Sample Essay on Correctional Issues: Custody vs. Treatment

Correctional Issues: Custody vs. Treatment

Treatment is more important than custody in the context of correctional policy in criminal justice because of the long-term and sustainable solution it offers for the behavioral or criminal problem. While conviction and punishment of guilty offenders is an important element of the criminal justice system, I believe that delivering justice for all, assisting offenders to stop offending, protecting the innocent, and achieving a long-term and sustainable solution to the criminal problem represent greater value and efficiency than the custody (imprisonment) element of criminal justice does.

Custody and treatment relate closely to the competing elements of retribution and rehabilitation, respectively, in criminal justice. While rehabilitation and retribution represent two of the fundamental roles of criminal justice, they are competitive against each other in terms of areas of emphasis and orientation in the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation focuses on processes aimed at reintegrating people convicted of crimes effectively into the society by promoting an alternative, valuable, and profitable way of life for the offender and offering support to counter habitual offending behavior. In contrast, retribution involves the idea that proportionate punishment and forfeiture of something in payment for committed crime is necessary and justifiable as the optimum response to crime to influence deterrence against repetitive offending (Petersilia, 2011). In comparing the value and efficiency of treatment and custody as strategies and orientations in criminal justice, it is essential to consider the ultimate purpose of criminal justice and the correction system. I believe that  public interests in terms of preventing reoffending, protecting the innocent and communities from crime, and reducing the prevalence of crime in the society represent the ultimate and most fundamental measures of success for correctional and criminal justice systems. Effective, efficient, and productive correctional policies are those that do not foster further anger and resentment among offenders or produce more crime in the long-run (Petersilia, 2011). For the public, reductions in the prevalence of crime and possibilities of reoffending represent greater interests than punishing the offenders, especially considering the long-term wellbeing of the society.

Writing for the New York Times, clinical professor of psychiatry and adjunct law professor Gilligan (2012) observes that prisons (which hold offenders in custody) are highly unsuccessful in their ostensible purpose of reducing crime and promoting public safety. The author notes that two-thirds of offenders held in custody in prisons reoffend within three years of release, often engaging in a more grave and violent crime than the previous one. Facing the problem of overcrowding, correctional institutions release over 90% of prisoners to the community within a few years of conviction and imprisonment (Gilligan, 2012). This assessment presents evidence of the inefficiency of custody as a strategy in the correction and criminal justice system, presenting a strong reason to reevaluate the orientation of the correction process and reflecting the critical importance of the way in which correction systems treat offenders.

In contrast to these inefficiencies of custody, treatment of offenders represents a more effective, productive, and sustainable correctional process. Treatment concerns targeted influence on the problematic areas of offenders’ behavior, personalities, and attitudes, substitution with positive and profitable abilities, and the offer of vital support to promote offenders’ sustainable recovery and rehabilitation. Treatment involves the enforcement of restraint, rather than punishment, among offenders in ways that enhance positive behavior change and prevent repetitive offending (Gilligan, 2012). It corresponds with the ideas of modeling behavior and influencing the offenders to learn new behaviors that can minimize repetitive criminal behavior.

Attitude and personality problems and psychological illnesses contribute considerably to the prevalence of crime in the society. By targeting these problems and other factors in the offender’s life that influence a tendency to commit crime, treatment and its rehabilitative element influence positive behavior change that prevents the individual from reoffending. As elements of rehabilitation, treatment programs target the particular problems and characteristics of offenders that are changeable and predictive of criminal behavior in the future, such as substance abuse, anger control problems, and antisocial behaviors and attitudes. The treatment process features implementation in ways that are appropriate for participating offenders, applying critical and tested therapeutic techniques and cognitive and behavioral approaches to emphasize positive reinforcement of desirable behaviors (Petersilia, 2011).

Focus on treatment allows correctional systems to apply a personal and individual approach in the rehabilitation of offenders, ensuring that each offender experiences a unique program that addresses his/her specific behavior, attitude, psychological, or personality problem effectively. In such context, treatment focuses on identifying and remedying the root cause of the offender’s criminal tendencies, ensuring little possibility of the offender’s repetition of criminal behavior. Petersilia (2011) observes that in comparison to custody, treatment is more appropriate as a strategy to avoid losing the achievements of society in reducing crime by offering offenders the opportunity for effective and productive reintegration into the society. Treatment incorporates proven principles and specific strategies that are effective in reducing recidivism, thus matching ultimate public interest in the correctional system. Petersilia (2011) cites research findings that offenders who receive vocational skills training and intensive treatment against substance abuse are significantly less likely to reoffend, instead finding decent jobs and avoiding relapse.

These assessments present evidence of the greater effectiveness of treatment in comparison to custody as elements and areas of focus in a correctional system.


Petersilia, J. (2011). Beyond the Prison Bubble. National Institute of Justice Journal 268. Retrieved from:

Gilligan, J. (2012, December 19). Punishment fails. Rehabilitation works. The New York Times. Retrieved from: