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Deterrence Essay

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The American prison system has long touted the principal of deterrence – meaning that crime can be controlled by giving very harsh sentences to those who are caught, hoping that future crimes will be avoided because a would be perpetrator sees and fears what the potential punishment of following through with such an act might be. The idea that a single person’s punishment is going to keep others from committing a crime a key argument for our system of crime and punishment. This paper is going to focus on this currently failing policy of deterrence, examining its true nature, and then discuss its place, if any, that it has in our law enforcement system.
To fully understand the scope and nature of the problems related to deterrence, one must understand a few facts about deterrence itself. Many people often confuse deterrence with retribution or punishment, but that it is not. Instead of serving your “debt to society” for a crime you committed, under the principal of deterrence you are serving your punishment to keep you and your neighbors from doing the same crime. Operating according to the deterrence model necessitates two principal assumptions: that imposing a stiff penalty will dissuade someone from committing crimes in the future and secondly, that the fear of this punishment will prevent future crimes perpetrated by others. (Wright, 2010) One very important idea here is that it is a “stiff” penalty, a penalty that others won’t forget.
There are many faults in this argument, with the largest being the amount of faith put into mankind. First and foremost, the deterrence model relies on the people to be rational. It assumes that all human adults are capable of and do consider the consequences of their actions. It does not take i...

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...as people have been prosecuted. If a convict is able to better himself while incarcerated, they are more likely to succeed upon release and not end up back in prison. (Parenti, 2008)
Deterrence, in its current form, is useless and counter intuitive. Not only is it failing to stop crime but it is encouraging it by sending low level offenders to what essentially is a crime school. Deterrence stands on two mechanisms to work: people seeing others getting arrested and turning away from crime fearing the same, and giving people who are caught long sentences so that it may seem even scarier. It has become a necessity to get rid of the long sentences for the sake of deterrence itself. Through education, both in the community and while incarcerated, amazing things can be accomplished and we can look forward to having a more just, logical, and helpful corrections system.
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