‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Jonathan Aitken recently wrote an opinion column for ‘The Independent’ website in which he criticised the current legal setup for criminal prosecution and suggested that reforming the system of rehabilitation in the UK would help to reduce rates of re-offending. His key ideas were to minimise the period that a criminal record hangs over a minor offender after release, and allow such offenders to serve their sentences in community homes, so as to ease their transition back into society. Do we need to give the idea of rehabilitation a more prominent role in our legal structure, or is this a misguided attempt to reduce the number of residents in UK prisons?

The full article is available here:
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/jonathan-aitken-the-way-we-treat-prisoners-creates-a-conveyor-belt-of-crime-1651743.html

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

Prison is an ineffective measure

The fact that two thirds of offenders subsequently re-offend within two years suggests that the prison system does little to encourage people to stay on the right side of the law. Clearly, the threat of prison is not enough alone and needs to be supplemented by other schemes.

The fact that two-thirds of offenders subsequent re-offend might also suggest that the welfare system isn't doing enough to help ex-prisoners get back on their feet once out of jail. Therefore, no matter how hard initially tried to return to society, the state's failure led to them being forced back to crime.

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

Community homes are considerably cheaper than housing minor criminals in prison

Certainly from a budgetary point of view it would make a lot of sense to replace prison incarceration with other kinds of penalties. As Aitken illustrates, placing a more minor offender in a community home saves around £700 a week and may well ease their transition back into society.

The basic idea of rehabilitation is one of restoring individuals back to a state of citizenship. Whilst this allows them to regain liberty, it does not guarantee that their behavioural norms are necessarily altered. For this to occur, ‘correction’ is going to be necessary which may in fact be more expensive than mere incarceration. The angle of cutting costs therefore is a dangerous and dubious one. If the wrong kind of rehabilitation is prioritised (i.e. one which makes little attempt to change offenders’ general outlook) then saving money is going to come at a cost of greater crime rates.

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

The length of criminal records undermines any attempts by ex-convicts to reintegrate back into society

A criminal record hovering above the head of any job-hunting individual is going to seriously hamper their chances of success. If the possibility of gaining employment is bleak, these individuals are going to be tempted to go back to old ways or apply for welfare assistance – neither of these options do anything to improve society. If the crime they have been convicted for is one considered quite minor, a ten year wait seems harsh. Statistics have shown that the highest rates of re-offending are for theft, with over 18,000 caught in 2005 (1). The fact that theft is a crime which relates to money indicates that ex-convicts may well be having trouble maintaining a reasonable lifestyle upon release, perhaps due to the limitations on what they can do to earn a living.

(1) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7391915.stm

On the flipside of this, the concept of a criminal record is a serious deterrent for those considering committing criminal acts. If the severity of this punishment is reduced, this could be seen as almost encouragement to commit more minor crimes.

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

Rehabilitative sentences may help to repair conflicts in the community

The breakdown of social bonds may well have been the reason for the original offence to be committed. By using a ‘communitarian’ (1) sentence on minor offenders, the offender and the community may be able to repair their bonds with each other. This will give greater long term benefit to the individual in that they will be able to integrate more effectively into said community and understand the concerns of their peers. This approach also ensures that the community benefits as well, as they will understand more acutely the potential sources discontent that may arise therein.

(1) Raynor, P. and Robinson G. (2005) Rehabilitation, Crime and Justice, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Page 29

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

More serious issues are overlooked

The root of criminality exists before exposure to the prison system; otherwise criminals would have no reason to be there in the first place. What may be more sensible is to analyse the root causes of what makes criminals offend in the first instance and introduce reform to counteract it. Some have cited the education system as failing to instil a sense of morality in people. Others suggest that a lack of welfare leads individuals to lose faith in society and therefore be unwilling to follow its laws. Assuming that the right time to change people’s outlook on society is after they have offended is naïve – criminal urges are better ‘nipped in the bud’.

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

Basic rehabilitation will fail to alter the behaviour of criminal personalities

This line implies that one-time criminals should be denied a second chance. The extent of Aitken’s argument only applies to minor offenders and not murderers or paedophiles. It does not seem fair to potentially deny someone who once made a poor decision the right to fully participate in society for a 10 year period.

It could be argued that criminal mentalities are inherent within certain individuals, either due to their inborn psyche or their upbringing. If one accepts this, then basic rehabilitation into society is going to do little to stop re-offending, whereas incarceration will keep them in a position where they cannot offend. Allowing them easy passage back into the world, with minimal supervision, could provide a gateway for them to commit more serious crimes.

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

Reoffending rates may not be affected

A functional and rigid system of rehabiliation is proven to be conducive to reducing re-offending rates. Rehabiliation goes against the current political climate; a climate controlled by an irresponsible middle-market media who pleasure in riling up the mob mentality.

In Canada, for example, there was a pilot scheme in which paedophiles were introduced into the community and were supported by the community.
http://www.theinquiry.ca/Petrunik_mentoring.hide.php
Are those who help endangering the public? Are they fools? No. This approach has proven itself to be far more useful at curbing re-offending and is thus the best way of protecting the children who may otherwise have been at risk.

This example begs the question whether our own system is so focused on tit-for-tat justice that it is missing the opportunity to actually stop the crime.

Community sentences are not necessarily much more effective at reducing re-offending. In 2008, youth re-offending figures were at an average ‘70% for those given community penalties and 76% for those sent into custody’ (1). Whilst this does represent some small improvement it does not suggest that rehabilitation reform is the ultimate method for reducing crime.

(1)http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/
jun/17/youthjustice.justice

‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?

Yes because... No because...

More invasive rehabilitation compromises liberty

If one considers rehabilitation a form of ‘treatment’ (which of course depends upon the extent to which it would be used), do we have any real right to impose such measures on people? Aitken’s suggestions are for mild adjustments in the rehabilitation process, but more invasive ideas of rehabilitation (such as behavioural modification) could be seen to infringe on liberty. Whilst Aitken does not discuss these in his article, they come attached to the term ‘rehabilitation’ in terms of criminology – with definitions ranging from a process ‘to reintegrate the offender into society’ (1) to ‘effecting changes in offenders themselves’ (2) Serious societal conflicts could well arise if these more extreme concepts of rehabilitation are considered.

(1) Hudson, B. (2003) Understanding Justice, second edition, Buckingham: Open University Press, Page 26

(2) Raynor, P. and Robinson G. (2005) Rehabilitation, Crime and Justice, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Page 6

Debates > ‘The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime’ (Aitken). Is reforming the use of rehabilitation necessary to improve society?