It is important to note that imposing law and order on a group of people, such as society, is a challenging task that needs to utilize a form of reinforcement measures. Breaking the legal boundaries requires some form of punitive action to discourage others from doing the same. The current legal system primarily utilizes correctional measures, sentencing, imprisonment, and some regions also have the death penalty as the harshest method of punishment. The purpose of the given analysis is to assess each step and form of punitive measure for their effectiveness. The context of the discussion will be centered around offering recommendations for further improvements substantiated by the biblical perspective on the subject. By Christ’s example of mercy and evidence of their ineffectiveness, corrections should not be privatized, sentencing should shift towards restoration, positive sanctions should replace imprisonment, and the death penalty should be abolished.
Definition of the Terms
To identify the current level of effectiveness of the existing systems of punitive legal process, it is critical to define the terms, review the literature, highlight the problems, and offer solutions. Corrections can be defined as “the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders through a program involving penal custody, parole, and probation” (Merriam-Webster, 2022, para. 9). In other words, it is a process in which an offender is treated, rehabilitated, or punished following the law (Clear et al., 2018). In the case of sentencing, “a criminal sentence refers to the formal legal consequences associated with a conviction” (Cornell Law School, 2022, para. 1). It can include the death penalty, life imprisonment, incarceration, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, community service, restitution payment to the victim, fines, and probations (Cornell Law School, 2022). Sentencing serves two primary purposes, which involve the deterrence of future crimes and retribution through punishment. Imprisonment is an act of confining and isolating a person or group from the rest of society. The death penalty is a form of punitive action where an offender is sentenced to death.
Firstly, it should be noted that corrections, sentencing, imprisonment, and the death penalty belong to the retributive justice system, where the goal is to punish an offender to deter such behavior and serve justice through a punitive measure. However, the existing systems of justice are not ideal and have several problematic elements to them, which require addressing and improvement. When it comes to the corrections system, the main central issue is privatization and its subsequent performance as well as cost. It is stated that:
Policymakers considering the advantages and disadvantages of privatization in either their institutional- or their community-based corrections system need to consider not only whether performance improves when the private sector gets involved but also whether private-sector involvement directly or indirectly undermines or enhances the legitimacy of either system. (Byrne et al., 2019, p. 477)
In other words, the limited amount of data available from private correctional institutions make the evaluative assessment challenging. However, privatization of the corrections leads to a better performance of the correctional process, which is reflected in the deterrence and reoccurrence of the criminal activity committed by an offender (Byrne et al., 2019). Public corrections may have certain inefficiencies, which could be replaced by private enterprises after the public ones are proven to be ineffective, meaning that the comparison is not accurate. In addition, private corrections can be excessively costly to the economy and society because policies around privatized corrections do not account for them. A study found “the limited role that cost-benefit analysis plays in policy discussions about punishment policy” (Pratt, 2019, p. 447). In other words, there is a strong possibility that private correctional institutions do not justify the costs they incur on the government and social resources. Lastly, the privatization of corrections has an ethical aspect, where such organizations can become highly incentivized to gain profit rather than focusing on ensuring correction.
Secondly, the sentencing process is key to ensuring that justice is served following the law and fairness to both sides of the argument. However, one should be aware that the sentencing process is not rigid and have some room for interpretive thought, where one is tasked to weigh the evidence and available information and determine the sentence. It is stated that “criminal sentencing is a complex cognitive activity often performed by the unaided mind under suboptimal conditions” (Dhami et al., 2020, p. 139). Thus, the lack of conditions and an appropriate environment for the sentencers can result in harsher or milder sentences than what would be considered optimal. The recent trends and shifts show an alarming increase in the harshness of sentences, which is sometimes referred to as a ‘dose.’ It is reported that “these ‘common doses’ accounted for over 90 percent of sentences in each jurisdiction. The size of these doses increased as sentences became more severe, and doses followed a logarithmic pattern” (Dhami et al., 2020, p. 139). It is evident that the lack of training, guidelines, and non-adherence to the policies, as well as the absence of a plausible environment, contribute to an increase in the ‘dose’ of sentencing.
Thirdly, imprisonment is an important part of the corrections and punitive process, where an offender is confined and isolated from the rest of society. There are many issues associated with imprisonment, such as excessive violence from prison guards, in-prison inmate violence, and inhumane conditions (Clear et al., 2018). However, these problems are the result of poor enforcement of the standards of practice and policies, which is why it might be more useful to look at the effectiveness of imprisonment as a whole. A study focused on subjectively experienced severity of imprisonment, or SESI, found that “even when accounting for the SESI, more severe prison sentences do not deter offenders from subsequent involvement in crime” (Raaijmakers et al., 2017, p. 3). In other words, both the perceived and actual harshness of imprisonment shows that there is no improvement in the deterrence of criminal behavior in the future. In addition, a major problem of imprisonment is the fact that it renders a prisoner useless, destroying his or her economic utility and wealth (Mungan, 2019). Thus, such a person would not be able to generate useful labor for the good of society.
