Sample Essay on Punishment and Correction

Punishment and Correction

            Punishment in criminal justice system defines an infliction or even imposition of a detrimental action upon an individual or a group of people as retribution for engaging in a behavior that is considered unacceptable, violating or threatening to societal norms or rules and laws through which a societal group is controlled. According to Mackenzie (2), such detrimental actions may be in form of a penalty, fine, imprisonment or even denial of something important. Punishment in the justice system is usually undertaken formally through an existing legal system or informally through certain social settings. The study as well as the practice of perpetuating punishment in criminal justice system is popularly known as penology. It can as well be termed as correction or even correctional process when employed in the modern context. This definition shows that the term punishment and the correction are closely intertwined, and hence, research into punishment can as well be closely related to research in correction (Mackenzie 4).

On the other hand, the term correction, which is often defined under the same umbrella as corrections as well as correctional, defines a variety of actions undertaken by the legal agency against persons proven guilty of certain crimes. As explained by Mackenzie (5), correctional functions can include punishment, rehabilitation, as well as supervision of convicted individuals. Such persons can be sentenced to prison or put under probation or parole. The prison serves as the basic correctional institution while the penal system serves as the basic correctional system that a network of legal agencies employ in administering justice through prisons as well as community-based programs that include probation and parole. The correctional system constitutes to a part of a wider justice system that may additional comprise of the police, courts as well as prosecution (Mackenzie 6). This paper explores how punishment and correction in today’s justice system operate.

Punishment and correction within the justice system

            The past thirty years have been characterized by significant transformations in the philosophies and practices of punishment and corrections in the justice system. As explained by Mackenzie (9), there was a strong emphasizes on rehabilitation that prevailed in the initial seven decades of the twentieth century. This emphasis, which later gave way at the beginning of 1970s to concentrate on fairness as well as justice, was primarily driven by the utilitarian motive, which defined the type of punishment instilled on individuals. However, punishment translated into a crime-control model, which led to greater emphasis on imprisonment as a way to deter crime on the wider community. This crime-control model gained popularity particularly in 1980s as well as 1990s. As a result, a great deal of transformation on punishment and correction policies as well as practices have continually been witnessed throughout history, which has partly been driven by certain goals, which include retribution, rehabilitation, crime deterrence as well as incapacitation (Mackenzie 12).

Retribution is guided by the popular “just desert”, which states that people that break the law ought to be punished while rehabilitation, deterrence as well as incapacitation are guided by the utilitarian motive intended to protect the public. Although punishment usually addresses any of these goals in practice, emphasis regarding the particular goal that should be given the highest priority has significantly changed in the past thirty years. This has in return impacted the number of people under correctional supervision, which has primarily been as a result of drastic changes in philosophies as well as practices employed in punishment and corrections (Mackenzie13).

As established by Mackenzie (15), drastic changes in punishment and correctional philosophies have constantly been accompanied by drastic growth in offender populations. Between 1930 and 1975, the typical incarceration rate was estimated at 106 convicts per every 100,000 adults in a given community. While these years defined the indeterminate sentencing as well as rehabilitation, it witnessed slight fluctuation in the number of offenders from the estimated low of 93 to 137 offenders for every 100,000 persons. Incarceration rates however increased drastically after 1975 and by 1985, the rate of incarcerated individuals particularly in state as well as federal prisons reached 202 offenders per every 100,000 adults in the wider community (Mackenzie 18). This rate continued growing and by 1995 and 1997 it had reached                                      411 and 445 offenders for every 100,000 adults respectively. The end of 1998 saw over 1.3 million offenders serving under the Federal as well as State jurisdictions while over 1.8 million offenders were incarcerated in jails or prisons.

