Attitude Towards Incarceration
Law stipulates specific punishment guidelines to be applied on offenders; the paradigm shift in incarceration and the public’s attitude towards the subject is a major an issue that the justice system and the public are struggling to resolve. One of issues arising from the growing number of incarcerated individuals is the ability of the state is the cost of operating correctional facilities considering budget cuts and shortfalls. The public on the other hand is skeptical on the matters of keeping the offenders locked away to sustain public safety while thinking about where their taxes should go. The United States for example is leading the world in incarceration with its justice system sending more people to prison than any other place in the world (Silvia, Graham & Hawley, 2005). However, the emerging trend in incarceration suggests a problem in cost because the more people in prison, the more the government should provide spend on keeping up with their needs. In view of the problem, the public’s attitude towards incarceration policy and practices are also changing in which alternatives becomes a suggestive factor.
The Balancing Act
Traditional groups normally prefer a punitive approach to criminal justice, but the contemporaries suggest an approach that is more cause oriented rather than focusing on apprehension (Hart, 2002). One of the reasons for such is the problem with budget and prison spending. In the United States for example, 42 out of 50 states are experiencing budget deficit and the recent years revealed a significant concern about Federal budget because of economic crisis. Cuts on budget results to the legislators looking into budget areas that needs to be reduced in order to balance spending and one that gets the most attention in cost-cutting is the correctional budget. Due to the matters of financial shortfalls, the public is leaning towards incarceration alternatives instead of sending people to prison right away. Among the number of suggestions include supervised probation, community service, restitution or rehabilitative services for non-serious and nonviolent offenders (Hartney and Marchionna, 2009).
The only problem with those suggestions is the conflict with the current “get tough on crime” and “ three strikes law,” which reinforces justice system to implement a more pro-active approach in crime prevention. Before alternatives come into strong consideration, a comparison with the aforementioned policies needs to be evaluated. Regarding the two policies, statistics suggests that crime rates have significantly declined after its implementation. Crimes index suggests that crime rates have declined from 119 to 94.6 during the last decade, which justifies the effectiveness of the approach (Fournier-Ruggles, 2011). On the other hand, alternatives such as Pretrial Diversion that involves diverting the defendants from the court system into a program made to address the cause of the offending behavior was proven to have also contributed to lowering repeat offences. The effectiveness of the alternative approach aims to prevent crime by eliminating its root cause. If to be compared with three strikes and get tough practices, the alternative promises a long-term effect since the target is the root cause itself rather than directly attacking the crime itself.
This comparison brings up the discussion on whether incapacitation or rehabilitation is more effective than the other. In incapacitation, the offender is locked up for a definite period of time depending on the gravity of their crime. However, “tough on crimes” and “three strike law” does not render higher benefits in terms of deterring criminal activities, gang violence and war on drugs (Fournier-Ruggles, 2011). In addition, studies conducted by Fournier-Ruggles (2011) suggests that investing in crime prevention approach that deals with environmental factors that contributes to crime and victimization is more effective than immediately sending people to jail. Having said that, the alternative approach is rather more effective than the traditional approach since the target of the alternative is to cut the cause rather than incriminate the offender during every offence.
One of the best examples of a court case where an alternative to incarceration was evident is the case of R vs. Gladue in Canada (1999, 1 S.C.R. 688). The accused is a 19 yr. old aboriginal Canadian woman who was convicted of manslaughter for murdering her husband and sentenced to three years in jail. Normally, a non-aboriginal offender is subject to life sentence with parole ineligibility for 25 years. Since Gladue is an aboriginal, the sentence should for such should not go below four years. However, the severity of the crime supersedes the aboriginal statute placing the accused into maximum sentence. Despite the seriousness of the crime, the Canadian law under s.718.2 (e) stipulates that the court should still consider reasonable alternative to incarceration placing a higher emphasis on restorative justice. The circumstances also led to a very marginal length of incarceration such as the accused had no prior criminal records, it was established that Gladue was in fact suffering a hyperthyroid condition that renders her unable to control emotional rage and that she is under the influence of alcohol during the incident. After entering a guilty plea, Gladue had even granted a supervised parole after six months and subject to attend rehabilitation programs.
