This House believes criminal justice should focus more on rehabilitation.

The criminal justice system comprises many distinct stages, including arrest, prosecution, trial, sentencing, and punishment (quite often in the form of imprisonment). Rehabilitation can take place in any of these phases as the police for example can impose on the spot penalties and cautions but these are not controversial it is in the last two of these many stages that there is debate over whether the criminal justice system should focus more on rehabilitation than on retribution.

Rehabilitation is the idea of reforming a prisoner so that they can reintegrate back into society upon their release. This process involves various programs including anger management, education programs and even creative workshops to form another outlet for expression. It is hoped that through this process they will become less inclined to commit crimes in the future. It seeks to prevent a person from reoffending by taking away the desire to offend. This is very different from the idea of ‘deterrence’ (which is the idea of making him afraid to offend, though he may still desire to), and the idea of ‘incapacitation’ (which is the idea of taking away his physical power to offend, though he may still desire to and be unafraid to) however even under these theories the assumption is that after the offender has spent their time they will be much less of a threat to society, can be released and will not reoffend.

The retributive idea is that punishment should be determined chiefly (possibly even only) by the seriousness of the crime itself, and not by consequentialist factors, such as whether the punishment is enough to scare (i.e. deter) the rest of society. The term ‘retribution’ is therefore unfortunate because its everyday meaning connotes ‘revenge’; it is better described as ‘desert’, ‘just deserts’ or ‘proportionality’ theory.

Crimes such as murder or other equally severe crimes do deserve imprisonment as a punishment, rehabilitation should be considered for lesser crimes, for example those caught looting during the August riots in the UK. For these offenders, particularly for those who were first time offenders, imprisonment would only add to their anger against the government and police. Whereas rehabilitation, it the form of education and helping rebuild houses/businesses damaged by the riots, this would work on reforming their attitudes and perceptions of the UKs legal system and therefore they would more easily integrate into society. Almost all non-violent and crimes against property would be better met with rehabilitation rather than lengthy imprisonment.

Rehabilitation Is A Better General Justifying Aim for Punishment

Rehabilitation is the most valuable ideological justification for imprisonment, for it alone promotes the humanising belief in the notion that offenders can be saved and not simply punished. Desert (retributive) theory, on the other hand, sees punishment as an end in itself, in other words, punishment for punishment’s sake. This has no place in any enlightened society.

An example can be taken from the aftermath of the London rioters, where 170 riot offenders under 18 are now in custody without firstly understanding the causes of the riots nor the reasons of why these people offended.[1]

The rehabilitative ideal does not ignore society and the victim. In fact it is because retribution places such great value on the prisoner’s rights that it tries so hard to change the offender and prevent his reoffending. By seeking to reduce reoffending and to reduce crime, it seeks constructively to promote the safety of the public, and to protect individuals from the victimisation of crime. The public agrees; a 2008 poll of British citizens found 82% ‘thought rehabilitation was as important, or more important than punishment as a criterion when sentencing criminals’.[2] Such a model of punishment is therefore a more enlightened approach in a modern day criminal justice system. Our current system which focuses more on retribution does not have the possibility of seeking to prevent reoffending by curing the offender of their desire to reoffend.

[1] Malik, Shiv, ‘UK riots cause 8% rise in jailed children’,, 8 September 2011.

[2] Directgov. Rehabilitation versus punishment - judge for yourself. 1 July 2008.


A sanction should not merely be helpful – it should treat the offending conduct as wrong. The purpose of punishment is to show disapproval for the offender’s wrongdoing, and to clearly condemn his criminal actions. This is what was and is being done with the offenders of the August riots, the most common example is of an the two men who attempted to organise riots using Facebook, both were sentenced to four years and shows societies disgust in the events of the riots and acts as a message for future.[1]

 A prison sentence is as much a punishment for the offender as a symbol of the reaction of society. Society creates law as an expression of the type of society we are aiming to create. This is why we punish; we punish to censure (retribution), we do not punish merely to help a person change for the better (rehabilitation). We still have to punish a robber or a murderer, even if he is truly sorry and even if he would really, really never offend again and even if we could somehow tell that for certain. This is because justice, and not rehabilitation, makes sense as the justification for punishment.

