Contemporary State of Punishment in the United States.edited

Harvard University **We aren't endorsed by this school
Nov 14, 2023
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Introduction The U.S. penal system, a cornerstone of the country's approach to criminal justice, has evolved from a retributive one emphasizing an intermittent rehabilitative model consistent with the broader societal and political dynamics. This system includes a network of institutions that have one of the highest incarceration rates worldwide. As such, it is often viewed as one with high disparities and inefficiencies. In this system, punishment is more than confinement as it embodies social reaction to crime, encompassing public safety and balance of individual rights and liberties. Punishment is essential as it serves the purposes of deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, and rehabilitation to prevent future offenses. While serving these purposes, the system has been questioned on the effectiveness and ethical consideration of certain practices like solitary confinement. This article explores the present state of punishment in the U.S. arguing that a re-evaluation of the penal system informed by various viewpoints and scientific evidence is needed to bring it closer to efficiency and the objectives to align social goals and justice ethics. Research Question and Scope This essay investigates the contemporary state of punishment in the United States, centering on the question: "Do contemporary punishment practices align with the goal of punishment grounded on the principles of justice and ethics?" It traverses critical areas, including prison reform and rehabilitation, the use of solitary confinement, and policies on low-violence- risk inmates based on existing literature and expert opinion. This intensive analysis seeks to untangle the intricacies of the American penal system and provide recommendations for improvement. II. Ruth Wilson Gilmore's Perspective
For over three decades, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a prominent activist and scholar, has advocated for prison reforms, revolutionizing how people understand criminal justice. Her approach is not merely provocative; it represents a complex analysis of the social bases of the prison system. Gilmore's point of view has a holistic orientation that recommends investing in jobs, houses, education, and health care as that promotes a crime-free society instead of incarceration (Kushner, 2019). This perspective shifts the focus from meting out punishment to the inequalities and scarcity of resources preceding crime. She criticizes the reforms like the abolishment of the death penalty, which led to life imprisonment without the right to parole, and reforms that led to the three-strike laws and mandatory minimums, which did not considerably lower the incarceration numbers. Ruth W. Gilmore's analysis of the U.S. penal system is supported by shocking statistics, which prove the futility of the recent reforms. She notes that the First Step Act, a major federal prison reform, is projected to release only some 7,000 persons out of the about 2.3 million inmates (Kushner, 2019). This proves the act's minimal impact on a significant problem, especially considering that fewer than 10 percent of the national prison population is involved. Gilmore's methodology entails a critical evaluation of the various legislations, exposing the fact that the majority of the reforms substituted severe sanctions with equally harsh alternatives instead of reducing the rates of incarcerations. Her strategy is statistical but also goes deeper into the systematic problems of penal policies, calling for fundamental solutions rather than superficial fixes. III Psychological Distress in Solitary Confinement One contentious practice in the U.S. jail system that generates much controversy is solitary confinement, where prisoners are kept alone for prolonged periods. It entails locking up
an inmate alone in a tiny cell each day for twenty-two to twenty-four hours. It is usually employed as a disciplinary or guardian tool, protecting other prisoners. Various psychological effects have been associated with this behavior. Reiter et al. (2020) studied this practice to determine its psychological effects on inmates. The study employed semi-structured interviews with 106 people in solitary in the Washington State's Department of Corrections, carrying out Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) assessments and reviewing medical records and disciplinary files in the department. This study aimed to identify manifestations and prevalence of psychological distress in this population. The study findings of Reiter et al.'s (2020) study indicated that half of the participants were found to meet the clinical threshold for symptoms of depression, anxiety, or guilt. Further, administrative data revealed high levels of severe mental illness and self-harming behavior among the individuals in comparison with the average prison population. This depicts the severity of solitary confinement among inmates with adverse effects on mental health. Solitary confinement is associated with psychological and ethical issues. With its depicted impacts on mental state, such actions are inhumane for correctional treatment. Also, the practice of solitary confinement brings up ethical issues due to its psychological impacts evident through practice-related breaches of the inmate's dignity and unnecessary suffering. Reiter et al.'s study, informs the debate on punishment by adding a new insight into the condition where they identified sensory hypersensitivity and loss of identity in a considerable percentage of those surveyed. Thus, this shows that solitary confinement has a profound psychological effect that goes beyond conventional psychiatric diagnosis. This stresses solitary confinement's adverse impact on the mental state, bringing about ethical and psychological concerns. Therefore, the
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