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The objective of punishment in criminal law is perhaps the noblest and most humane: rehabilitation of the offender.

Punishment as a Means of Rehabilitation and Reform: Criminal Law Fundamentals


The objective of punishment in criminal law is perhaps the noblest and most humane: rehabilitation of the offender. It is only when a citizen’s criminal inclinations are “cured” (in a way of speaking) that society is not only protected from future damage but also becomes a more productive member of society as a result of that citizen’s successful re-entry that society benefits from that member’s achievement. In a win-win scenario, both society and criminal offenders profit from the outcome of a case.

Rehabilitation as a Philosophical Position

Rehabilitation is a very good purpose for punishment from an idealogical standpoint. When one imagines the effective widespread rehabilitation of society’s offenders, it is a joyful and lovely thought. If only adult offenders could be properly rehabilitated, the phenomena of crime would be all but eradicated, and criminal crimes would be limited to juvenile delinquency and the rare act of passion from that point forth.

If only it were the case. Many people believe that rehabilitating criminals is beneficial, although there is little evidence to support this claim. However, there are compelling grounds against putting too much emphasis on rehabilitation, not the least of which is the fact that it is often ineffective. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1994, more than sixty percent of criminal offenders who were released from correctional institutions in the United States were arrested again within three years or less. Fifty percent of the money was returned to the system. The high incidence of recidivism in the criminal justice system is a significant argument against the efficacy of rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. Efforts to truly change major offenders are time-consuming and problematic, and they come at a greater financial cost to taxpayers. No matter how wonderful and admirable the notion of transforming criminals into useful members of society may be, the numbers alone speak powerfully against such an endeavour as a whole.

On the other hand, it is undoubtedly a stretch to claim that criminal offenders are inherently undeserving of rehabilitation attempts and that it is preferable for them to suffer as a result of their crimes without receiving any assistance or relief from their crimes. Perhaps. It is possible that many criminals in the actual world are completely unreformable, and that any attempt to rehabilitate them would be a waste of time and money. Aside from that, the suffering of crime victims and their families cannot be ignored or rationalised away, and denying them any sense of fulfilled retribution might be seen as a catastrophic failure on the part of the legal system. However, taking everything into consideration, it is at the very least possible for a community that values the precept “innocent until proved guilty” to someday put equal importance on the precept “reformable unless proven otherwise.” Of course, the only way to show this is to put yourself in that position.