Why is justice and censure (‘retribution’) so important? Because unless the criminal justice system responds to persons who have violated society’s rules by communicating, through punishment, the censure of that offending conduct, the system will fail to show society that it takes its own rules (and the breach of them) seriously. There are other important reasons as well: such as to convey to victims the acknowledgement that they have been wronged. Punishment, in other words, may be justified by the aim of achieving ‘justice’ and ‘desert’, and not by the aim of rehabilitation.

[1] Bowcott, Owen, Haroon Siddique and Andrew Sparrow, ‘Facebook cases trigger criticism of ‘disproportionate’ riot sentences’,, 17 August 2011.

Rehabilitation Has Greater Regard For the Offender

Rehabilitation has another important value – it recognises the reality of social inequity. To say that some offenders need help to be rehabilitated is to accept the idea that circumstances can constrain, if not compel, and lead to criminality; it admits that we can help unfortunate persons who have been overcome by their circumstance. It rejects the idea that individuals, regardless of their position in the social order, exercise equal freedom in deciding whether to commit a crime, and should be punished equally according to their offence, irrespective of their social backgrounds. Prisons are little more than schools of crime if there aren't any rehabilitation programs. Prisons isolate offenders from their families and friends so that when they are released their social networks tend to be made up largely of those whom they met in prison. As well as sharing ideas, prisoners may validate each others’ criminal activity. Employers are less willing to employ those who have been to prison. Such circumstances may reduce the options available to past offenders and make future criminal behaviour more likely. Rehabilitation becomes more difficult. In addition, rates of self-harm and abuse are alarmingly high within both men’s and women’s prisons. In 2006 alone, there were 11,503 attempts by women to self-harm in British prisons.[1] This suggests that imprisoning offenders unnecessarily is harmful both for the offenders themselves and for society as a whole.

[1] Women in Prison. Statistics. Retrieved August 4, 2011, from Women in Prison.


Crime is not pathology, it is not the product of circumstance, and it is certainly not the product of coincidence. As the case of Husng Guangyu shows, despite being Chinas richest man he still committed crimes involving illegal business dealing, insider trading and bribery and was then sentenced to 14 years. This was rightly given in order as a just punishment for the cost of the crimes he had committed and to deter others from such practices.[1] Crime is the result of choices made by the individual, and therefore the justice system must condemn those choices when they violate society’s rules. To say otherwise (i.e. to say that criminals are merely the product of their unfortunate circumstances) would be an insult to human autonomy - the liberalist idea that our judicial system is based on, in saying that individuals are given the power to make their own decisions freely and this should be interfered with in as little as possible. It would be to deny the possibility of human actors making good decisions in the face of hardship.

Retributivism alone best recognises the offender’s status as a moral agent, by asking that he take responsibility for what he has done, rather than to make excuses for it. It appeals to an inherent sense of right and wrong, and in this way is the most respectful to humanity because it recognises that persons are indeed fundamentally capable of moral deliberation, no matter what their personal circumstances are.

[1] Jingqiong, Wang and Zhu Zhe, ‘Former richest man gets 14 years in prison’, China Daily, 19 May 2010.

Rehabilitation Does Not Serve The Needs of Society

The primary goal of our criminal justice system is to remove offenders from general society and protect law abiding citizens. Many criminals are repeat offenders and rehabilitation can be a long and expensive process. In Jamaica, police claim repeat offenders are responsible for over 80% of local crime despite rehabilitation programmes in prisons.[1] Ideally therefore, retribution and rehabilitation should work hand in hand to protect citizens in the short and long term. There are some successful examples of this happening, where prisons encourage inmates to take part in group activities such as football. Some prisons have started cooking programmes where inmates learn to cook in a professional environment and leave with a qualification. However the first priority is the removal of the convicted criminal from society in order to protect the innocent. Rehabilitation should be a secondary concern. The primary concern of the criminal justice system should be the protection of the non-guilty parties. The needs of society are therefore met by the immediate removal of the offender.

In addition a more retributive approach serves society through the message it conveys. Most modern defences of retribution would emphasize its role in reinforcing the moral values of society and expressing the public's outrage at certain crimes. Rehabilitation therefore weakens the strong message of disgust as to the offender’s actions that a traditional prison sentence symbolises and the deterrent that it thus provides.

[1] Chang, K. O. ‘Lock up repeat offenders for life’. Jamaica Gleaner, 17 September 2006.


The needs of society are not being met by those who reoffend due to lack of rehabilitation. The fact that two thirds of offenders subsequently re-offend with two years[1] suggests that the prison system does little to encourage people to stay on the right side of the law. Clearly, the threat of prison is not enough alone and needs to be supplemented by other schemes.

