Wyoming Liberty Group
Four Approaches to Improving Criminal Justice
There are four main approaches to administering criminal justice; 1) Deterrence, 2) Restraint, 3) Retribution, and 4) Rehabilitation. Every criminal justice system uses some combination but over the years, trial and error throughout the 50 states has called into question the effectiveness of each. Making sure Wyoming’s focus is on an efficient, evidence-based combination will go a long way towards increasing long-term public safety, saving taxpayer dollars, and giving offenders a shot at redemption.
Deterrence refers to the state’s attempt to discourage criminal acts by potential offenders through fear of the consequences. This purpose has proven nearly impossible to accomplish legislatively. According to studies by the National Institute of Justice, most criminals don’t believe they’ll be caught when committing crimes and thus, rarely pause to consider whether the crime is worth the consequence. As a result, we find criminal deterrence relies less on harsher legislative punishment and more on the perception of getting caught by law enforcement.
Restraint focuses on an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality; believing that as long as an offender is behind bars, they won’t be able to continue to commit crimes. This is inarguably effective but merely a short-term solution. Ninety-five percent of Wyoming’s prison population will eventually return to society, so putting adults in time-out without additional recourse is not a proactive solution. Some argue that incarceration alone does little more than desensitize offenders to punishment and serve as “criminal universities” where petty offenders can converse with other inmates to sharpen their skills and become more dangerous and troublesome upon release.
Retribution is a prettier word for revenge. It refers to inflicting punishment as vengeance for harm done. This is perhaps the oldest, most barbaric theory of justice but justified in some situations. It is hard to imagine much opposition to punishing rapists, child abusers, and cold blooded killers but when punishment for the sake of punishment extends to petty crimes, it’s an inefficient use of resources and does little to make communities safer.
Rehabilitation is arguably the most effective way to serve justice but requires buy-in from the community and up-front financial investment. When talking about rehabilitation as a theory of justice, it is important to note that substance abuse treatment is only the tip of the iceberg. Rehabilitative justice is centered around providing an offender with counseling, substance abuse treatment, basic education, job training, and a number of other classes aimed at correcting bad behavior. Investing in rehabilitation is the most effective way to create positive change in an offender’s life. As a result, crime rates and corrections costs drop with each criminal that turns into a productive member of society.
If brought back to the table, the Judiciary Committee’s Criminal Justice Reform bill looks to put Wyoming on the right track. First, the worst of offenders remain behind bars and receive the retributive justice the community demands. Second, the bill emphasizes smarter sentencing practices that restrain criminals long enough to re-think their behavior. From there, it allows state agents to develop case-by-case, strategic plans for each offender; aiming toward effective use of restraint and abandoning outdated attempts at deterrence. Lastly, the bill supports rehabilitative programs that correct bad behavior and slow the cycle of recidivism. Passing Criminal Justice Reform can refocus efforts toward evidence-based practices that give citizens the most safety per tax-dollar spent and give ex-offenders a shot at new and better lives.