A sentence marks the “final explicit act of a judge-ruled process” (Murdoch, 2006, p. 34). A sentence defines the necessary course of action that will be taken against an individual who has been found guilty of a crime by a court of law. A prison sentence involves keeping the offender in prison for a given period of time. Prison sentences are generally meant to reduce the crime rate in the society. However, recent research indicates that crime rates are on the rise, despite the use of prison sentences. This trend is partly attributed to the main objective of prison sentence. I argue that the main objective of prison sentence is to punish, since it denies the offender his freedom, it promotes crime, and it does not help to rehabilitate the offender.
Prison Sentence as a Punishment
Law enforcement officers argue that a prison sentence is a tool of social control, rather than a means of punishing the offender. However, this argument is not true due to the following reasons. Firstly, the concept of prison sentence was adopted to satisfy the “collective emotional desire for vengeance” (Murdoch, 2006, p. 67). In this context, the main goal of inflicting pain or subjecting offenders to jail term is to revenge for their deeds. This implies that the application of prison sentence is motivated by vengeance rather than a proper scientific reasoning of its outcome. In the contemporary society, the government has a monopoly on the application of legitimate force which includes punishing criminals. Consequently, the legal system adopted the use of prison sentence to administer vengeance on behalf of the aggrieved party. Second, prison sentence is based on the concept of “letting the punishment fit the crime” (Murdoch, 2006, p. 68). This implies that a criminal should face a punishment that commensurate with the crime he committed. In this case, punishment forms the main objective of a prison sentence. Finally, all human beings have an element of good and bad in them. By subjecting a criminal to life sentence, for instance, the government denies the criminal his freedom to exercise his good character. This is not only a punishment to the criminal, but also to the general public which may benefit from the criminal’s good character.
Proponents of prison sentence argue that the sentence helps in preventing crime. However, the fact that crime has been on the rise, despite the use of prison sentence nullifies this claim. Prisons bring together a community of criminals with exceptional skills for committing crime. This promotes learning of new skills for committing crime, and identification of possible crimes (Siegel, 2011, p. 79). Thus, prison sentence promotes crime instead of reducing it. Keeping criminals in jail may be justified by the fact that it helps to protect the community by ensuring the absence of deviants. However, this premise fails logic since most sentences last for a finite period of time. Hence, at the end of the jail term, the criminal will be back on the streets to commit more crimes. The fact that prison sentences can not help in reducing crime indicates that their main purpose is to punish the criminal.
A section of the pubic and law enforcement officers believe that prisons are correctional facilities. Thus, a prison sentence will help to rehabilitate the criminal. This claim is not true due to the following reasons. Firstly, to rehabilitate means to “restore to a previous condition” (Siegel, 2011, p. 81). This implies that the criminal was pure or clean before engaging in crime. However, there are no clean or pure individuals. Thus, no rehabilitation can take place in prison. The high rate of recidivism indicates that prison sentences do little to change the character of the criminals for the better. Second, habilitating an offender involves learning, and devising ways of boosting the offender’s self-esteem. However, no learning can be achieved in a prison environment which is characterized by punishments such as hard labor or poor living conditions. In this context, a prison sentence will only serve as a form of punishment instead of correcting the criminal’s behavior.
Prison sentences have been used for several decades by the legal system as a means of reducing crime in the society. This objective has never been achieved since crime rate continues to rise as more criminals get jailed. As discussed above, the application of prison sentence is motivated by the desire to satisfy our need for vengeance. A prison sentence punishes criminals by denying them their freedom (Murdoch, 2006, p. 62). However, it fails to eliminate or correct deviant behavior. Thus, the main objective of a prison sentence is to punish since it denies the offender his freedom, it promotes crime, and it does not help to rehabilitate the offender.