Forced denial of freedom is widely used in different jurisdictions as an
effective means of behavioral correction. This is achieved through a
legal and government sponsored judicial system, where persons charged
with law breaking of crime convicts are confined in prison or jail, a
process that is commonly known as incarceration. Incarceration refers to
the state of being confined or imprisoned either in jail or in prison
(The free Dictionary 1). The law permits police officers to arrest law
breakers and responsibility to the judicial system to incarcerate the
convicts. Incarceration is widely debated issue with major question
being whether incarceration is sufficient to deter crime and effect the
change of behavior. Effectiveness of incarceration can only be
determined by evaluating its history and what have been achieved in the
past. Although there are several alternatives of behavior correction
(such as conditional sentencing and restorative justice) incarceration
is the absolute answer to the crime problem.
History of incarceration
Incarceration has gained popularity in the criminal jurisdiction system,
but the introduction of prisons was a replacement of harsher forms of
sanctions that were used before the eighteenth century. Between the
sixteenth and eighteenth century different forms of sanctions (such as
pillory, ducking stool, and whipping) were designed with the primary
objective of shaming the suspects and deter other people from committing
similar crimes (Howard League for Penalty Reform 1). In the sixteenth
century, people were held in prison before trial or waiting for
punishment to be executed. Research has also shown that early prisons
were poorly maintained and people were held together irrespective of
their age or gender. Opposition of death penalty grew in the eighteenth
century, and was only allowed for serious offenses. However, there some
that could not be deterred by common forms of punishment (including
corporal punishment) and offenders of this category did not deserve the
death penalty. This created the necessity of eliminating this category
of offenders from the society through incarceration. This marked the
beginning of incarceration as an acceptable form of judicial punishment.
Classification of inmates and incarceration facilities
Incarceration facilities vary with the level of security required to
control the inmates in each facility. The federal system of
incarceration code its facility with numbers where the level six is
considered to be the most secure with number one being the worst (Shane
1). The state incarceration system, on the other hand, classifies prison
facility as either maximum of minimum. Violent inmates are incarcerated
in the maximum security facility, which are designed for one or two
persons and controlled with remote slide doors. The minimum
incarceration units were designed for less violent inmates. This
category of inmates is considered less risky to public and they are
allowed to work on community projects under supervision. However, there
are other incarceration units that are designed for special groups of
persons including the youth detention facility, military prisons, and
political prisons, open facilities, psychiatric facilities, and supermax
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in spite of the
fact that it contains a small percentage of the world’s population.
The rate of growth in size of the incarcerated population remained
relatively stable until in 1970s when the rate quintuple by the year
2008. The researcher also identified that the highest increase in the
rate of incarceration resulted from significant surge in the rate of
incarceration of persons above 45 years, which offset the rate of
imprisonment of the young adults. In addition, rates of incarceration
differ by race and gender. A study has shown that female inmates make up
about 90 % of the incarcerated population while the rate of incarcerated
women has been declining with time (Goode 1). Moreover, racial sensitive
findings have shown that the rate of incarceration of the black
population has established a falling trend.
Purpose of incarceration
Different philosophies of incarceration have been formulated in an
attempt to explain the primary goal of incarcerating perpetrators of
crime. The development of varying philosophies resulted from the
different perception of the public about the role of the criminal
judicial system. Incarceration plays three major roles. First, the
process of incarceration segregates criminals in order to protect
innocent members of society for their delinquent actions (Goode 1).
Incarceration has been proven to be more an effective way of protecting
society compared to alternative methods such as reintegration of
offenders into society. Research has shown that offenders tend to commit
more crime during the community reintegration session (Holden 4). This
necessitates their separation from the society and confines them to
reduce opportunities for them to engage in delinquent behavior.
Secondly, incarceration provides an opportunity for players in the
criminal judicial system to rehabilitate offenders with an objective of
reducing the chances of relapse into criminal activities. Substantial
progress has been made to improve the incarceration facilities and
convert them from mere places of criminal isolation to rehab centers.
For example, some educational programs have been introduced in the
incarceration facilities to develop the inmates psychologically,
emotionally, and in discipline (Holden 9). In addition, the criminal
judicial service provides mental and health support services to a larger
population of inmates (about 51 %) with crimes related to drugs. This
category of crime is often compounded by mental disorders. The
researcher also identified that peer support and mentorship during and
after incarceration reduces recidivism and deters criminal behavior.
This implies that incarceration benefits both the society and the
incarcerated persons who are supported in the behavioral reform process
to enable them become productive members of the society and reduce their
conflict with the criminal judicial system.
