Is prison less effective than rehabilitation programs for youth who are first time offenders?

Looking at how rehabilitation programs may have a greater, more positive impact on young teens who are first time offenders. Prison has a history of teaching life skills; to new and young offenders to aid in continued criminal behavior. Much like prison, rehabilitation programs also teach life skills, but these skills have a more positive impact on one’s life experience after breaking the law. Rehabilitation programs provide education, and skills that are applicable to the working world, they can also help provide a further career placement after the program completion. The programs also help with transitioning to a new home, as well as having practitioners for addiction recovery and recuperation back into society.

The prison system we all know of was once the alternative system to our earlier forms of punishment (Russell, 2007).Our punishments were quick and suited the crime committed. In the early 1800’s at the beginning of the revolution there was a change in the way people looked at punishment practices. This change allowed for prison practices to come into play successfully. (Russell, 2007)Like many new things groups of people began to form opinions; along came the reformers; the Rationalists and the Humanitarians. This was the beginning thinking to alternative programs! The rationalist began their movement in the early 1800’s a few years before the prison system came into play; believing that the law should be rational, that breaking the law was a conscience act and would be an ongoing occurrence. (Russell, 2007) The Rationalist proposed “parole”; parole was first informally introduced in 1817, it was approved by officials/the courts (Russell, 2007). Parole is the early release before sentence ended for good behavior; it had to be given at the time sentencing and could be taken away with bad behavior. The Humanitarians were slow in growth it’s believed that they began to gain numbers and power in the late 1830’s. Humanitarians believed that the law should be humane as well as caring and understanding, accrediting criminal behavior to one’s circumstances having reason behind their actions. (Russell, 2007)Suggesting Probation informally in 1841; a boot maker named Augustus asked the court to grant him custody of a drunk whom broke the law. (Russell, 2007) The court granted him custody on the promise that he return him in 12 weeks’ time sober and employed. Augustus did just that, he went on to do the same for many others well into his old age. (Russell, 2007)

Today these divisions in thought have been broken into three schools of thought each one has strong legitimate arguments. The first position is that ‘prisons suppress criminal acts”. Believing that the unpleasantness of prison along with the negative social stigma; will deter later criminal behavior as to avoid the out casting in society. (Centre for Criminal Justice Studies University of New Brunswick, 1999) The second viewpoint ‘schools of crime’ proposes that prison increase criminality due to the psychologically destructive nature of prisons. Making it more likely that offender’s criminal behavior subsides.  The third perspective on this is the ‘minimalist/interaction’ position whom believe that “prisons are essentially ‘psychological deep freezes’, in that offenders enter” (Centre for Criminal Justice Studies University of New Brunswick, 1999). “This perspective also suggests that lower risk offenders may be more adversely affected by greater lengths of incarceration through exposure to an environment typically dominated by their higher risk, more hard core peers” (Centre for Criminal Justice Studies University of New Brunswick, 1999).  Because of these many different viewpoints Canada has integrated a modern twist, adding various combinations of alterative and prison as we will look at next. Some thirty years ago ‘The Renaissance Project’ was introduced to Canada from the United States. The project started in Westchester County N.Y, it was the first of its’ kind providing living, care, education, and self-help (Russell, 2007). The program still runs in Canada and in the United States, in Canada it is estimated that 1,200 people are helped each year quickly becoming the best of the best in rehabilitation programs. (Russell, 2007) Programs like the renaissance project and many other alternatives to prison were made more accessible in 1996 when Canada changed the criminal code (Russell, 2007). Due to overcrowding and the increase in criminal behavior they allowed judges to freely sentence charged criminals to alternative programs.  In Canada we practice probation and parole which we discussed above; among other alternative programs practiced in Canada such as community service programs, boot camp, and house arrest. (Russell, 2007) The community service that is instilled into Canadian rehabilitation remains a non-profit government organization that provides wonderful opportunities for a better landscaping and economic stature by reintroducing criminals back into society in a positive manner. For criminals who may need a more disciplined rehabilitation there are programs and organizations based firmly around a military style experience such as boot camp, by instilling a little more stern approach to criminal rehabilitation. (Russell, 2007) Boot camps provide core values and morals to those who need a more direct approach. Lastly House Arrest is a very common practice among the courts as it gets the point across and the punishment can take place immediately, this allows the offender to serve their sentence at home under electronic surveillance.

The impacts of alternative programs in Canadian society are very minimal if any. Graham Stewart of Canada’s John Howard Society said “We could put somebody through University for what we spend on a person in prison”, this statement proved most true, while doing my research for this paper I found that the cost to incarcerate someone far exceeds the cost to rehabilitate someone into society; It costs over $28,000 to keep one person in federal prison for one year (FAMM). Not to mention due to the negative stigma associated with being an ex-convict it makes it more difficult for integration back into society to happen successfully as it is not easy to find willing employers to hire. “The relationship between prison growth and falling wages among low-skill and minority could be interpreted in many ways. People with felony records have difficulty finding good jobs. A small research literature thus finds that incarceration reduces earnings” (Western, 2002). While over 40% of offenders who leave prison will reoffend and be back in prison within three years of their release. Alternatives to prison are proven to flout the underlying causes of crime (i.e., drug addiction and mental illness) preventing offenders from committing new future crimes (University Of Toronto , 2014).  Along with the immense opportunities alternative programs offer they are  favored among the public in which 77% believe that alternatives to incarceration are more appropriate with conditions and amendments (University Of Toronto , 2014) this clear turn in thinking is providing new careers and chances for those who were unlucky to follow the path of crime.

Work Cited

Centre for Criminal Justice Studies University of New Brunswick. (1999). New Brunswick, Canada.


JULIA DMITRIEVA, K. C. (2012). Arrested development: The effects of incarceration on the development of psychosocial maturity. Cambridge -Cambridge University , Ontario, Canada.

Russell, C. (2007). Alternatives to Prison Rehabilitation and other programs. Mason Crest.

University Of Toronto . (2014, February 14). Retrieved February 26, 2015, from University Of Toronto:

Western, B. (2002). The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality. The Impact of Incarceration on Wage Mobility and Inequality. American Sociological Association.