Rehabilitation Versus Punishment in the Adult Justice System

Rehabilitation versus Punishment – Table.  Punishment within the Adult Justice will be referred to as incarceration in order to keep the topic spectrum narrow.

Rehabilitation gives one a chance to learn about his/her debilitating problems and offers for one to learn how to change their behavior in order to not commit crime. Incarceration (punishment) puts the offender in a confines of a cell in order for one to think about the crime he/she committed.
Rehabilitation helps ease the offender’s reentry into society (Wikipedia, 2007). Incarceration doesn’t offer for one to be helped, unless one is in the process of rehabilitation or other alternative program while “behind bars.”
Rehabilitation is less widely used on adult offenders, as it is popular with juvenile offenders. Incarceration is widely used on adult offenders, while rehabilitation is a selective program which is not always offered to all or at a particular location.
Rehabilitation may take a form of: drug addiction rehab, alcohol addiction rehab, violent behavior rehab, gambling addiction rehab, and others. Incarceration doesn’t offer for one to rehabilitate through programs and strictly depends on the individual efforts of the adult offender.
Most rehabilitation programs cost less than incarceration (Lobardo & Levy, 2005). Incarceration mainly costs more than rehabilitation.  For example, in California an average cost of a prisoner is $35,000 per year to sustain his/her life, while elderly inmates, who require more care, cost an average of $70,000 per year (Smith, 2006).

I believe that society does have at least some responsibility to fix the “broken” person.  The reason for this is the mentality of a lot of American people, which is to “pass the buck down.”  Well, if one is to think about it, where does this passing of the buck stop?  It’s usually prison and it’s usually too late.  Some may say: It’s not my responsibility; I live in a good neighborhood; I am a law abiding citizen, and so on.  Crime affects everyone, no matter the level of involvement, neighborhood you live in, or your ability to leave jaywalking to the jaywalkers.  One must not forget that this world of ours is unpredictable at best, and that crime can happen even to the “best” of us.  If society “chips in” to help in rehabilitation programs and other alternatives to prison we may see less crime on our streets, with safer neighborhoods, more law abiding citizens, and a sense of responsibility that’s emitted by all, not just few.

Punishment is not the only thing offenders understand, but a lot of “us,” regular people, don’t see it this way.  “We” may feel like warehousing (incarceration without rehabilitation) is the only way.  However, I think that when a crime in consciously committed incarceration without rehabilitation is a viable option.  It is understandable to not fully comprehend the mindset of a criminal, but criminals, like us, are people, too.  Their outbursts of crime may be heavily influenced by psychological deficiencies, by inability to provide for themselves and their families, or by pure choice.  Some of the offenders should have the ability to use resources like rehabilitation and early release programs with monitoring/rehabilitation.  Not many have the chance to do so.

There needs to be a nationwide effort to shift the focus of corrections from incarceration to alternative programs that address the special needs of offenders. In addition, most alternative programs are far less expensive than incarceration of prisoners.  Such savings can then be used for educational and preventive programs.  However, there is a drawback of such a mobilization: the “buck stops here.” Individuals, communities, local, state, and federal governments must be involved in order for such programs to succeed.  Once executed, these programs will benefit not only the offenders, but all parties involved: victims, various correction agencies, and local communities (Lobardo & Levy, 2005).


Lombardo D. L. & Levy R. N. (2005). Alternatives to Prisons: Prison alternatives can cut costs and improve public safety. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press.
Smith, S. (2006). The Price of Punishment. Retrieved on June 26, 2007, from Recordnet Website: 0307/1001/ARCHIVE
No Author. (2007). Rehabilitation (penology). Retrieved on June 28, 2007, from Wikipedia Website:

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

1 comment… add one
  • Alvin Johnson

    I’m trying to suggest reaching out before the option of incarceration comes into play first. Diminishing this activity beforehand would also decrease the cost of rehab.

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