Third, incarceration is a swift and certain form of punishment that has
the capacity to reduce recidivism and delinquent behavior. Research
shows that threatening with low probability and severe form of
punishment is more effective in reducing repeated offending and has
milder alternatives (Holden 5). The researcher evaluated the
effectiveness of incarceration in reduced relapse into crime in Hawaii
under a program known as the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with
Enforcement (HOPE). The findings of this article indicated that
incarceration reduced probability of being arrested for new offenses by
55 %, 77 % likelihood of relapse to substance abuse, and 53 % chance of
probation being revoked. These were the effects of incarceration among
the inmates who perceived incarceration to be a form of punishment.
However, there are other suggestions that incarceration is an
improvement of living standard to some inmates, especially those who
come from poor backgrounds. Despite the presence of some varying views,
the effect of punishment, which is inflicted through incarceration, in
reducing recidivism cannot be overlooked.
Mechanisms through which incarceration deters crime
Incarceration is currently perceived to be the most effective method of
deterring crime in the society. This approach of crime control achieves
its goal in two ways namely incapacitation and deterrence (Abrahams
1-3). The concept of deterrence implies that the effective reduction of
crime can be achieved by increasing the length of the sentence, which
involves the elimination of the offender from the society for a longer
period. The researcher evaluated the difference in effectiveness of
deterrence and incapacitation in a short-term sentence. The results
presented in the article showed that deterrence is more effective with a
significant difference of 3 % for a three years sentence. Deterrence can
accomplish the objective of reducing crime in two ways. First, general
deterrence reduces crime by inflicting punishment on offenders so that
potential criminals can fear and avoid engaging in criminal activities
so that they will not be punished. Specific deterrence, on the other
hand, reduces crime by punishing offenders so that they can avoid
committing other crimes to pass up punishment in the future.
Cost-benefit analysis of incarceration
Although crime reduction is necessary for maintenance of a free and safe
society, it does not go without some cost. However, research has
established a positive relationship between the rate of incarceration
and crime reduction (Aos 20-23). The findings of this research indicated
that a 10 % increase in the rate of incarceration resulted in crime rate
decline of 2 % while a 10 decrease in the rate of state incarceration
increased the rate of crime by 2 % to 4 %. Economic benefits of
incarceration vary with the type of crime and severity of the crime.
Incarceration of violent criminals and perpetrators of economic crime
have higher marginal returns compared to the cost of incarcerating. This
implies that, from an economic perspective, the effectiveness of
incarceration in reducing the problem of crime depends on the economic
effect of the crime committed to the society. Although incarcerated
imposes an economic burden on the taxpayer, the indirect effect of
incarceration surpasses the cost of maintaining the inmates in the
incarceration facilities both in the short-run and in the long-run.
Despite the indirect economic benefit of incarceration, there are some
minor challenges caused by this approach. The incarcerated persons are
denied an opportunity to participate in productive activities and depend
on the judicial system to provide for their needs, which is a burden on
the taxpayer. In addition, some inmates face a few challenges while
attempting to reintegrate with the society after incarceration. This may
also result in selection bias in employment opportunities and
compensation (Raphael 12).
Although there are several alternatives of behavior correction (such as
conditional sentencing and restorative justice) incarceration is the
absolute answer to the crime problem. The majority of the research works
conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of incarceration in reducing
crime has shown a positive relation between the increase in the rate of
incarceration and decrease in crime. Classification of inmates and
incarceration facilities enhance the effectiveness in the management of
these facilities, thus increase probability of behavioral correction. In
addition, incarceration is the most effective approach of reducing crime
in the society, an objective that is achieved through deterrence and
incapacitation. In overall, the three goals of incarceration (including
rehabilitation, protection, and punishment of criminals) have been shown
to make a significant contribution in reducing crime. However, economic
conscious researcher suggests that the effectiveness and efficiency of
incarceration are dependent on the economic impact of crime committed.
From this perspective, incarceration is more beneficial when persons who
commit property crime and violent crime are confined.
Abrahams, S. Estimating the deterrent effect of incarceration using
sentencing enhancements. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2011.
Aos, S. Using taxpayer dollars wisely: The costs and benefits of
incarceration and other crime control policies. Washington DC:
Washington States Institute for Public Policy, 2012. Print.
Goode, E. Incarceration rates for black have fallen sharply, report
shows. The New York Times. 27 February. 2013. Web. 28 September 2013.
Holden, A. and Shuler, K. Beyond the bars: A new model of virtual
incarceration for low-risk offenders. London: Deloitte Consulting LLP,
Howard League for Penalty Reform. History of the prison system. London:
Howard League for Penalty Reform, 2013. Web.
Raphael, S. The socioeconomic status of black males: The increasing
importance of incarceration. Berkeley: University of California, 2004.
Shane, H. Types of incarceration. Santa Monica: Demand Media
Incorporation, 2013. Web.
The free Dictionary. Incarceration. Forex Incorporation. 2012. Web. 28
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Forced denial of freedom is widely used in different jurisdictions as an