Prisons can provide an opportunity to develop important skills: it is especially clear in the case of non-violent offenders that criminal behaviour often stems from a perceived lack of alternatives. Offenders often lack educational qualifications and skills. Prisons can provide an opportunity to develop necessary skills for future employment through the provision of courses and education. The UK offers courses in bricklaying, hairdressing, gardening and teaching sport and fitness.[2]

These people can then contribute back into society rather than a purely retributive model which just takes from a system.[3]

[1]Souper, M., ‘Principles of sentencing – reoffending rates’, Sixth Form Law.

[2] Directgov, ‘Education, training and working in prison’.

[3] Jonathan Aitken wrote an opinion column for ‘The Independent’ website in which he criticised the current legal setup for criminal prosecution and suggested that reforming the system of rehabilitation in the UK would help to reduce rates of re-offending. This if of the greatest importance not only to the individual but for the safety of society.

Rehabilitation Doesn’t Actually Work

While some rehabilitative programmes work with some offenders (those who would probably change by themselves anyway), most do not. Many programs cannot overcome, or even appreciably reduce, the powerful tendency for offenders to continue in criminal behaviour. In Britain, where rehabilitation has long been purported to stop re-offending, 58 per cent of those over-21 find themselves in trouble with the law within two years of release.[1] The rehabilitation programs simply do not work. ‘Rehabilitation’ is therefore a false promise – and the danger with such an illusory and impossible goal is that it is used as a front to justify keeping offenders locked up for longer than they deserve and sometimes even indefinitely (‘if we keep him here longer maybe he might change’). We cannot justify passing any heavier or more onerous a sentence on a person in the name of “rehabilitation” if “rehabilitation” does not work.

[1] Stanford, P., ‘The road to redemption: Does the rehabilitation of prisoners work?’, The Independent, 23 August 2007.


If we had the opportunity to stop some offenders re-offending why do we not seize this opportunity? Rehabilitative programs provide such an opportunity. Such programs include cognitive-behavioural programs (say, trying to get a violent offender to think and reach differently to potential ‘trigger’ situations), pro-social modelling programmes, and some sex-offender treatment programs. Of course, certain styles will suit some better than others, but this is someone that will have to determined case by case. As some methods with work better than others depending on attitudes, values etc.

The most credible research (done by a technique called meta-analysis) demonstrates that the net effect of treatment is, on average, a positive reduction of overall recidivism (reoffending) rates of between 10% and 12%, which would promote a reduction in crime that is, by criminal standards, massive.

Rehabilitation is a concept. It is not a definite technique whose effectiveness can be precisely measured. So yes some forms of rehabilitation may not work, others however might. What the opposition to this argues is what we've deemed rehabilitation is what we will utiize going forward. However, this is illogical; as we speak, new methods of rehabilitation could be concocted. Such an indefinite ideal cannot be proven as ineffective. For example, if somebody proves that high-speel monorail transportation is ineffective, this does not mean that transportation is absolutely and fundamentally flawed. One simply cannot disprove an infinite set of hypotheses.

How Would One Know a System of Rehabilitation Is Really Working

The question “does it work” must be joined by the second question: “even if it does work, how can you tell, with each individual offender, when it has worked?” How would we check if this system is really working? Tagging prisoners? Free counselling for the prisoner for the rest of their life? These measures would require huge administration costs and then the question follows would it even be feasible to enforce such a system?

The root of criminality exists before exposure to the prison system; otherwise criminals would have no reason to be there in the first place. What may be more sensible is to analyse the root causes of what makes criminals offend in the first instance and introduce reform to counteract it, for example the economic crisis.[1]

Some have cited the education system as failing to instil a sense of morality in people. Others suggest that a lack of welfare leads individuals to lose faith in society and therefore be unwilling to follow the law. Assuming that the right time to change people’s outlook on society is after they have offended is naïve – criminal urges are better ‘nipped in the bud’.

It could be argued that criminal mentalities are inherent within certain individuals, either due to their inborn psyche or their upbringing. If one accepts this, then basic rehabilitation into society is going to do little to stop re-offending, whereas incarceration will keep them in a position where they cannot offend. Allowing them easy passage back into the world, with minimal supervision, could provide a gateway for them to commit more serious crimes.

[1] Dodd, Vikram, ‘Police face years of public disorder, former Met chief warns’,, 6 December 2011.


