Criminal Justice Paper on Rehabilitation and Punishment in the Criminal Justice System

Traditionally, the generally perceived hallmark of the correctional system is the retribution of wrongdoers. As a rule, society expects the criminal justice system to punish criminals and ensure that they do not repeat their wrongs through behavior correction or long-term sentencing. , Punishment seems to be the primary objective of the criminal systems from a social perspective. However, this premise is inconclusive and raises numerous queries such as, how are offenders held answerable for their societal responsibility? Is denying criminals their freedoms enough to pay for their wrongdoing? Are the prescribed punishments sufficient to reduce crime? According to Johnson (2019), the large number of repeat offenders in society indicates that the traditional setup of the criminal justice systems may need to be re-evaluated.


The term ‘punishment’ is used to describe pain. However, when dealing with criminal justice, this is not the case. According to Washington (1995), punishment is “the legal process whereby violators of criminal law are condemned and sanctioned per specified legal categories and procedures” (12). Currently, criminals are punished in three ways; deprivation, incarceration, and in some cases, death. Fines, as well as other prohibitions such as revocation of licenses, can be used to punish offenders; this is what is identified as deprivation. Livingstone, Macdonald, and Carr, (2010) define this action as a legal and systematic means of depriving individuals of their constitutional rights because of their unlawful activities. In instances that the acts are defined as a felony, the wrongdoers are charged through a fair process and incarcerated. Incarceration is synonymous in prisons and other correctional facilities, which are systematically designed to detain individuals found guilty of serious criminal acts.  If the crime committed is heinous; for instance, murder, a death sentence may be the best punishment.


The society expects the criminal justice to change a criminal through reintegration with social norms. However, the “nothing works” conclusions of Martinson in 1974 de-popularized rehabilitative ideals; nevertheless, due to a high turnover in repeat offenders the criminal justice system has reverted to adopting rehabilitation policies (Washington, 1995). According to Johnson (2019), rehabilitation comprises various programs such as mental health, substance abuse assistance, and educational services. Furthermore, there are currently specialty programs that have been designed for women, sex offenders, and parolees to aid them in seamlessly integrating with the community.

Punishment vs. Rehabilitation

Hypothetically, potential offenders are expected to have deterrence from criminality due to the severity and celerity of the potential sanctions when deciding to act unlawfully. The higher the severity and celerity of the potential sanctions, the less likely for an individual to commit a crime. However, this premise is theoretical and up to argument due to the high percentage of repeat offenders released from jail. According to Johnson (2019), from 1990 to 2014, it was estimated that 76.6 % of individuals released from prison would be rearrested and convicted within five years of release. Such figures indicate that punishments may not be effective in reducing crime. Some wrongdoings such as drug crimes are traditionally a consequence of an individual’s issues. Research by Washington (1995), indicated that when dealing with individuals convicted with such crimes, punishment in the form of incarceration, as prompted by the “tough on crime”, do not solve the problem effectively. Consequently, in several jurisdictions across the globe, judges are mandated to sentence offenders to compulsory substance abuse aid programs   instead of incarceration, particularly if it is the offender’s first offense. Such treatment programs are developed to help individuals to overcome their addiction problems. Parole and treatment are traditionally employed to help minor offenders; however, for individuals convicted of other serious crimes, rehabilitation does not have to begin once an offender is released from prison. Currently, most correctional facilities have programs designed to help inmates adjust to conditions outside of prison once they are released. These programs are primarily designed to provide them with job skills, overcome drug and alcohol abuse difficulties, or help in dealing with common challenges they may face upon release. As indicated by Johnson (2019), some in-prison programs comprise of adult education courses and job skills workshops. Additionally, many of criminal justice system allow offenders to maintain contact outside world, which also helps make reintegration easier upon release.


The criminal justice system has for years been perceived as an institution that keeps the society safe by making criminals pay for their social debt. Therefore, retribution is the primary objective of the justice system; however, data from recent history has shown that the rate of repeat offenders has been on the rise thus bringing the question the efficiency of punishment. Over the years, criminology experts have been able to figure out that in most cases whereby an offender has engaged in a first-time offense and has no criminal record, there is always a trigger. Not all criminals have a deviant mentality. Punishment may not necessarily be the best form of dealing with such cases. From the information provided, it could be argued that rehabilitation is the best way to reduce crime, as it helps in reducing any cases of Recidivism and stimulating easier social acceptance for former offenders.



Johnson, B. D. (2019). Trials and tribulations: The trial tax and the process of punishment. Crime and Justice48(1), 000-000.

Livingstone, N., Macdonald, G., & Carr, N. (2010). Restorative justice conferencing for reducing recidivism in young offenders. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (12).

Washington, L. F. (1995). Rehabilitation: The enigma within the Illinois Department of Corrections.