The Instigator
Con (against)
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The Contender
Pro (for)
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Rehabilitation should be valued over retribution in the criminal justice system.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/9/2013 Category: Society
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,231 times Debate No: 30080
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
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Any rounds work- I will debate con, challenger will debate pro. To keep the rounds even, Pro will not debate in the fourth round so that Pro-Con-Pro-Con-Pro-Con structure can stay in place. 3 rounds for each. Anything goes.


First what is justice?

  • [mass noun] just behaviour or treatment:a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people
  • the quality of being fair and reasonable:the justice of his case
  • the administration of the law or authority in maintaining this:a tragic miscarriage of justice
  • judge or magistrate, in particular a judge of the Supreme Court of a country or state.
Really it is clear that the focus of it is on treating the criminal as they deserve.

Now here is the key difference between retribution and rehabilitation.

What is retribution? It is punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act.

What is rehabilitation? It is to restore (someone) to health or normal life by training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness.

Clearly the first concern is the punishment's nature. The nature of punishment in most civilised societies is imprisonment with the only variable to consider being the time for which it should last and this is often determined in the case whereby two barristers must advocate either for or in defence of the guilt of the accused. Here they primarily debate over whether or not the crime was committed. Then if the defence lawyer begins to accept it was committed they then debate over the exact nature of the committed crime to try and get their client as low a sentence as possible. Nowhere here is rehabilitation the issue.

Rehabilitation is something that a non-criminal should be worried about BEFORE they do a crime. If this person has not been rehabilitated and then does a crime, a crime is a crime and justice will be served. That is all.
Debate Round No. 1


Resolved: Rehabilitation ought to be valued above retribution in the United States criminal justice system.

Define: (Merriam-Webster)
above: better than
valued: preferred
retribution: punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved
criminal: one who breaks the law and harms both his/her victim or the society as a whole

The burden of proof in this case lies on the affirmative side, as they must prove beyond a doubt why their method of justice is better than any and all other methods of justice available. Now, retribution being the status quo, the negative must merely show why the status quo is either better or equally as good of an option as the affirmative, and the negative will have won this debate.

Value: I value justice because it is the foundation on which the American criminal justice system is founded. The criterion for this value is public safety because, in the end, the criminal justice system acts so that the public’s best interest is in mind when administering punishment to offenders.

1. Retribution supports the value of justice far more than rehabilitation does.

a) Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg once said that moral reasoning comes in the form of egotistical development. What he means by this is that humans are generally predisposed to prefer moral action that they deem is just. This defines public interest for this case, and sets a reasonable foundation for that principle. The difference between retribution as defined and rehabilitation as defined is that rehabilitation is therapeutic in approach, whereas retribution takes on punishment from a moral perspective. We, as a nation, should not offer prisoners the “luxury” of therapy when they have wronged the society as a whole when committing their crime.

George F. Will of Newsweek states:
“We should use the criminal justice system to isolate and punish--that is, to protect society from physical danger--and to strengthen society by administering condign punishments that express and nourish, through controlled indignation, the vigor of our values.”
b) A prudent example of why retribution works is the island country of Jamaica. Jamaica and the US had similar homicide rates in the 1970s, both around 52 out of 100,000 people. Jamaican authorities attempted a change to a rehabilitative system, and their homicide rate stagnated at 52 out of 100,000 people. The US, on the other hand, dropped its rates. This year, Jamaica began a “crackdown” on the criminal justice system and its punishment system, and projects its rates to decline to 42 out of 100,000 people within the near future. This proves that retribution is a more viable system that the public responds to better than rehabilitation.

c) The moral need for retribution drives the criminal justice system forward. It is irrational to assume that one may simply be afforded the luxury of improvement when their victims were not given this luxury to begin with. The government does not have to, nor should they choose to help a criminal, one who harms society. It is in the public interest to serve these criminals justice, and if isolating them from the rest of the community is what is best for the public good, then the government should, by all means, take on retributive justice. Simply put: criminal activity is a choice, and it should therefore be treated like one.

d) Additionally, public support for retributive justice is overwhelmingly high. Gallup reports that 63% of Americans today support the death penalty, an example of public interest in serving justice to those who deserve it. This also shows that the public is not in favor of criminals re-entering society, instead showing that the public prefers criminals to be secluded, in some cases eradicated, from society. Since my value criterion is based on public interest, this proves that retributive justice is morally mandated over rehabilitation.

2. Retribution is more cost-effective than rehabilitation.
a) The Times of Great Britain reports:

“[A] study by Professor John DiIulio on the US DOC estimated that the annual cost of keeping a criminal in jail is $25,000 and the total social and economic cost to society (including policing, insurance, injuries, replacing stolen property, and household expenditure on security measures) of allowing the median offender to remain at large is $70,098 annually. The resulting cost-benefit ratio is 25,000:70,098 or 2.80.

All criminals have a financial burden to society, this is indisputable. However, since both financial burdens are on the taxpayer’s dollar, one must look to public interest when deciding which burden to uphold as the responsible one. It is irresponsible to force the public to pay nearly three times more taxes to assist a prisoner who has wronged them, when the public can pay a third of the affirmative’s burden to both preserve the public’s best interest as well as preserve public safety. Cutting a murderer’s prison sentence short in hopes of “reforming” him both places an unnecessary burden on society as well as an unnecessary harm.

All things considered, it is the public who, in the end, must take on the burden of operating the criminal justice system. The public does this because it is morally correct, a simple facet of human existence, to apply justice where society sees fit. This is supported by the fact that all laws, and to that extent, all crime, is regulated by the public. It would be wrong for the government to regulate crime on the public’s behalf if the public supported retribution over rehabilitation. It is the negative’s opinion that public good trumps all other criteria because public good is the measure by which all other value criteria are compared. For these reasons and more, I urge the judge to negate the resolved.



ProNoob forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Since my opponent has forfeited his last round, every argument he has made and that I have contested go in the con's favor. I still urge a con ballot.


ProNoob forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


See above comments relevant to my opponent forfeiting his rounds.


ProNoob forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by jgman182 5 years ago
The reason I haven't defined the debate as much as I normally would is because I'm debating the con side. It would be unfair of me to be able to apply burden of proof, definitions, etc. when I'm not the affirmative side and I'm speaking first.
Posted by ZakYoungTheLibertarian 5 years ago
I am interested in this debate but only if I can take the side that restitution should be the basis of the legal system.
Posted by autodidact 5 years ago
I am interested in this debate but feel at this time it is way too poorly defined.
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