Reducing re-offending is not just a criminal justice issue

(2). Reducing re-offending is not just a criminal justice issue.’ Discuss this statement and identify the key issues which need to be tackled to achieve effective resettlement back into the community from prison?

For many decades now many people have argued that it is the responsibility of the government through the criminal justice systems to reduce the rate of crimes and the rate of repeated crimes, what is now commonly referred to as re-offending or recidivism. However it has since emerged that the criminal justice system cannot solely succeed in combating crime and that it is a collective responsibility for all including the community at large. This paper focuses on some of the issues that need to be addressed in order to reduce re-offending and what needs to be done to achieve effective resettlement back into the community from prison.

Re- offending is the repetitive habit of committing crimes once a person has been released from prison (Zamble, 2001). Re-offending also known as recidivism may also be defined as the number of former prisoners who are re-arrested for committing crimes for a subsequent time. The criminal justice system has done its part by implementing the four principles that are aimed at reducing re-offending. These principles are:-

a)      Rehabilitation – This is meant to make a criminal a better member of the society so that upon his/her return to the society he/she does not engage in criminal activities again. This is mainly done through rehabilitation centers and it is mainly done to criminals engaged in drug abuse.

b)      The second measure is punitive where the objective is to punish by inflicting pain, agony and suffering. The objective however is to make the criminal fear to repeat the crime for fear of going through a similar experience again.

c)      The third measure that the criminal justice system has put in place is deterrent. This measure not only prevents the criminal from engaging in such a crime for yet another time but also serves as a warning to others who may have had thoughts of engaging in such criminal activities.

d)     The final measure by the justice system is incapacitation whereby measures are put in place to make it impossible for a person to commit a crime yet again.

Looking at the above mentioned measures it is clear that the criminal justice system has done its part in helping reduce re-offending by criminals. But as already mentioned, reducing re-offending is not a sole responsibility of the justice system. Instead the community should also be involved in helping reduce this vice. How then can the society contribute in preventing or reducing re-offending?

In order to address some of the key issues that need to be tackled to reduce re-offending it is wise to firstly look at some of the major causes of re-offending. Why do some criminals go back to their life of crime even after being taken through the prison system? Research carried out indicates that one of the major causes of re-offending by criminals is the failure of community to accept them back into the society. The society tends to segregate them even though they have reformed and still ‘tag’ them as criminals (Martinson, 1976). They in return feel as if they are not part of the community and prefer to go back to their life of crime. One way therefore of reducing re- offending is educating the society on the need to accept these people and not to perceive them as different. By so doing the former criminals will fit in the society and are less likely to go back into criminal activities. Strong family ties have also been said to work well in helping individuals to return to normalcy and not to re-offend. Acceptance is thus paramount in reducing re-offending (William, 1966).

Scotland for instance is one of the countries that are hardest hit by cases of re-offending with at least 10 prisoners being convicted within a year after being released from jail. In a recently held forum to establish ways in which to tackle and reduce re-offending the Justice Minister in Scotland Cathy Jamieson admitted that handling matters of crime is not an easy task and it requires the effort of both the government and the community at large. According to Cathy a person is less likely to re-engage in criminal activities if he/she receives moral support from the family members. She added that those released from prison need to have a stable home as any lack of basic needs is likely to prompt them into going back to their life of crime. Such people also need some form of training which could help them secure jobs as a way of increasing their stability.

Cathy is however quick to point out that in order for such an initiative to succeed it requires many agencies to work together. If one of the agencies involved does not play its role effectively then the initiative is bound to fail and re-offending will keep increasing. She argues that the government has done its part by introducing the four principles discussed earlier. However she said that the society has not played its role effectively in accepting such people back into the society and thus the initiative has failed thus making re-offending very common in the country and in the world over.

We cannot refute the fact that much has been done in attempt to reduce re-offending and crime rate in general (Kate, 1984). From making the criminals apologize to those who have suffered in their hands to teaching criminals basic skills that they may secure jobs. However despite all these efforts not much progress has been made and re-offending cases are still on the rise. It is for this reason that a different approach needs to be taken.

One approach whose workability appears very practical is what is known as restorative justice (Herbert, 1968). This is normally a procedure in which victims confront criminals in an attempt to embarrass them for their actions. According to a research conducted this method seemed more effective than other punitive measures. The argument is that everybody including criminals have a conscience and when confronted they tend to feel guilty and as a result they are likely to turn away from their criminal acts (Herbert, 1968).

It has also been revealed from researches conducted in the past that addressing some of the issues that contribute to criminal activities may go along way in reducing re offending. As already mentioned some of the key factors that need to be tackled include education, good accommodation, employment, drug abuse and availability of basic social amenities.

An observation was made which was said to be a major cause of rise in re-offending cases. It was argued that due to the rising population in the prisons, some of the criminals are released way before they have served their full terms. This means that they are not fully reformed and when taken back to the society they tend to go back to their old criminal habits. Going by this argument the responsibility is taken back to the criminal justice system. More needs to be done to ensure that other alternatives are sought to reduce the rising population in prisons other than releasing criminals prematurely (Garofalo, 1914).

How are criminal treated while behind bars? The treatment of criminals when in prisons have been said to partly contribute to re-offending. Take this scenario: A person is not able to afford basic needs like food and shelter and therefore they decide to engage in criminal activities. They are arrested and put behind bars. While in prison life is easy because they do not have to struggle for food, shelter and other basic needs as they are readily provided. Upon release they go back to the hard life where they cannot make ends meet. They therefore prefer to re-offend and go back to prison where life is not as hard as it is in the outside world.

Yet another aspect that ought to be considered is the fact that minor offenders are jailed instead of being punished through alternative means (Francis, 1908). Putting minor offenders in jails exposes them to an environment where there are hard offenders and when they come in contact with them the minor offenders learn various tactics of criminality. Upon being released within a period of less than one year the minor offenders tend to re-offend as they attempt some of the criminal tactics learnt while in jail. It is therefore of importance that alternative methods are implemented especially for minor offenders. This will help prevent them from getting into contact with the already hardened criminals in prison. Some of the alternative methods for minor offenders include parole and community service (Petersilia, 2004).

In conclusion it has been suggested that there are three major elements that judges in courts should consider as it will help reduce re-offending. The first element is the objective of the sentence. Judges should always ask themselves what impact the sentence imposed on an offender will have on him or her. It has been revealed that some sentences have actually contributed to the high levels of re-offending. A good example is one that has been aforementioned in this discussion where minor offenders are sentenced to jail terms. Such a sentence will serve to harden the minor offender as opposed to making him/her reform and is therefore likely to commit a crime yet again. Other elements that judge ought to put into consideration while deciding a sentence includes facts of the case, and the offender. By facts of the case we mean that justice must not only be done but it must also be seen to be done. Injustice may cause re-offending in an attempt by the offender to revenge (Glaser, 1964).

It is not easy to deal with matter of crime and especially reducing the arte of re-offending. But as mentioned in this discussion it is possible to reduce re-offending cases but only if the right approach is taken.

List of references.

Francis, J. (1908).Recidivism: Habitual Criminality, New York: Wm. Green & sons.

Garofalo, R. (1914).Criminology, Little, London: Brown and company.

Glaser, D. (1964).The Effectiveness of a Prison System and Parole, Washington: Bobbs-


Herbert, P. (1968). The Limits of the Criminal Sanction, Washington: Stanford University Press.

Kate, Moss. & Mike, Stephens. (2006).Crime Reduction and the Law, London: Routledge.

M. Michael, (1984).Recidivism, New York: Michael Maltz.

Martinson, R. (1976). Rehabilitation, Recidivism and Research, Michigan: National Council on

Crime and Delinquency.

Petersilia, J. (2003).When Prisoners Come Home, Washington: Oxford University Press US.

William, A. (1966).Recidivism, A Deficiency Disease, Pennsylvania: Oxford University Press.

Zamble, E. (2001).The Criminal Recidivism, London: Cambridge University Press.