Treatment and punishment of Crime


Justify Punishments

Behaviorists might justify the use of punishments by saying that the behaviour of inmates can be improved by positively reinforcing desirable behaviours (operant conditioning).

They would also say that through vicarious reinforcement desirable behaviours can be learned (Social Learning Theory). 

1 of 11

Why do we punish?

Cauadino and Digman suggested serveral justifications for punishment

  • Deterrence (preventing future crimes)
  • Reform (changing the individual)
  • Incapacitation (removing them from society)
  • Retribution (punishment fits the crime)
2 of 11


One form of punishment is a custodial sentence. People argue whether this form of punishment deters the offender from re-committing. 

Recidivism- reoffending of prisoners. 

Lloyd et al (1994)- reported recidivism rates of 54-70%, suggesting prison not a great deterent. 

Have been attempts to lower the recidivism rates by implementing punishment-oriented regimes. These aim ro make prison so adversive as to deter ex prisoners from re-offending.

3 of 11

'Short, Sharp, Shock' schemes

These were introduced in the Uk and involved a strict military environment.

Mackenzie and Shaw (1990)- prisoners who went into boot camps had a more positive attitude about their prison sentences and the future compared to those who went into traditional prisons. 

However, those considered for boot camp tend to have committed less violent crimes.

Mackenzie argued that these camps would not change behaviour if the real causes were not addressed. 

4 of 11


Employment is also a major factor in influencing recidivism rates. 

Lipsey (1995)- found that employment was the most effective factor in reducing re-offending (a reduction of 37%).

Due to this many schemes and initiatives were implemented to raise the educational skills of offenders which would hopefully increase the likelihood of employment after release. 

Steurer et al (2001)- out of 3170 released American prisoners 29% of those completed educational programs had a reduction in recidivism rates. 

5 of 11


There is a link between employemnt and recidivism which is explained by gaining employment reduces re-offending. 

However, it may also be that employment leads to less chaotic lives and so a lesser need to be criminal. 

6 of 11


Great variability in prisons, with some being more focused on rehabilitation whilst others are more pubishment based making the effectiveness of custodial sentences mixed. 

Biggest problems with prisons is the psychological and social effects on prisoners. 

Dooley (1990)- studied 295 suicides and found that 17% occured within a week and 29% within a month of prison entry.

However, prisons protect the public from potencially dangerous people. 

7 of 11

Cognitive Deficits

People see prisoners behaviour as a problem which can be treated. 

Many criminals suffer from cognitive deficits- errors in their thinking, which may have led to their criminal behaviour. This is treated through cognitive therapy. 

An example of cognitive deficits is...

  • Self control (problems with impulsive behaviour)
  • Cognitive style (lacking empathy/ having difficulty with social concepts)
  • Values (poor moral skills) 

and these are deficits which prisoners often have. 

During therapy prisoners are encouraged to recognise that they have these deficits, this is done through two programs. 

8 of 11


Enhanced Thinking Skills: encourages thinking before acting through 20 2hr sessions. 

Reasoning and Rehabilitation: based on the assumption that prisoners lack social skills/ attitudes. 

9 of 11

Effectiveness of therapy

Hollin et al (2004)- treatment lowers recidivism rates. 

Cann et al (2003)- showed that such benefits are short lived. 

The effectiveness of the therapy depends on complication of the course. Palmer et al showed that those who did not complete the program had a higher conviction rate. 

10 of 11

Token Economy

Behavioural therapy is often used to prevent re-offending. 

One system is the token economy- idea that offenders can be conditioned through rewards to adopt more positive behaviour.

Behaviour can also be shaped until it becomes the desired behaviour. In this Token System, eventually tokens are no longer given for good behaviour, this is so offenders do not expect rewards for simply behaving in acceptable ways. 

Behaviourists- for conditioning to be effective, punishment and rewards must be immediate. 

Bassett and Blanchard (1977) found that the effectiveness of a token economy was removed when staff misused the system,

Garrido and Morales- those who committed more serious crimes were more likely to re-offend for behavioural rather than cognitive treatments. 

Token economics are argued to be unethcial as having to earn privileges is demanding and perhaps unfair. 

11 of 11


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Criminological and Forensic Psychology resources »