Week 3: Correctional Philosophies and Theories

Published by Brenda I. Belcher

Apr 4, 2021

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Week 3: Correctional Philosophies and Theories

Over the past two weeks, you explored the history and evolution of the correctional system. This week, you focus on correctional philosophies and theories related to sentencing.

There are four philosophical orientations that apply to the sentencing process:

  • retribution (does the punishment fit the crime?);  
  • deterrence (does the punishment prevent future crimes?);
  • incapacitation (does the punishment protect the public from the worst offenders?); and
  • rehabilitation (does the punishment offer opportunities to change for the better?).

In theory, the philosophical orientations offer a useful framework for determining the most appropriate sentence and sanctions for a given crime. In practice, however, the application of such orientations has the potential to be misguided and inherently flawed, posing significant threats to justice, fairness, and equality in the correctional system. This week, you consider these many factors in correctional philosophy.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Compare sentencing structures, sanctions, and sentencing disparity across different states
  • Evaluate the proportionality of sentencing structures and sanctions
  • Analyze factors that contribute to sentencing disparity
  • Apply philosophical orientations, concepts, and theories of corrections to a case study
  • Apply strategies to reduce racial bias and discrimination in the correctional system    

Learning Resources

Required Readings

Hanser, R. D. (2017). Introduction to corrections (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.Chapter 2, “Ideological and Theoretical Underpinnings to Sentencing and Correctional Policy” (pp. 28–49)Introduction to Corrections, 2nd Edition by Hanser, R. Copyright 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Inc via the Copyright Clearance Center.
Krisberg, B. A., Marchionna, S., & Hartney, C. J. (2018). American corrections: Concepts and controversies  (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.Chapter 3, “The Purpose of Punishment and Sentencing Trends” (pp. 44–68)American Corrections: Concepts and Controversies, 2nd Edition by Krisberg, B. A.; Marchionna, S.; Hartney, C. J. Copyright 2018 by SAGE Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Inc. via the Copyright Clearance Center.
Stohr, M. K., & Walsh, A. (2017). Corrections: The essentials (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.Chapter 5, “Sentencing: The Application of Punishment” (pp. 80–107)Corrections: The Essentials, 3rd Edition by Stohr, M. K.; Walsh, A. Copyright 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Inc via the Copyright Clearance Center.
Stohr, M. K., & Walsh, A. (2017). Corrections: The essentials (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.Chapter 12, “Minorities and Corrections” (pp. 260–283)
Corrections: The Essentials, 3rd Edition by Stohr, M. K.; Walsh, A. Copyright 2017 by SAGE Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Inc via the Copyright Clearance Center.
Barnes, J. C., & Motz, R. T. (2018). Reducing racial inequalities in adulthood arrest by reducing inequalities in school discipline: Evidence from the school-to-prison pipeline. Developmental Psychology, 54(12), 2328–2340. 

For this article, skip the Methods and Results sections on pages 4–8.
Leibovitch, A. (2017). Punishing on a curve. Northwestern University Law Review, 111(5), 1205–1280.

For this article, read pages 1213–1242 about causes of sentencing disparities.
The New York Times Editorial Board (2015, October 23). Wrongly profiled and deported. The New York Times.Criminal Justice Case Studies: Corrections, Week 3 (PDF)

Required Media

Goffman, A. (2015, March). How we’re priming some kids for college—and others for prison [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/alice_goffman_college_or_prison_two_destinies_one_blatant_injusticeSerial Productions. (Producer). (2018). Serial: You’ve got some Gauls [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://serialpodcast.org/season-three/2/youve-got-some-gauls

Optional Resources

Rich, S. (2016). Corporate criminals and punishment theory. The Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, 29(1), 97–118. http://dx.doi.org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1017/cjlj.2016.4    


Discussion: Sentencing and Sanctions—Proportionality and Disparity

Does the punishment fit the crime? This is one of the enduring questions in the study and practice of corrections. Generally, the public appreciates a “tough on crime” approach and politicians follow suit by implementing harsher punishments while promising to make communities safer. However, the “tough on crime” approach can have unintended consequences, one of which is that punishments can be disproportionate to the crime committed. A complicating factor is that sentencing structures vary by state; therefore, the same crime committed in two different states could result in vastly different sentences and sanctions.

In this Discussion, you will consider how sentencing structures and sanctions for drug-related offenses vary by state, the degree to which sentences and sanctions are proportionate for drug-related offenses, and the factors that contribute to sentencing disparity.