The case is an example of prevailed alternative incarceration despite the severity of the offence. This is because several factors were entered into argument that justifies a reason for the accused to be placed on alternative incarceration. Incapacitation or sentencing the offender for the maximum despite the considerable factors of probable cause would have been unreasonable if was imposed. However, the court recognizes the arguments of the defendant and decided that alternative incarceration would provide a better chance for the accused to enter the correctional for rehabilitation and a chance to reenter the society as a changed person. Gladue was no criminal by nature; the aggravation and insult that the defendant received from the victims forced her to loose control and eventually stabbed the victim twice.
This means not all people are born criminals, they too are victims of circumstances and their offence is a result of human emotional response. It brings an idea of parks versus prison conundrum. Many people believed that environmental attributes create an evil within a person, that no person was born a criminal. Exposing the young into pleasant and violent free environment would reduce their chance of developing destructive behavior. Parks on the other hand is an example of an approach that promotes good life and positivity, while prison on the other hand insinuates a very visible problem that exists in the society. More employment means preparing the young minds through a strong educational system, which in fact is more affordable than operating correctional facilities.
In the United States, the public education system is struggling to increase student performance due to budget. However, it was revealed that the country spends about $33,000 a year to house and feed prisoners, while sending a child for a year in a private school costs about only $8,300 (Birtel, 2010). The difference on the amount could have still sent a child into college. This reality justifies the staggering cost that a country spends to run a prison facility instead of using the budget to build environments that are less conducive to crime. Large chunk of state budget could have been allotted to improve the educational system and create employment opportunities, which on the other hand would lessen the factors that lead to crime. Given the extent on the gap between the budgets allocated for prisoners versus the students, it is apparent that communities should not either impose new taxes or outsource prison operations because tax money allocated to prison operations goes one way.
In view of the existing problem in balancing alternatives versus cost, the community could seek for flexible laws as described in R vs. Gladue in Canada (1999, 1 S.C.R. 688). Politicians particularly legislators should think of better solutions instead of relying on punishment as an option. There are several creative ways in which the government can reduce minor and severe crimes while solving the country’s budget deficit. For example, minor offences such as theft can be resolved without putting the offender in jail. People accused of theft could be fined for a higher penalties and make it payable to the terms equal to the time they would serve in jail when convicted. If the penalty for theft is six months in jail with a fine of $1,000, the government could increase that to $6,000, which the accused need to pay $1,000 every month for six months. Failure to comply to the imposed penalty would cause the payment term to extend to one year and none compliance would eventually have the accused arrested and jailed the number of months he missed on the penalty. This way the strike three principles can be applied while imposing additional income to shrink deficit as well as practicing alternative to incarceration.
Incarceration is a matter of punishment that takes a toll to the state budget as more and more offenders entered into prison. The public may view the problem of crime and suggest incarceration as a primary solution, but there are alternatives in which crime can be reduced without sacrificing public safety and further shrinking the state budget. Politicians, communities and the public in general could work together in seeking for the best possible option that will minimize increase in prisoner population and prevent crime at the same time. Sacrificing the budget to lock offenders away hurts the chance of improvement for other sectors and communities that has the potential to prevent the root cause of the crime. Value in a sense signifies what matters most and that includes serving justice from another perspective.
Birtel, M., & Chilcott, L. (Producers), & Guggenheim, C. (Director). (2010). Waiting for Superman [Motion picture]. United States: Walden Media and Participate Media.
Fournier-Ruggles , L. (2011). The Cost of Getting Tough on Crime: Isn’t Prevention the Policy Answer? Journal of Public Policy, Administration and Law, 2. Retrieved from http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/jppal/article/viewFile/34373/31270
Hart, P. D. (2010, February). Changing Public Attitudes Toward the Criminal Justice System Open Society Foundations (OSF). Retrieved August 9, 2013, from http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/reports/changing-public-attitudes-toward-criminal-justice-system
Hartney , C., & Marchionna, S. (2009). Attitudes of US Voters toward Nonserious Offenders and Alternatives to Incarceration. National Council for Crime and Delinquency. Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/focus-voter-attitudes.pdf
Scc.lexum.org (n.d.). Supreme Court of Canada - Decisions R. v. Gladue,  1 S.C.R. 688. Retrieved August 9, 2013, from http://scc.lexum.org/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/1695/index.do
Silvia, P. J., Graham, J. S., & Hawley, C. N. (2005). Changing attitudes toward prison reform: Effects of similarity to prisoners on attraction and rejection. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 248-258. Retrieved from http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/P_Silvia_Changing_2005.pdf