The expense of re-offenders re-entering the system is also an expense that our prison system cannot afford. A system such as counselling for released prisoners would prove to be inexpensive when weighed against the benefits of decreased crime, and all the costs involved in that (public damage, judicial costs and prison costs). Given that many organisations work in rehabilitation programs in prisons for very little, if any, payment such a system could easily be established for counselling.

A complete system of rehabilitation and post-release counselling, to access these programs, should be paired with increased awareness programs in schools and welfare support. However, this system of combating crime is not complete without a comprehensive system of rehabilitation. If we truly want to protect society and reform criminals then we must invest more time, effort and funding into a system that can achieve this. Incarceration on its own is not working and it is time for change. An addition to the rehabilitation programme was aired on the UK television in November 2011, a new scheme where the offender meets their victim(s) in order to understand their actions have consequences. This type of programme can show visible changes or responses of the offenders as they agree to talk about their feelings and show remorse.

Rehabilitation Constitutes an Unjustifiable Further Expense

The evidence from all over the world suggests that recidivism rates are difficult to reduce and that some offenders just can’t be rehabilitated. It therefore makes economic sense to cut all rehabilitation programs and concentrate on ensuring that prisoners serve the time they deserve for their crimes and are kept off the streets where they are bound to re-offend. As it can be seen that some deserving of a longer sentence only receive short sentences due to lack of time and space and some who have committed shorter sentences are given long sentences aimed at making a point or sending a message.

Currently, the government will continue to be gambling tax payers’ money on programs that will not give anything back into the society that it took from. Britain spends £45,000 a year on each of its prisoners and yet 50% will go on to re-offend, ‘which translates into a dead investment of £2 billion annually.[1] Rehabilitation programs should be scrapped and taxpayers asked only to pay the bare minimum to keep offenders off the streets. They can’t harm society if they are behind bars.

[1] Bois, N. D., ‘Retribution and Rehabilitation: A Modern Conservative Justice Policy’. Dale & Co. 20 July 2011.


Philosopher Peter Landry believes that it takes a whole group of specialists to determine what kind of punishment to mete out to criminals.[1] There is no hard and fast rule. Money spent on rehabilitation may cost a lot, but is well worth it, when you consider cuts to the rate of reoffending, leading to reduced expense related to those who reoffend and less crowded prisons. In Britain, it costs £140,000 a year to jail a young criminal, imagine if that money was spent on his or her rehabilitation instead?[2] Furthermore, in America, where measures like the ‘three-strike policy’ were introduced and rehabilitation discouraged, ‘more than four out of ten adult American offenders still return to prison within three years of their release’.[3] Retribution simply does not work, and it is certainly not saving the government any money.

[1] Landry, P. ‘On The Theory of Punishment’. Blupete, 2011.

[2] Doyle, J., ‘£140,000: the annual cost of jailing a young criminal’. The Guardian, 1 March 2010.

[3] Pew Center on the States. State of Recidivism. The Pew Charitable Trusts. 2011, Washington, D.C., P.2.


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Bois, N. D. Retribution and Rehabilitation: A Modern Conservative Justice Policy. Dale & Co. 20 July 2011

Bowcott, Owen, Haroon Siddique and Andrew Sparrow, ‘Facebook cases trigger criticism of ‘disproportionate’ riot sentences’,, 17 August 2011,

Byrne, R., & McCutcheon, P. Byrne and McCutcheon on the Irish Legal System. Bloomsbury Professional, London, 2009.

Chang, K. O. Lock up repeat offenders for life. Jamaica Gleaner, 17 September 2006,

Directgov. Rehabilitation versus punishment - judge for yourself. 1 July 2008,

Directgov, ‘Education, training and working in prison’,

Dodd, Vikram, ‘Police face years of public disorder, former Met chief warns’,, 6 December 2011,

Doyle, J., ‘£140,000: the annual cost of jailing a young criminal’. The Guardian, 1 March 2010,

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Jingqiong, Wang and Zhu Zhe, ‘Former richest man gets 14 years in prison’, China Daily, 19 May 2010,

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Malik, Shiv, ‘UK riots cause 8% rise in jailed children’,, 8 September 2011,

Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism. The Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, DC, 2011

Raynor, P., & Robison, G. Rehabilitation, Crime and Justice. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

Stanford, P. (2007, August 23). The road to redemption: Does the rehabilitation of prisoners work? The Independent, 23 August 2007,

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