Saturday, November 18, 2017
Rehabilitation Versus Incapacitation
By Jeorald Pitts
Published November 18, 2011

Jeorald Pitts

With 2011 Marking the 221st birth year of the first U.S Penitentiary. It’s unfortunate that the Philosophical Course that our prison systems should be operating under is still being debated. Penitentiaries were originally constructed as a place to send offenders or sinners for penitence and punishment. Connoting the name penitentiary.

If you look up the word penitence in the dictionary it will lead you to the word; (repent) which means: to reform one life: to rehabilitate. Today the model has shifted to incapacitation and punish, with emphasis on both Thus, turning our penitentiaries, prison, facilities and departments into huge human warehouses with big revolving doors, which, I’ll referred to as recidivism. I first want to state my biasness with this particular topic. Where upon, I am a current victim of the adverse effects of incapacitation. So I’ve decided to gather some facts from an un-bias source. A college text book entitled: Understanding Social Problem by Linda Mooney. Also, I will offer you some poignant narrative from a law book entitled: Georgetown law Journal. As I would like to make sure both sides of this issue receive their due share of attention.

Rehabilitation Versus Incapacitation is a important debate concerning the primary purpose of the Criminal Justice system: Is it to rehabilitate offenders or to incapacitate them through incarceration. Both are concerned with recidivism rates, or the extent to which criminals commit another crime. Advocates of rehabilitation believes that recidivism can be reduced by changing the criminal. Where as, proponents of incapacitation think that recidivism can best be reduced by placing offenders in prison so that they are unable to commit further crimes against the general public. The fear of crime has led to a public emphasis on incapacitation and a demand for tougher mandatory sentences, a reduction in the use of probation and parole, support of a “three strike and you’re out” policy, and tough in sentencing law. However, these tough measures have recently come under attack for three reasons. First, research indicates that incarceration may not deter crime. Thus, over 700,000 people are released from confinement every year and over half of them will be back in prison within three years. (Pew 2008) Second, is the accusation that get-tough measures, such as California’s “three strike and your out policy, are not equally applied. Analysis of over 170,000 California inmates indicates that African American compared to Whites and Hispanics are more likely to receive “third-strike sentences”, with the greatest racial disparities being for property and drug offenses. Similarly, males are more likely to receive third-strike sentences then females. Finally, in a environment of budget deficits and legislative cuts, states simply can no longer afford the policies of decades ago. At a total cost of $50 billion in 2008, state corrections spending out paced budget increases in education, transportation, and public assistance (Pew 2009). As a response to the economic down turn and concerns over the effectiveness of get-tough policies, many states are rethinking correctional polices-closing prisons, eliminating mandatory sentencing, replacing jail time with community-based programs, and providing treatment rather then punishment for non-serious drug offenders. Clearly, sentencing more offenders for longer periods of time to confinement enhances incapacitation.

The United States incarcerates more people then any other country in the world-over 2.3 million yet, the U.S. is not ranked number one in the world in crime rate. Examinations of global rates are even more revealing. The U.S incarceration rate of 750 per 100,000 population exceeds many time over those of other counties; for Germany’s rate is 93 and France’s is 85 (Pew 2008). The U.S. incarceration rate has grown at an alarming rate-700 percent between 1950 and 2005, and despite a general decrease in crime, it is expected to continue to grow, with greatest increases being in the west, the south and the Midwest (Pew 2007). Growth means more needed funds, at an average prisoner cost of 29,000 a year, state are relying more and more on community alternatives, including probation and parole. Prison spending out paces all but Medicaid (N.Y. Times).

Some argue that new technologies (e.g. global positioning system) coupled with research-based treatment and reentry programs “can produce double digest reduction in recidivism and save states money along the way. From 1970-2000, while the over all U.S. general population increased by about 40 percent, the rate of incarceration increased by a staggering 500 percent. To cope with the ever-increasing numbers of prisoners, federal and state goverments opened an average a new prison a week between 1985-2000 siphoning off dollars that might otherwise be available for roads, hospitals and schools. (Which I believe schools to be the best preventive tool from prison). If this Country had seen a 700 percent increase in unemployment, in leukemia, in taxation, certainly it would be making headlines. If two-thirds of patients leaving a hospital had to be readmitted soon thereafter, the public would quickly find a new place to be treated. However, somehow we can read statistics like these about incarceration, incapacitation and recidivism and feel at best numb, at worst smugly satisfied that criminals are being locked away. I believe that society can’t afford to sit back and just observe. We have to fight for rehabilitation. If not for morality reasons, then for our own financial self-interest as a country. I end this with a quote from Victor Hugo who once said, “He who opens a school door closes a prison”. I believe this to apply even if the school door that opens is in prison.

Jeorald Pitts/Lil Tone is the fonder of the non-profit org. C.H.A.N.G.E.S. (Community Helping Adolescence Needing Guidance Education & Support). Author of To Bang or Not To Bang-A book of questions. Now available at your preferred online bookstores. Mr. Pitts can be reached at


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