As argued by Mackenzie (20), increases in correctional rates were not only evident in jails as well as prisons but there was also drastic increase in the number of probationers as well as parolees. Statistical evidence indicates that correctional population grew by 217% from 1.8milion in 1980s to 5.7 million in 1997. During the same period, the number of offenders serving under probation grew by 191%, those under parole grew by 213% and those in prisons grew by 271%. This led to about four million adults serving either under probation or parole and there were about 1705 probationers for every 100,000 adults as well as 352 parolees per 100,000 adults by 1998 (Mackenzie 21).

Growth in overall prison population has been witnessed in every State as well as Federal prison. The number of individuals serving under probation, parole or in prison as well as changes in these numbers over time has significantly increased between states. There have also been significant differences in correctional populations on basis of gender, race as well as ethnicity. Women initially constituted to the smallest percentage of the entire correctional population in 1970s. Their incarceration rate has however increased at a faster pace compared to that of men. As reported by Mackenzie (22), the rate of incarceration among females in United States was eleven offenders per 100,000 females in 1980 compared to 275 males. This rate however grew by 436% reaching 59 offenders per 100,000 females compared to 232% increase reaching 913 offenders per 100,000 males in 1999. Similarly, minority males recorded the highest incarceration rate as well as the highest growth rates over time. Incarceration rate among African American males shifted from 554 to 1564 for every 100,000 between 1980 and 1996 compared to increase from 206 to 610 among Hispanic males and increase from 74 to 193 among white males during the same period.

As a consequence of drastic increase in correctional population, there has also been a significant increase in expenses associated with punishment and corrections over the last thirty years. According to Mackenzie (24), annual direct expenses linked to correctional activities undertaken by State authorities increased from 4.31 billion dollars to 21.27 billion dollars from 1980 to 1994. Most of these expenditures were mainly used to support institution-based punitive actions rather than correctional programs that include probation, parole as well as community-based corrections. Similarly, the fund proportions set aside for individual institutions increased dramatically during the same period. as reported by Mackenzie (25), punitive institutions accounted for about 80% of the overall correctional expenditure in 1980 but this increased to about 83.5% by 1994. Although the number of offenders under probation as well as parole was growing at a higher rate compared to that of prisoners, expenditure for the correctional programs declined significantly from 19.8% to 16.7% within the same period. This can however be explained by the fact that the cost of keeping prisoners in an institution is generally higher compared to that of community supervision.

Although various factors can explain the growing incarceration rates that have been witnessed within the last years, a key factor that can best be used to explain this perspective is the tendency of the justice system to rely on indeterminacy. As argued by Mackenzie (26), the Federal government and all the states in the US employed an indeterminate punitive system that concentrated on rehabilitating juvenile as well as adult offenders. On basis of this system, legislative authorities set maximum punishments that offenders could face, which ranged from imprisonment, probation, parole as well as fines that were based on certain predetermined maximum sentences. The system also allowed courts to punish offenders by incarcerating them for particular periods that ranged between one day and life. A basic idea that distinguished the indeterminate system was individualization of punishment (Mackenzie 27). This is because offenders would be put into prison to serve for a particular time ranging between the predetermined minimum and maximum jail term and only released when they are fully rehabilitated.

The decision pertaining to their release was solely the responsibility of prison authorities as well as the parole board. These officials were given basic power to tailor dispensation of any treatment needed for individual convicts. The primary goals behind the indeterminate system were to deter new crimes, enhance rehabilitation and correction of the convicts as well as protect the convicts from excessive, unacceptable and arbitrary punishment. Two beliefs founded on psychological and environmental explanations seemed to support the indeterminate punishment and correction system (Mackenzie 28). The environmental explanations stated that the inner-city’s slum environment is greatly wretched, and hence, there was need to devise an effective strategy through which growing populations could be held responsible for any upcoming criminal behaviors.

On the other hand, the psychological explanations assumed that offenders are usually ill and hence are always in need of treatment. These explanations perpetuated the implementation of the indeterminate system, which was believed to be solely responsible for converting offenders into law abiding citizens. As a result, prosecutors were increasingly urged to make discriminative charge decisions by ensuring that incarcerated offenders are not released or even diverted to non-criminal treatment approaches (Mackenzie 29). From these explanations, it is obvious that the indeterminate system was solely rehabilitative in nature and offenders were primarily subjected to community-based treatment, reintegration, vocational training as well as employment programs. The programs however proved ineffective especially because they were poorly executed as well as funded.

