The research and delivery of psychological approaches to criminal rehabilitation has witnessed a resurgence of interest in recent years. A development in the consensus has emerged about the value of offender rehabilitation programs and the characteristics of programs that are likely to be associated with reduced recidivism.
Sentences are issued to protect the public, deter criminal behaviour, and reduce the offenders’ recidivism rate, as well as simultaneously punishing the offender. However, while these theoretical consequences may sound successful on paper, they may not necessarily manifest themselves in practise. When it comes to youth criminality, the age of criminal responsibility is a major issue. The age at which a person becomes criminally responsible varies by country; in Malta the age stands at 14 years.
The majority of the crime is committed by young people, but most of it is temporary, and those who continue onto a criminal career are primarily those who were regrettably more readily influenced or fell into the wrong groups- this is the fundamental issue criminologists are attempting to address.
It is well-known that one’s family and the environment one is raised in has a profound effect on their personality traits and how one perceives the world around them. An increasing number of children have their parents behind bars, and many of the children whose parents are incarcerated will join them in the future, following their parents’ criminal patterns. Violence is also ingrained in our culture, even in the way we communicate. This is a direct consequence of the acceptance of violence in the past, in a society where there were few resources that one could turn to for support. Violence is not just physical but can also be manifested in psychological ways.
It has been widely preached that incarcerated minors should not be located into correctional facilities with adult offenders. Excluding the risk of safety for the minors; another reason to not combine the two age groups of offenders is that adult correctional facilities serve as both a school and a playground for young offenders. This being said, with youth offenders absorbing the environment around them, adult correctional facilities for offenders would not be society’s first choice for them. It is also to be noted that in certain facilities, some criminal actions and prosecutions can be worn as a badge of honor to present to the world how ‘tough’ a person is.
When it was discovered that the majority of inmates were between the ages of 15 and 25, reformatories for young people became a viable option. When the reformatories originally opened, youths between the ages of 16 and 21 were given intermediate sentences of up to three years. It was also suggested afterwards that staff from the youth correctional system would be transferred to the adult corrections system in the hopes of integrating the former ‘humane and progressive’ beliefs into the latter.
A way that society can tackle this issue is by enforcing alternative correction punishments for youth offenders. This is where an offender’s relationship with rehabilitation is birthed. The principle of punishment should still be there, however, one must understand that a sentence based solely as a punishment is 100% ineffective in reducing recidivism rates for offenders. Education, therapy, and victim-offender mediation should be stressed upon during an inmate’s time being served for the crime that they have committed. Technology has paved a way to introduce many more alternative programs juxtaposed to the options available twenty years ago. Some of these programs include electronic monitoring; probation hotels, community service, and volunteering work.
Rather than imposing heavier sanctions, more attention should be paid to behavioural improvements and personal development for the offenders. As Beccaria, one of criminology’s most influential philosophers once wrote “The success of criminal justice depends more on the certainty than the severity”. Rehabilitation also assists in the individual’s reintegration back into society which is quintessential for inmates, especially those of a younger age.
“The success of criminal justice depends more on the certainty than the severity.”— Cesare Beccaria
By blending a balance of rehabilitation into the offender’s time being served rather than pure punishment behind bars, this assists in lowering the recidivism rate, simultaneously dismantling the pattern of future youths going into crime. One can only hope that a stronger relationship continues to grow between youth offenders and rehabilitation/ alternative community based sanctions, rather than them hopelessly being left behind bars until their sentence is finished.