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Do Punishments Deter Crime?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1606 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Criminal Activity has been a topic of controversy for centuries. Throughout time, crimes that have been committed by felons have led to a variety of results. Examples of criminal activity are assault, murder, stealing, vandalism, etc.. Dependent on what society a criminal is living in, punishments can vary from simply paying a victim back with currency to the classic “eye for an eye” method. Unfortunately, crime is still a more than prevalent matter in today’s society. The reasoning behind this is that our justice system uses punishments that criminals feel are no longer valid. The way criminals are being punished is not effective because of drug use, social class, ignorance, and mental disorders, which in turn should lead to a different way to carry out discipline.

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 Since drugs are easily accessible, it is commonplace for criminals to have an addiction towards them. Considering that most drug abuse is a crime in itself, continued use will most likely lead to further offenses. To support this statement, addiction to drugs can alter a user physically, emotionally and socially.  The article from the National Institute on Drug Abuse claims, “Chronic use of some drugs can lead to both short- and long-term changes in the brain, which can lead to mental health issues including paranoia, depression, anxiety, aggression, hallucinations, and other problems” (NIDA). The National Institute on Drug Abuse also states that some of the commonly abused drugs are alcohol, cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine etc. (NIDA). Furthermore, many crimes that are committed by drug users is them actively trying to obtain money to buy more drugs. Two frequent ways that criminals seize money or valuables is by property crime and violent crimes. When drugs are known to have been present during a crime where violent behavior has been shown, it will be seen as a drug-related offense. When a criminal has drugs in their system, the first thing they think about is what they want. The thought of, “What consequences will this action have?” will not cross their mind once because the majority of the time, their mind is only focused on one thing. It is also important to note that any offense that has an individual under the influence of drugs will be considered a drug-related offense. In addition, an offense that is drug-related also includes the manufacturing, distribution and possession of narcotics. When a person is under the influence and commits crimes without having a second thought, it shows that something is at fault in our justice system.

Sending criminals to prison that abuse and have an addiction towards drugs increases their likelihood for further use and at a more rapid rate. While some inmates may get treatment for their mental problems, the majority will not receive any form of treatment. If these people are left untreated, the issue that brought them to prison in the first place will just become a larger dilemma. Moreover, inmates that are in prison for drug offenses are the largest percentage compared to other crimes that have been committed. According to BOP statistics, individuals with drug offenses were at the top of the list with a total of 76,125 inmates, which is 45.4% of the total prison population (“Federal Bureau of Prisons”). To compare, the second highest percentage of inmates are in prison for weapons, explosives and arson sitting at 30,967 inmates or 18.5% of the total prison population (“Federal Bureau of Prisons”). If more convicts were treated or had some form of help group, similar to alcoholics anonymous, they would benefit greatly and the amount of drug-related crimes would be reduced. Instead of having long sentences with no form of treatment, narcotics abusers should be required to go to therapy. Forcing a person to refrain from using drugs by putting them in prison is not going to stop them from addiction in the future. After being in jail for a period of time, people having difficulty with a substance use disorder will, in all likelihood, continue to use substances. If the justice system does not put tools in place for drug users to be treated, drug-related crimes will increase and the same individuals will keep being sent back to jail.

Correlating with therapy, there are other alternatives other than incarceration for drug abusers. Two possible alternatives that could be considered are reentry programs and general treatment with oversight in courts. Both of these alternatives would allow offenders to shift back into their community overtime. With consistent supervision from the judicial side, drug abusers would be more likely to continue treatment. This would be because the justice system would have leverage since there is a constant threat of legal sanctions. There has been research conducted that drug abuse treatment in the community will help reduce the amount of criminal behavior that is present. The articleTreating Drug Abuse and Addiction in the Criminal Justice System by Redonna K. Chandler portrays that, “A meta-analysis of 78 comparison-group community-based drug treatment studies found treatment to be up to 1.8 times better in reducing drug use than the usual alternatives. In a meta-analysis of 66 incarceration-based treatment evaluations, therapeutic community and counseling approaches were respectively 1.4 and 1.5 times more likely to reduce reoffending” (Chandler). Essentially, with continuous and prolonged treatment for a criminal, once they are set free from their sentence, they are much less likely to be sent back to prison. Not to mention, there is also the possibility of using medication to help reduce the feeling of wanting to consume illegal drugs. As long as the individual is closely monitored, it could greatly reduce the risk of committing a drug-related crime again.

Another reason that criminals may not be deterred by punishments is because of their social class. People that grew up with a poor family or lived in a rough part of town are more prone to fall into a criminal career. The justice system does not understand how other people think. Many punishments are not effective because they are looked at from the view of a judge and what they think would be best for a criminal. Mentioned earlier, the issue with this is that a large amount of the criminals do not care about the crime they committed. When an individual decides to rob or harm another person, they have possibly already made bad choices in the past and they believe that the criminal life is the only future they have. Richard Wright and Dietrich Smith illustrate that the people they interviewed, “…didn’t see themselves as having futures. Amid pressing imperatives like feeding a drug habit, earning the respect of peers, or just meeting everyday expenses, robbery and burglary were, for them, simply solutions” (Koerth-Baker). Many criminals that had committed a crime knew what they were doing at the time but were desperate for something. This outweighed what they felt about being arrested and sentenced. Yet, even though these people make bad decisions, they are still conscious about their actions. 

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The prison system in America is full of people that are in lower social classes. Being in the lowest social class is basically a way of saying that a person is shut out of the economy. Typically, people that are in the situation of having little to no income have or have had jobs that do not pay well and have not had an education that is quality. Bernadette Rabuy a senior policy analyst and Daniel Kopf an economics and statistics reporter find that, “…incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages” (Bernadette and Kopf). This goes to show that people that have been incarcerated will automatically make less money because they have a criminal record. Employers do not want people with a past of crime even if it is something minor because there is a possibility it could make their business or company look bad. The society we live in is known on being tough on crime, which has a good side and a bad side. The benefit is that we remove criminals that are actually a threat. The drawback is that we send a large amount of people with a small amount of skills and low amounts of education to prison. When this happens, it leads to a cycle of poverty and further incarceration. Criminals that are sent to prison, end up being released just as poor as they were when they had first entered. We, as a society, expect them to be legally-responsible for discrimination for employment.

Works Cited

  • Chandler, Redonna K, et al. “Treating Drug Abuse and Addiction in the Criminal Justice System: Improving Public Health and Safety.” JAMA, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 14 Jan. 2009.
  • “Federal Bureau of Prisons.” BOP Statistics: Inmate Offenses, 13 Apr. 2019.
  • Rabuy, Bernadette, and Daniel Kopf. “Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the Pre-Incarceration Incomes of the Imprisoned.” Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the Pre-Incarceration Incomes of the Imprisoned | Prison Policy Initiative, 9 July 2015,
  • Koerth-Baker, Maggie. “The Threat of Punishment Does Little to Reduce Crime.” Undark, 16 May 2016.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Mental Health Effects.” NIDA, Accessed 24 Apr. 2019.


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