The introduction of the indeterminate punishment and correction system in 1960s was governed by great optimism that this new frontier represented an effective strategy through which law as well as order could be maintained. The dawn of 1970 however ushered in a great deal of despairing distrust upon the state, which led to drastic change in polices guiding punishment and correction in the justice system. This was because the rehabilitative ideal guiding the indeterminate system relied on trust in legislative officials to make decisions that could be used to reform offenders.

Observers thus started questioning the reluctance of the legislative decision makers to give preferential sentences to those who deserved it but instead sought to coerce offenders into conformity (Mackenzie 30). As such, they wished to return to the previous era when the society was governed by law as well as order, and hence, they launched war against the indeterminate system in order to restore the social order. This signaled the dawn of a new era within the justice system that was marked by significant revolution of punishment and correction polices as well as practices. As explained by Mackenzie (32), a notable influence towards this revolution was a report compiled by Robert Martinson, which elaborated the results of research evaluations undertaken between 1945 and 1968. In this report, Martinson concluded that the rehabilitative efforts, with only a few exceptions, did not have any appreciable impact on recidivism. This led to a popular interpretation of the rehabilitative efforts as being ineffective in deterring crime or even protecting the wider society.

A proposed solution to the various problems as well as shortcomings associated with the indeterminate system was to reintroduce the “justice” model of punishment and correction. This would in return usher in a more just punishment and correction system that would allow sentences to be determined on basis of fair sentencing polices. According to Mackenzie (34), this new model was based on the retributive perception of deserved punishment where punitive and correctional sentence would match the crime committed. Advocates of this model argued that neither the offenders nor the punitive and correctional facilities could be used to meet societal needs, which included rehabilitation. Instead, the justice system was expected to use punishment approaches that would match the type of crime committed rather than serving as means to perpetuate utilitarian motives like rehabilitation as well as crime control. The justice model of punishment and correction in the justice system perpetuated significant repercussions on public policy. For instance, the model demanded that offenders would be given sufficient procedural protection at every level of criminal justice activity. On this note, offenders’ legal rights became detrimental both for courts and correctional agencies (Mackenzie 35). Although rehabilitation was primarily voluntary, the introduction of the justice model perpetuated the greatest policy impact by demanding for transition from indeterminate to determinate punishment and correction. Under the determinate approach to punishment and correction, a particular crime would be associated with clearly defined sentence length rather than the broadly defined maximum or minimum sentence. Release under parole would be abolished while sentence lengths would be decided on basis of guidelines that only looked at the present as well as past convict’s criminal activities.

While supporters of the justice model debated for the abandonment of the rehabilitative model, others debated for greater crime control by use of incapacitation and deterrence model. As argued by Mackenzie (37), the need to introduce this model was justified by the belief among the law-and-order proponents that held that the rehabilitation model was only responsible for coddling criminals. They thus advocated for the implementation of policies that limit the ability of courts and correctional officials to manipulate criminal sanctions but instead allow mandatory sentences with determinate durations to be instilled on offenders. According to the incapacitation concept, criminals cannot engage in further crime as long as they are incarcerated. Interest in adopting incapacitation and crime deterrence strategy intensified in 1970s following drastic increase in crime rates and the subsequent intensification in public fear pertaining to crime. As a result, most people have widely accepted the notion that crime deterrence through incapacitation is the basic justification of incarceration (Mackenzie 38).

