Jail Time and Death Penalty: Finding New Ways to Deter Criminal Behavior
Jail Time and Death Penalty: A Deterrent?
For years many law enforcement agencies have relied on the assumption that jail time or the death penalty serve as adequate deterrents to crime or criminal activity. However multiple studies confirm that jail time and the death penalty are not effective methods alone for deterring criminals. Because of this it is important that law enforcement agents, government officials and community members work together to uncover effective tools for deterring crime and discouraging criminals from repeating crimes after release.
Jail time and the death penalty do not deter crime. Early Gallup Polls conducted in the 1980s and 1990s show that while roughly two thirds of Americans and law enforcement agents support the death penalty, there is inadequate evidence supporting its use as an effective deterrent to crime (Akers & Radelet, 1996). Many assume that the death penalty is legitimate under the assumption that people who commit a crime should pay on a level similar to that of the crime they commit. However, much of capital punishment support rests on the notion that capital punishment is an effective deterrent for crime (Pierce & Radelet, 1991).
While there is some evidence that suggests the death penalty may be an effective deterrent, most of this research is flawed methodologically and conceptually (Akers & Radelet, 1996). Multiple studies support the notion that the death penalty is no more effective than long-term imprisonment which also has its shortcomings (Akers & Radelet, 1996). There is in fact "wide consensus among America's top criminologists that scholarly research demonstrates that the death penalty does little to reduce crime rates related to violence" (Adkers & Radelet, 1996:15).
Jail time serves as an equally inefficient deterrent, with most criminals going on to repeat some heinous crimes. There are multiple criminal theories and bodies of research that have addressed deterrence in the past. "Interrupted time series studies" have examined the effects of specific policies and interventions on criminal activity; examples include police "crackdowns" on drug abuse in certain markets (Tonry, 2000: 345). Studies in this area suggest that these interventions may have a temporary affect but not a long lasting one to deter crime. Basically criminals exposed to such situations simply tend to 'lay low' for a period of time and resume activity as usual. Interventions however like this may serve a preliminary deterrent effect, hence when combined with other therapies including possibly intervention may result in more long lasting effects much more efficient than jail time alone for reducing crime rates (Tonry, 2000). These studies do confirm the notion that jail time and death penalty alone are not adequate interventions for deterring criminal activity.
Within the United States roughly five to eight times the number of people per capita are imprisoned than in Western European nations despite similar crime rates; the number of federal and state prisons alone in the U.S. has increased more than 500% in the last few decades (Monthly Review, 2001). Many consider the state of prisons in the United States a social crisis of sorts of "the highest magnitude" that needs immediate resolution (Monthly Review, 2001:1). Despite increasingly high incarceration rates little evidence suggests that prisons are actually serving a beneficial purpose, which is to deter crimes among criminals or reduce the rates of recidivism or repeat crimes among offenders (Monthly Review, 2001). That leads us to a discussion on the rapidly increasing rates of crime throughout the nation.
Part II -- New Methods of Solving Crime
Crime is on the rise, thus law enforcement agents must discover new ways for deterring criminals. In the past the primary method of deterrence adopted by law enforcement agents was apprehension and punishment. Since the dawn of time law enforcement agents have captured 'criminals' and assigned punishment fitting for their crime. Have these actions truly reduced crime? Studies suggest that traditional methods including incarceration are not effective for reducing crime and if anything may increase the overall crime rate or risk of repeat crime from offenders once released from prison (Tonry, 2000).
Despite these facts the number of people incarcerated every year for petty and serious offenses is growing. As mentioned previous within the West more citizens are incarcerated than in any other region of the world. This suggests that crime is on the rise and jail terms are not stopping the rates of recidivism. Studies suggest that jails are increasingly overcrowded and resources are lacking for supporting even the current criminal base (Tonry, 2000). Is creating new prisons a solution? Not necessarily. Creating new prisons would only exacerbate the problem, increasing the number of criminals incarcerated but not helping reform criminals or reduce the rates of repeat offenses.
Creation of new prisons isn't an option anyway in most areas of the country. Many state budgets are stretched so thin they can't afford to house repeat offenders, hence jail terms are prematurely shorted making room for new offenders in many cases (Kupers & Reynolds, 1999). This may contribute to increasing crime rates as prisoners realize they will not been punished for significant lengths of time if incarcerated anyway due to overcrowding. Many may view prison as a brief respite from their activity and actually learn new ways of conducting more serious crimes while imprisoned (Tonry, 2000). Recent reports suggest that crime is increasingly on the rise also among juvenile offenders, who if not properly rehabilitated end up reverting to crime and becoming incarcerated for adult criminal activity (Kupers & Reynolds, 1999). Juvenile crime often leads to adult crime, thus it is important that law enforcement agents also look at his subpopulation when determining effective methods and techniques for crime prevention and deterrence.
Much of the data available suggests that most prisoners are not 'paying' adequately for their crimes even when incarcerated. Roughly 95% of first time offenders are released within fie years. Many also turn into repeat offenders, to be locked up again within a short period of time (Kupers & Reynolds, 1999). Still others studies suggest that in 1998 more than 1.8 million people were incarcerated, more than double the number that were jailed the decade previous (Kupers & Reynolds, 1999). Some may even consider prison a better lifestyle than they were accustomed to in the street, with free food, television and other luxuries not afforded those living in the lowest socio-demographic populations (Kupers & Reynolds, 1999).
Studies show that within the United States offenders are routinely imprisoned longer than two years, the harshest penalties in the West with 39% of prisoners sentenced to ten years or more and with more than 125 for every 100,000 citizens in jail at any one time or another (Tonry, 2000). Crime and appropriate punishment have longed lurked as an important issue within government agencies. Policies and institutions have consistently transformed in an attempt to address the problem of crime and recidivism in the states. However thus far crime has not actually been controlled. More and more people are looking to foreign models for guidance, where the philosophy an "eye for an eye" has often been adopted to deter criminal activity successfully (Tonry, 2000). Unfortunately such tactics are often considered too harsh or too brutal, though in essence the death penalty is somewhat modeled from this idea.
Controlling crime has actually been the "center of partisan politics and policies" in recent years as scientists and journalists attempt to determine what methods to best adopt to deal with crime (Tonry, 2000: 4). In recent years an "unprecedented increase in the number of people in prisons and jails" has been realized, with the rates for violent and property crimes rising significantly (Tonry, 2000: 10). Studies waffle between suggesting that increasing imprisonment has caused higher crime rates and that increased imprisonment has had little or no effect on crime rates (Tonry, 2000). One thing is certain; jail time is not reducing criminal activity or reforming criminals as a way to prevent crime in the future.
Law enforcement agents are looking at new ways to measure crime rates to avoid distortion of data (Tonry, 2000). Much of the studies that have been conducted thus far however have failed to result in conclusions regarding the effects incarceration rates and jail time have on crime or crime deterrence; at best they suggest that jail time has not had a positive effect on crime rates (Tonry, 2000). These studies however may be helpful for creating new deterrence programs that will help rehabilitate criminals or would be criminals. Rehabilitation is often considered the last possible choice that law enforcement agents may have to effectively deter crime and reduce the rates of recidivism within the United States.
Part III -- Rehabilitation as a Deterrent
Behavioral therapy and counseling may help reform young criminals and prevent them from committing future crimes more so than jail time. Rehabilitation programs may be the key to reducing and deterring crime in the long-term. Much of the research available in criminology suggests that young people are…