Imprisonment is among the most severe punishment in self-governing societies apart from capital punishment that is only used in the United States. The primary rationale of imprisonment is crime prevention. Imprisonment is anticipated to prevent crime through deterrence and incapacitation. Incapacitation denotes crime prevention yielding from the offenders’ physical isolation. Deterrence denotes a behavioural response (Nagin, Cullen & Johnson, 2009, p.115). Deterrence can be regarded as crime prevention by the terror of a threatened criminal sanction or the experience of real criminal sanction. Deterrence is generally focused at lowering crime through directing that sanction threat at all potential offenders. Unique deterrence is meant for lowering crime by employing a criminal sanction to a unique offender, so as to dissuade her or him from reoffending. Deterrence is just one of the sentencing purposes in Victoria, resolute by the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic), section 5(1). Other sentencing purposes include incapacitation or community protection, punishment, rehabilitation and denunciation (Ritchie, 2011).
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Imprisonment is employed as a criminal justice policy tool in each modern world country. Ritchie (2011) conducts a research to assess evidence of the strength of imprisonment in enhancing general deterrent. The research noted that imprisonment contains a negative though generally trivial impact on the crime rate, standing for a small positive deterrent impact. The imprisonment failure to act as a deterrent for a considerable number of offender is apparent in both the number of individuals in prisons who have served a past term of imprisonment and the high rate of recidivism. In Victoria, about 49% of adult prisoners incarcerated at 30th June 2010 had a record of past adult imprisonment sentence. However, according to Durlauf and Nagin (2011, p. 21), there is evidence that shows general deterrent impact is strong. It is also noted that different offenders have different experience with imprisonment, while some reform and fear prison, others get to acquire new criminal skills, which they utilize after release (p.22). This means that there are contradictory results based on where and when the research was done.
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Imprisonment is also done with intention of incapacitation. The imprisonment incapacitative effect presents a compelling logic which claims that, while an offender is in prison, that offender cannot harm the community. Thus offender’s incapacitation might be anticipated to prevent crime which a criminal would commit if she or he was free in the community. However, according to Ritchie (2012), community protection from offenders does not essentially need offender imprisonment. This purpose can be satisfied by the execution of other sentencing orders which include community correction order which needs the offender to attend alcohol or drug treatment. Unlike imprisonment which is only likely to protect the community for the time that the offender is away in prison and subject it to the same danger after release, community correction assist in offender rehabilitation, lowering the offender reoffending likelihood. Imprison in this case can only be necessary in the early stages of therapy, where therapist are not able to control the offender’s behaviour until the advance stages of therapy. However, as a lone measure, imprisonment may not be very effective in protecting the community, unless the offender is put on a lifetime imprisonment (Ritchie, 2012).
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The effectiveness of imprisonment in reducing crimes or protecting the society has demonstrated varying results, some showing little or no effect while others showing some improvement. According to Gelb (2011), evidence on declining crime rate was determined by Australian Bureau of Statistics published data. The data demonstrated decline in crimes that include theft, homicide, burglary and robbery in a period of 10 years. Imprisonment according to Gelb (2011, p.7) is preferred as a way of keeping more criminals off the street, punishing the criminal for the crime committed, since alternative methods gives criminals a chance to get off so easily, and also used as a way of disapproving criminal acts among people in the society. However, generally, there are alternatives that offer better results compared to imprisonment. These include individuals involved in light offenses which are non-violent and young offender. Other alternatives that include community collection order can result to better outcome than imprisonment of non-violent offenders. Another alternative is rehabilitation of offenders, especially mentally ill offenders is regarded to offer better results compared to imprisonment especially in preventing them from reoffending. Mentally ill offenders are mostly influenced to offend by their mental state or behavioural disorders. When the root cause of the offense is eliminated, these individuals can manage to live in the society without reoffending.
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Generally, there is no pure data demonstrating situation where imprisonment is the best way to go. Different data show different results, though imprisonment is said to demonstrate better results in cases where offenders were engaged in capital crimes that require lengthy period of imprisonment. However, in situation where offenders are only involved in minor crimes with short period of incarceration, imprisonment is said to play very little or negligible role in crime prevention. Majority of those imprisoned for minor crimes are also likely to reoffend or to engage in other minor crimes in the future. This brings in the question of effectiveness of imprisonment especially in minor crimes, with majority suggesting more effective alternatives to curb crimes. When looked at in another angle, imprisonment gives peace to the member of the society, since it reduce fear of falling in the hands of the offender. It also still regarded as the best strategy to punish the offender. To some extent imprisonment can be used to safe offenders from execution by the society, especially if the offender’s act has infuriated the affected community (Gelb, 2011).
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Victoria has been experiencing increase in prison population, although it is still the lowest in the country. According to McLeod (2015, p. 1156) if abolition is perceived as immediate tearing of the prison walls to release the inmates, then the whole idea would be chaotic. It would see most of these offenders released to the community. This would definitely increase fear and anxiety in the society, especially among the victims of the offender. This can also results to chaos in the society for a while as people try to take law in their hand to punish those who have offended them or their loved ones. There could also be increase in capital crimes in the state as people try to take revenge while others continue committing offenses without fear of the consequences. The small number of people who could have deterred from crime due to fear of being incarnated or receiving any other punishment would gain more courage to carry on. Basically, this would be the worst ideal ever.
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However in McLeod (2015, p.1156) view, if abolition instead consist of an aspirational ethic and a gradual decarceration framework , that consists of a positive substitution of other regulatory kinds of criminal regulation, then intent to abolish prison system and to welcome reformist dialogue comes into attention as a more worrying absence. Although prevention of violent crime and wrongdoing proportional punishment purportedly justify imprisonment, the criminal law administration might be attained in large measure via institutions rather than criminal law administration (p. 1156). The adoption of other measures in a systematic ways which include offenders rehabilitation with intention to change their behaviours, putting those engaged in minor crimes under community supervision order, and acquitting some with penalty or community based punishment may play a better role in reducing crimes and reoffending in Victoria than imprisonment.
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However, a great challenge may be experienced while handling individuals involved in capital crimes, who need to be isolated from the community, for the fear of reoffending. Although most groups can fit in those with mental issues that require rehabilitation, lack of punishment for their wrong doing which can include murder may not be a very welcomed idea. There are a number of alternatives that can be used to substitute imprisonment in Victoria. One of these alternatives is rehabilitation. According Birgden (2008 p.452) rehabilitation is more effectual in lowering reoffending compared to prevention and punishment. In this case, normative framework stance of community protection will be met via the offender rehabilitation sentencing principle. The rehabilitation can be therapeutic if behavioural or/and mental conditions contributed to the offenders action, or it can be anti-therapeutic where principles of professional practice is the right treatment. Effective criminal rehabilitation will need to balance rights of the community and those of offenders to promote community protection.
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To attain this, normative framework will require integrating legal and psychological theory to address the criminal in the criminal justice system (Birgden, 2008. p.452). The other alternative is employ community based sentencing. This strategy is based on the principle that offenders’ correction is a societal responsibility. It involves the integration of all stakeholders in offender rehabilitation. In this case, the government will need to offer education on the role of every involved stakeholder, in offender rehabilitation. Effective policies also need to put in place to ensure right legislations, procedure and supervision is employed to ensure successful rehabilitation of offender (Zondi, 2012, p.763).
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