effective in deterring crime than lengthier sentences that have proven to be a failure in the past.
The duty of this criminologist adviser is not only to ensure that policies established and bills enacted are in the best interest of the American society but to act as a supporter, liaison, and devils advocate to the esteemed members of the legislature for which this position was created. As such, allowing the HR Bill 773 to be enacted upon the American Justice System, knowing the negative implications and failures predicted, would not only be an injustice to the American people but a failure of the duties sworn to the members of the legislature. Evidence through studies and statistics has shown the ineffectiveness of increasing prison sentences for crimes including armed robbery. In contrast, Restorative Justice Procedures offer the opportunity to restore the community and victims that have suffered from the crime and requires criminals be responsible for behaviors. Far too many positive steps have been made over the years towards the perfection of the criminal justice system to so blindly lose ground. Therefore, it is the strong recommendation of this criminologist adviser for the legislature to strike down the enactment of HR Bill 773 and reconsider sentencing reforms to include Restorative Justice Practices over longer and costlier prison sentences.
Schmalleger , F. (2007). Criminology today. An integrative introduction, Fifth Edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall. Retrieved September 23, 2008, from University of Phoenix, rEsource . CJA 323-Criminology Website.