Fourthly, the death penalty or capital punishment has long been a topic of debate and discussion for valid reasons. Understandably, one might feel outraged against specific offenders, who committed the greatest crimes against humanity, and thus, he or she might want something more severe than mere imprisonment. However, the data shows that the practical implementation of the death penalty is highly flawed and discriminatory against the vulnerable rather than just against the worst offenders. For example, the Philippines can be used as an outstanding example of the nationwide use of the death penalty, where “73.1% of death convicts belong to the lower classes, 8.2% belonged to the middle class, while only 0.8% belonged to the upper class” (De Ungria & Jose, 2019, p. 3). In addition, there was no notable decrease in the commission of a crime, and thus, no deterrence (De Ungria & Jose, 2019). In most cases, the death penalty was used disproportionately for the crime committed, which was condemned by the United Nations (De Ungria & Jose, 2019). Lastly, the judicial error rate and the possibility of wrongful convictions make death penalties irreversibly unethical.
The core framework of recommendations will be centered around the concept of restorative justice instead of the retributive justice of the existing systems. One might argue that the proposed format is implausible, but it is already being used when it comes to adolescent or juvenile crimes. The main basis is to force the offender to restore as much damage done as possible to the victim instead of imposing a mere punishment. Thus, corrections should not involve any form of privatization and must be fully public despite minor inefficiencies in performance. Privatization goes against the concept of restorative justice or justice in general since it carries an incentive to profit from the imprisonment of offenders. In addition, the average ‘dose’ of sentencing is increasing, making the sentences harsher, which means that the shift is being done more toward retributive justice and away from restorative justice. The reverse process should be applied since punishment should not be the sole purpose of the justice system. Offenders should at least partially restore the damage done to victims, and therefore, restorative justice can be gradually integrated into the current system.
Moreover, imprisonment as an essential part of the sentencing process is shown to be ineffective when it comes to deterrence. In other words, it has some use for isolating dangerous members of society through confinement, but the released people are not less likely to commit similar crimes. Making imprisonment both objectively and subjectively harsher does not translate to higher deterrence as well. Therefore, a better alternative should be positive sanctions because “a subsequent welfare analysis reveals an advantage of positive sanctions: they operate by transferring or creating wealth, whereas imprisonment destroys wealth … jointly reduce crime, sentences, and taxes” (Mungan, 2019, p. 1). In other words, instead of focusing on punishment through imprisonment, which requires constant funding and resource allocation, it might be better to use positive reinforcement to improve deterrence. Positive sanctions fit in the paradigm of restorative justice because it does not make offenders economically useless to society after their release incentivizing them to return to criminal activity to survive.
The concept of the death penalty might be arguable and debatable on paper, but it has minimal practical relevance unless one wants to operate from the mode of anger and vengeance rather than justice. The death penalty is not a new concept, and it has already been implemented in many places around the world. The major pitfalls of the death penalty include flaws in the judicial system and discrimination against the most vulnerable because it is usually the poor who get executed the most. In addition, there is an ethical problem in a wrongful conviction, where the death penalty’s irreversibility makes it highly problematic. Lastly, it is prone to abuse by the powerful, which is why capital punishment should not be part of the system of justice, especially the flawed one.
When it comes to the recommendations proposed based on restorative justice, the Christian worldview supports such a call for change. Bible states: “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (King James Version, 1969/2017, Isaiah 1:17). The verse should be studied more closely to observe the wisdom of the Christian faith and justice. Firstly, it states to act following laws, including moral, ethical, divine, and human. Secondly, it mandates Christians to search for justice through judgment, which means that one should not show inaction in the face of injustice. The third and most important point is relieving the oppressed, which can be used as the basis for restorative justice. The oppressed are the victim, and the latter can be relieved as much as possible only if the damage done is restored through restorative justice rather than mere retributive punishment.
Jesus Christ embodies the Mercy granted by the Father to humanity because it was the Son who paid the ultimate price for the sins of the children of Adam. Forgiveness is of paramount importance in the Christian worldview, where punishment is not the goal. The final act of justice and fairness will come from God on the Day of Judgement, and thus, before this day, a sinner and offender should be given a chance to restore and repair his or her damage.
In conclusion, corrections should not be privatized, sentencing should shift towards restoration, positive sanctions should replace imprisonment, and the death penalty should be abolished following Christ’s example of mercy and evidence of their ineffectiveness. Privatization is a major issue in corrections, which is ethically and functionally problematic. Sentencing is a complex and cognitive task that requires proper skills and knowledge as well as the environment. Positive sanctions are better than imprisonment economically, financially, and deterrence-wise. The death penalty has no place in the modern and flawed judicial system since it is discriminatory and immoral.
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Clear, T., Reisig, M. D., & Cole, G. F. (2018). American corrections (12th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Cornell Law School. (2022). Sentencing. Web.
De Ungria, M. C. A., & Jose, J. M. (2019). The war on drugs, forensic science and the death penalty in the Philippines. Forensic Science International: Synergy, 2, 1-9.
Dhami, M. K., Belton, I. K., Merrall, E., McGrath, A., & Bird, S. M. (2020). Criminal sentencing by preferred numbers. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 17(1), 139-163.
King James Bible. (2017). King James Bible Online. Web.
Merriam-Webster. (2022). Correction. Web.
Mungan, M. C. (2019). Positive sanctions versus imprisonment [PDF document]. Web.
Pratt, T. C. (2019). Cost–benefit analysis and privatized corrections. Criminology & Public Policy, 18(2), 447-456.
Raaijmakers, E. A. C., Loughran, T. A., de Keijser, J. W., Nieuwbeerta, P., & Dirkzwager, A. J. E. (2017). Exploring the relationship between subjectively experienced severity of imprisonment and recidivism: A neglected element in testing deterrence theory. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 54(1), 3–28.