Greetings from your amanuensis emeritus. We had a thrilling discussion on the topic Resolved: The US criminal justice system should prioritize rehabilitation. Ms. Miller began our last Merrick debate by establishing the framework for our discussion and some key facts to help us answer this question. First, she looked at the high recidivism rates and pointed out that criminals cannot navigate society after they have served their time and how this leads to revolving door prisons. Second, she mentioned how rehabilitation is a long term solution to this problem. She concluded by arguing that this does not mean that we should go easy on criminals; rather, we should allow for them to enter society after paying their debt to society. Mr. Desnick responded by pointing out how our current system is for rehabilitation, looking at the name correctional facilities as an example, to argue that rehabilitation is the problem with our system. Next, he argued that retribution is a fairer model because it is based in proportionality to the crime committed which is the definition of justice. Furthermore, he argued that only retribution can fix the harmony that is lost when a crime is committed. Finally, he concluded that the government’s role is not to fix people and that is what is attempted when rehabilitation is the priority.
Ms. Higbee opened the floor by pointing out that criminals frequently have no one caring for them and that this is the only way they can have that. Ms. Muldavin responded by arguing that principally people must take responsibility for their actions. Mr. Donovan agreed on the point of responsibility but added that we must look at criminal justice as a means of helping society by helping the individual. Mr. Kendrick argued that the state cannot cause change and that the role of the government is to make rights and punishments. Mr. Quinn used the example of his uncle to show that many crime laws are unjust and that anyone who has a chance of redemption should be allowed to do it. Ms. Wynter replied that rehabilitation does not go far enough as there is much more that needs to be changed in society as well. Ms. Marki reminded the Society of the humanity of the prisoners and that rehabilitation allows for people to look inward at themselves. Mr. Edgar focused on the goal of the criminal justice system as safety and argued that criminal justice lacks the tools necessary to fix societal problems. President Prindiville looked at the role of government as ethical and setter of the societal moral standard to argue that rehabilitation is another way of teaching right from wrong. Mr. Wooten replied that the affirmation is actually arguing for the side of justice and fairness. Ms. Grace said that the goal of the criminal justice system is to increase the societal good and make it more productive. Ms. Brosnihan looked at the effectiveness of deterrence to decrease crime. Vice President Christensen framed the debate around incentives and argued that rehabilitation is the most effective means of achieving success. Mr. Carter asked the affirmation for a definition of rehabilitation and prioritized safety over rehabilitation. Mr. Diasti argued that we should give the most that we can to have criminals be able to help society after they serve their term. Mr. Wilson looked at rehabilitation as an extra element of the criminal justice system but punishment as the core of criminal justice.
Tia Baheri (SFS ’16) pointed out how difficult it is to admit one’s faults and how we must help criminals be able to do this. Patrick Musgrave (COL ’16) argued for deterrence by showing how people respond most to losses. Mr. Lim, a self-declared arch-reactionary, looked at the history of the criminal justice system and said that sometimes there are no gray areas, there is just right and wrong. Mr. DiMisa, this post’s author, looked at incentives and argued that rehabilitation is the only way to realign criminals who commit crimes out of necessity. Mr. Spagnuolo responded that rehabilitation cannot work so long as there are societal barriers to criminals that block them from being able to reenter society. Mr. Willis looked at his experience on teen court as a means of showing the effectiveness of rehabilitation. Mr. RisCassi argued that punishment should be the priority because it is most effective as the core of the criminal justice system. Ms. Ringwald looked at the other pillars of the criminal justice system and concluded that only rehabilitation was the one that is able to better society. Mr. Dulik argued that justice/gentleness is the best means of having a good criminal justice system. Chancellor Marsh looked at the success of the Scandinavian model of rehabilitation to argue for second chances. Mr. Mouch replied that the criminal justice system is about taking away freedom. Abby Cooner (SFS ’16) finished the floor portion by looking at the necessity for rehabilitation to improve society.
Mr. Desnick reminded the society of the importance of proportionality. He also used the example of an IR class with three students getting the same grade despite different amounts of studying to show the fairness of the criminal justice model. Finally, he quoted Shawshank Redemption to argue that rehabilitation does not work. Ms. Miller framed the debate by arguing we should look at what should be and not what it is. Furthermore, she looked at the markers of success to show that rehabilitation is the best means of achieving success. To conclude the debate, she quoted Gandhi to argue that we should not lose our faith in humanity, rather, we should try to help humanity.
The Society voted 28-3-11 to affirm.
Ms. Miller – 5 points
Mr. Spagnuolo and Mr. Desnick – 4 points
Mr. Donovan – 2 points
Mr. Dulik – 1 point
Final Merrick Point Totals
Mr. Spagnuolo – 27 points
Mr. Dulik – 22 points
Mr. Petallides – 16 points
Mr. Snow – 12 points
Mr. Donovan – 10 points
Mr. Askonas – 8 points
Mr. Berryman and Ms. Wynter – 6 points
Ms. Wood, Mr. Whitfield, Ms. Miller, and Mr. Wilson – 5 points
Mr. Desnick – 4 points
Mr. Ahmed and Ms. Ringwald – 3 points
Mr. Taft – 2 points
Mac Dinneen (COL ’14) and Mr. Quinn – 1 point
Our Merrick Keynoters: