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PSU Dorm of Representatives

Replacing Punishment With Therapy

Elizabeth Gong April 2014
The purpose of punishment is to ensure that the criminal repents for his or her actions, deters the criminal from committing other illegal acts and prevents others from committing similar crimes. But many retributive and deterrence theorists argue that some of these criminals did not have the choice to commit the crime due to their mental instability. Therefore, they should not be held responsible for their actions and do not deserve to receive the punishment that was inflicted upon them.1 Imprisonment and punishment will NOT help these people change. There are currently over 2 million people in jail and about 15-20% of those people are mentally ill. This does not even include the number of people who are mentally ill and may potentially commit a criminal act, people who may have only committed a misdemeanor and may commit a more dangerous crime, and people who have mild mental illnesses. Unfortunately, not enough prisoners are getting the treatment they need to alleviate such mental illnesses. 2 Placing these people in prisons cells or assigning them community service project will not improve their mental condition. Instead of utilizing capital punishment or imprisonment, therapy should be implemented instead as an alternative method to punishment to ensure that the mentally ill receive the treatment they need. Harmful Effects of Imprisonment Punishment is only effective when the punishment is able to conform the persons behavior to which is legally acceptable, but punishment does not discourage those who cannot refrain from breaking the law. In a way, prisons are now becoming mental institutions for those who have not yet been treated for mental diseases. This is the result of the criminal law system in the U.S., which focuses too much on punishing criminals for retribution or deterrence and not enough on the rehabilitative factors that these criminals need in order to alleviate such symptoms. 3 Effects on the Mental State Physiologists are currently researching the causes of crime and the effects of incarceration in order to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment or more specifically, imprisonment. They have discovered that many of the causes of criminal

behavior include abuse, poverty, exposure to drugs, and other factors that may have contributed to unstable mental states in these criminals. 4 In the Stanford Prison experiment in 1973, physiologist and Past APA president, Phillip Zimbardo proved that individuals could become heartless or depressed when placed in a prison-like environment. 5 In this experiment, Zimbardo tested to see whether the merciless personalities of prisoners were the effect of guards personalities or the prison environment. As a result of the experiment, he discovered that the prison environment was a significant factor that shaped the guards ruthless and cruel behavior. 6 This indicated that a prison environment might hinder a mentally ill persons ability to recover. Such prison environments may in fact worsen these criminals symptoms of mental illness if they never receive the proper treatment. More recently, Haney has been studying supermax prisons, which incorporate high security units where prisoners can spend up to 23 hours in solitary confinement for years at a time. He has shown that these prisoners experience extreme anxiety and other negative emotions as a result of such confinement. These prisoners also lack the social and occupational skills that the rest of us have developed from living in the outside world. Despite this, the number of supermax prisons is still increasing to accommodate prisoners that commit felonies. 7 Lack of Funding But if research has proven that such imprisonment is only causing anxiety and depression and prisoners, we should refocus our attention to implement and integrate therapy so we can treat such mental disorders instead of worsening these prisoners current conditions. However, the government is spending Source taken from: more and more money each year to create confinement for these dangerous criminals and isolate them from society despite the fact that jails are becoming overcrowded. In the infograph shown above, U.S. taxpayers are paying $69 billion annually just so these incarceration systems can be maintained, and in 2012,

there has been a 10% increase in spending to maintain these prisons. However, instead of funneling our tax money to fund prisons, we should utilize this money to hire psychologists and mental health professional and create mental health facilities that will aid these prisoners gain the assistance they need to cope with their mental illnesses. So far, no state in the U.S. has spent more than $200 per capita on mental health care, which isnt even close to the amount that is necessary to cover all the expenses for the treatment that these prisoners need.

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The main issue is the lack of available funding, doctors, space, and mental institutions available, and there arent nearly enough mental health professionals accessible in prisons to provide the mentally ill prisoners with the support and medicine they need. 8 Contrary to popular belief, treatments and therapy may ultimately be cheaper than incarceration. It costs about $15 billion annually to fund the expenses that resulted from the lack of treatment for 300,000 incarcerated prisoners who have serious psychiatric disorders. These costs include court costs, social service costs, other emergency treatment costs, increased security systems costs, and increased labor costs for hiring more staff. 9 Besides the monetary costs, treatments and therapy also cover immaterial costs by providing emotion support and stability for families and relatives and reducing strain and pressure for prison guards and security officers. 10 To incorporate so many psychologists, psychiatrists, and other doctors into prisons is an expensive task and may be difficult to implement at first, but in the long run, it may be worth the large sum of money. In fact, it will reduce overall financial costs of running these prisons and solve the issue of overcrowding in prisons.

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Benefits of Implementing Therapy Besides the issue of the lack of funding, the criminal law system itself prevents these prisoners from recovering. The criminal law system focuses too much on punishing criminals for retribution or deterrence, and it is difficult to change that punitive nature because the system has been in place for so long. 11 However, there is proof that therapy had indeed reduced the amount of criminal activity. Without treatment, 94% were rearrested and 82% returned to prison. However, with cognitive behavioral treatment, 81% were rearrested, and 61% returned to prison. There is a noticeable reduction in the number of second offenses with the addition of therapy. Therapy will aid mentally ill prisoners to reintegrate into society and develop the social skills they need to survive and adapt. Therapy will also solve the issue of prison overpopulation, so the government will no longer have to continue to cut prison sentences and increase funding from taxpayer dollars to fund prisons. This could ultimately save around $1 billion per year if implemented properly. Combining Punishment and Therapy Replacing therapy with punishment may not be entirely efficient due to the fact that it may risk the safety of our society, and our laws may not be as effective. The purpose of punishments is to express societys view of the relative severity of crimes. 11 The absence of punishments would weaken the power of the law. The law gives the precedents that citizens need to follow and set the expectations of what citizens should and should not do. 12 The most efficient and effective technique would be to integrate both punishment and therapy. One option would be that a prisoner would remain in jail until a legal committee or a certified physician would determine the date of discharge. For instance, in England, the patient is cleared by the decision of the physician unless it is a more serious crime, which then, it would be determined by the Psychiatric

Committee. Another option would be to implement mandatory conditional discharge and/or ambulatory care. This would aid in keeping a regular update on a prisoners mental state to ensure that they are not dangerous and use that information to decide when the prisoners will be allowed to leave jail. 13 Treatment years can also be implemented as another possible alternative. The court will decide the amount of years a prisoner would need treatment for depending on the severity of the crime and the potential risk to others. This time period will be determined by a certified medical professional. Then depending on the condition, the prisoner may be released with permission of the physician. Follow-up visits and parole supervision is also required, but out of all three options, this would be the most costefficient method. There are already existing treatment facilities that are available for use and parole officers that can be utilized to check on these patients conditions. There would be no need to extract extra funds to support this alternative and may reduce overall imprisonment costs. 14 Conclusion The U.S. is still continuing to increase its funding towards prisons to accommodate the growing number of criminals. However, those who are mentally ill need treatment and not a prison environment where their conditions could exacerbate. Even though treatment should be implemented, punishment should not be eliminated completely or else that would undermine the supremacy of the law. Instead, alternative combinations of treatment and punishment can be utilized to ensure that these prisoners will get the assistance they need while still reinforcing the law. Utilizing therapy will ensure that these prisoners receive the necessary treatment they need and reduce the amount of funding towards prisons and overcrowding issues.

Endnotes Kathryn N. Jackson, Punishment as Therapy: A Reply to Halleck, Duke Law, wcontent.cgi?article=3863&context=lcp 2 The Jailed and Imprisoned Mentally Ill, Frontline, ne/shows/crime/jailed/. 3 Ibid 4 Ibid 5 Ibid 6 Saul McLeod, Zimbaro Stanford Prison Experiment, SimplyPsychology, ardo.html (2008).

Ibid Ibid 9 Ibid 10 Ibid 11 Ibid 12 Ibid 13 Yuval Melamad, Mentally Ill Persons Who Commit Crimes: Punishment or Treatment?, Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, .full (March 2010). 14 Ibid
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