By Day 3

Post a response that addresses the following:

  • What is the sentencing structure for drug offenses in your state?
  • What types of sanctions are used for drug convictions in your state?
  • Are the sentencing structure and sanctions proportionate to the crime? Why or why not?
  • What factors might contribute to sentencing disparity among drug offenders in your state? 

By Day 5

Respond to two colleagues who live in a different state than you do.

  • Compare sentencing structures and sanctions in your state with your colleagues’ states.
  • What insights or conclusions can you draw about sentencing disparity based on your comparison? 

Submission and Grading Information

Grading Criteria

To access your rubric:Week 3 Discussion Rubric

Post by Day 3 and Respond by Day 5

To participate in this Discussion:Week 3 Discussion


Assignment: Philosophical Orientations and Theories of Corrections

In the 1970s, there was a movement to enact mandatory sentencing laws, which forced judges to give fixed sentences for specific crimes. Critics of such laws argue that each criminal case is unique and that mitigating factors such as the offender’s age, background, criminal history, mental health, and many others should be considered in context.

In this Assignment, you write a paper that provides the opportunity for you to demonstrate your understanding of philosophical orientations and theories related to sentencing and sanctioning offenders. Begin by reading the case study found in the document, Criminal Justice Case Studies: Corrections, Week 3. Pay particular attention to how the offender’s mitigating factors may influence your approach to sentencing and sanctions. 

By Day 7

Submit a 950- to 1,050-word paper in which you address the following:

  • What biological, psychological, or social factors could be used to explain the case study offender’s criminal background? What theories might account for the offender’s behavior? (250 words)
  • How would you sentence the offender for the crimes committed? (450–550 words) Be sure to address:
    • What philosophical orientation(s) would guide your decision making about sentencing?
    • What mitigating factors and/or aggravating circumstances would you consider when deciding on sentencing
    • What type of sentence would you recommend and why?
    • What sanctions would you recommend and why?
  • Do you think the offender is likely to reoffend after completing their sentence? Why or why not? Support your argument with evidence from the Learning Resources. You may also incorporate relevant professional experience. (250 words)

Submission and Grading Information

To submit your completed Assignment for review and grading, do the following:

  • Please save your Assignment using the naming convention “WK3Assgn+last name+first initial.(extension)” as the name.
  • Click the Week 3 Assignment Rubric to review the Grading Criteria for the Assignment.
  • Click the Week 3 Assignment link. You will also be able to “View Rubric” for grading criteria from this area.
  • Next, from the Attach File area, click on the Browse My Computer button. Find the document you saved as “WK3Assgn+last name+first initial.(extension)” and click Open.
  • If applicable: From the Plagiarism Tools area, click the checkbox for I agree to submit my paper(s) to the Global Reference Database.
  • Click on the Submit button to complete your submission.
Grading Criteria

To access your rubric:Week 3 Assignment Rubric

Check Your Assignment Draft for Authenticity

To check your Assignment draft for authenticity:Submit your Week 3 Assignment draft and review the originality report.

Submit Your Assignment by Day 7

To submit your Assignment:Week 3 Assignment


Journal: Bias and Discrimination in the Correctional System

The correctional system does not exist in a vacuum. Racial bias and discrimination that exists in society also finds its way into the correctional system. A number of studies provide strong evidence that racial minorities receive harsher sentences and represent a disproportionate segment of the prison population. Young, African-American males are especially vulnerable to this epidemic.

In this Journal, you reflect on your own experiences and awareness of racial bias and discrimination in the correctional system as well as on strategies for reducing both.    

By Day 7

Write a 300-word Journal response to the following prompts:

  • Discuss ways in which you experience, witness, or are aware of racial bias and discrimination in the correctional system.
  • Describe at least two strategies you would use as a criminal justice practitioner to reduce racial bias and discrimination in the correctional system. Address any barriers that might arise. 

Submission and Grading Information

To submit your completed Journal for review and grading, do the following:

  • Click the Week 3 Journal Rubric to review the Grading Criteria for the Assignment.
  • Click the Week 3 Journal link. 
  • Next, click Create Journal Link.
  • In the title box, enter the title of the Journal Entry. Please title it: WK3Journal+last name+first initial.
  • In the Entry Message box, type your Journal Entry or click Browse My Computer and select the document you saved as “WK3Journal+last name+first initial.(extension)” and click Open.
  • Click Post Entry.
Grading Criteria

To access your rubric:Week 3 Journal Rubric

Submit Your Journal by Day 7

To submit your Journal:Week 3 Journal


Week in Review

This week, you considered the philosophical orientations and theories that apply to the sentencing process.

Next week, you examine issues and challenges related to the contemporary prison system. You also consider how specific correctional practices can be applied to address those issues and challenges. 

Next Week

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