It is equally accepted that certain individuals should be put behind bars for a long time as a retribution for the high intensity of impact perpetuated by their crime as well as because they pose threats to the public if released. However, there is a wide range of questions relating to the extent to which the incapacitation and deterrence strategy should be implemented as well as whether it is cost-effective. Supporters of the incapacitation strategy argue that cost effectiveness could be enhanced through incarceration of only a small, keenly selected category of dangerous as well as repeat criminals. Others argue that a general incapacitation strategy that allow for incarceration of only a sizeable number of felons could be adopted. As a result, the success of incapacitation and deterrence strategy in preventing crime has remained controversial (Mackenzie 39).

In addition to debates supporting as well as opposing various sentencing models, other factors have impacted the concept of punishment and corrections within the justice system, which can further elaborate its current state. According to Mackenzie (40), the popular drug war has left an interminable mark on punishment and corrections in the twenty first century. Development of criminal sanctions relating to drug crimes started in 1970s but gained momentum in 1980s following declaration of the drug war as well as the implementation of the 1986 Anti-Drug Act. From a criminal control viewpoint, it was thought that intensifying arrests as well as punishments for drug-related crimes would deter illicit drug use as well as sales. This however had and continues to have significant effect on correctional populations as well as minorities. As explained by Mackenzie (Mackenzie 41), imprisonment of drug criminals was and continues to be the major factor contributing to the overall increase in incarceration rates. In 1980, imprisoned drug offenders were estimated to be about 15 for every 100,000 adults. The impact of drug led to a drastic increase in this population to about 148 offenders, which explains why incarcerated drug related criminals make up to 60% of the total prison population.

Introduction of intermediate sanctions have also impacted punishments and corrections within the justice system. As a result of significant disappointments with rehabilitation, focus on justice as well as the incapacitation sentencing models, intermediate sanctions were put in place in order to pave way for a variety of sanctions that could interlink probation and parole. From a theoretical point of view, this range of sanctions could be expanded of narrowed down on basis of severity to match seriousness of the particular offences committed. Additionally, sanctions were intended to either prevent or incapacitate offenders from committing future criminal offenses. As a result of this impact, most jurisdictions in the US have implemented certain forms of intermediate sanctions programs (Mackenzie 42). These sanction programs have previously been referred to as correctional alternatives, community corrections as well as intermediate alternatives. Correctional options are the most recent form of intermediate sanctions while controlled probations, paroles, camp prisons as well as house arrests constitute to the most basic forms of intermediate sanctions.

Truth-in-sentencing is equally another factor that has impacted punishment and corrections within the justice system. As argued by Mackenzie (43), the total amount of time that a criminal serve behind bars is usually shorter compared to the total time that their sentence in court requires them to. For instance, offenders released from prison in 1996 served for an average of 30 months, which equivalent to about 44% of their 85 month initially defined sentence. This is contrary to the indeterminate sentencing model that only allowed decisions to be made by experts operating in low-visibility settings and hence was unlikely to be impacted by public sentiments. Although the last three decades have been characterized by restrictive policies that demand for longer sentences and standardized sentencing, prison overcrowding as well as good-time reductions have continually perpetuated early release of inmates (Mackenzie 44).


            Punishment and correction are two important intertwined concepts that form the basis of the justice system. These concepts have experienced drastic transformation over the last thirty years, which is due to the constant changes in sentencing philosophies as well as practices. These transformations have equally linked to the constant increase in correctional populations that tend to be biased on basis of race, ethnicity as well as gender. Incarceration rates have been higher among African American men compared to Hispanics and whites. They have also increased at a higher rate among women compared to men. These changes have also been accompanied by increasing costs linked to punishment and correction with greater costs being witnessed in correctional institutions than in community-based correctional programs. The various models that have been introduced in the justice system with the sole intention to govern the punishment and correction aspects include indeterminate, justice as well as the incapacitation and crime deterrence models. In addition to these models, other factors, including drug war, truth-in-sentencing and introduction of intermediate sanctions have impacted punishment and corrections within the justice system.

Work Cited

Mackenzie, Doris. Sentencing and Corrections in the 21st Century: Setting the Stage for the Future. Available at: