The Instigator
Pro (for)
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The Contender
Con (against)
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Resolved: Rehabilitation ought to be valued above retribution in the U.S. criminal justice system.

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/13/2013 Category: Society
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 11,313 times Debate No: 29128
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
Votes (0)




I affirm. Here are my standards and arguments.

value - morality, because “ought to” implies a moral obligation.

definitions: “Valued” is defined as considered to be important. Most importantly, “rehabilitation” is defined as punishment intended to reform a convict so that he can lead a productive life.

value criterion - the social contract. My criterion of social contract is justified first because people give up rights to the government in exchange for protection, which requires government to protect them. Second, the social contract legitimates the government. The idea of the social contract is in place today to make sure that a government can be agreed upon by all citizens to avoid civil tyrannies.

I argue that since citizens are loyal to their government, the government ought to prioritize protecting them and their rights. Without this balance of loyalty, a peaceful, productive, and successful society cannot exist. The Affirmative burden is to prove that it is important to consider reformation of an offender in the traditional criminal justice system. The Negative must prove that retribution upholds the social contract overwhelmingly better than does rehabilitation in order to be eligible to win.

Contention One: Rehabilitation is best for society. It is an effective way to protect all sectors of citizenry.

Subpoint A: Rehabilitation overwhelmingly decreases recidivism rates. Cullen writes: our the “best bet” for reducing recidivism and improving the lives of those processed through the correctional system is to involve them in rehabilitation programs that have therapeutic integrity. Rehabilitation is an important strategy for preventing the victimization of citizens. The past success of rehabilitation is empirically proven. For example, a report analyzed a full 200 studies and concluded that the difference in recidivism between rehabilitation and retribution was 6 percentage points (44% for rehab vs. 50% for retribution). This reduction “represents a 12 percent decrease in recidivism". This disparity shows that society is safer if it implements rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. Less recidivism means less crime, which is better for ordinary citizens.

Subpoint B: Rehabilitation is better for families. Kim writes: "the most harmful result of needlessly incarcerating nonviolent offenders is what it does to families. More than 1/3 of children with a parent in prison drop out of school. Youth whose parents go to prison are 7 times more likely to be convicted of a crime as adults. These people need treatment, not punishment. Prison doesn't treat their problems and rips apart innocent families whose wounds may not heal for generations." Thus, the social contract can only be protected if the government protects families and prioritizes rehabilitation over retribution.

Subpoint C: Rehabilitation is better for health and stability. Wilson observes that:
unforgiveness is stressful. "Because stress is linked to health, forgiveness is also related to health." A flexible system of rehabilitation serves to decrease anxiety and increase physical welfare in victims, which upholds the social contract. Furthermore, a study conducted by a private firm saw that 40% of adults believe that the main purpose of prison is rehabilitation, rather than deterrence, punishment, or the protection of society. Furthermore, 81 percent of people support alternatives for offenders such as mandatory education and job training; 88 percent support providing prisoners with skills training. To protect both the health and wishes of citizens, particularly those at the disadvantaged end of a crime, the government has an obligation to implement rehabilitative procedures in the criminal justice system. Straight punishment creates neither a relieving nor a physically healthy effect in the victim, which is contradictory to both morality and the social contract.

Contention Two: Rehabilitation is best for the offender. The social contract mandates that all sectors of citizenry be protected. Criminals must also be served proper justice that matches the magnitude of crime to that of punishment, and rehabilitation is one of the few ways to do this.

Subpoint A: Rehabilitation protects constitutional rights. Rotman writes:
An atmosphere of imminent danger to physical well-being not only infringes upon constitutional provisions but creates the possibility of criminal liabilities. A failure to provide rehabilitation amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Offenders should be punished for their assault on society, but not in a way that is detrimental to their basic rights. The social contract mandates that we prioritize the provisions of the constitution and due process above all else, and this intuitive access to rights is promoted with the rehabilitative approach but undermined by the retributive approach.

Subpoint B: Rehabilitation serves justice to offenders proportionally. Green explains situations where some people cannot be held as accountable for crimes because of conditions beyond their control. She talks about 2 situations in which this happens to an offender: "
First, she is excluded from participation in the political life of the community, having no real chance to make her voice heard where laws and policies under which she must live are decided. Second, she has been excluded from a fair opportunity to acquire the economic and material benefits that others enjoy." Banks observes that: "the state should recognize that it plays a part in causing crime and should recognize its role toward crime prevention by providing rehabilitation to assist the offender in not committing further crime." Since the government does not balance opportunities for its citizens equally, it should take into consideration this inequality when assigning punishment. Rehabilitation is an efficacious way to uphold the social contract and pursue morality.

Contention Three: Retribution is horribly ineffective.
The retributive process in the current United States criminal justice system is immoral and coercive.

Subpoint A: Retribution is racially discriminatory. The U.S. Census observes that the nation is roughly 30 percent Hispanic or black. However, the American Sociological Association points out that in a recent observation, m
inorities were 60 percent of all inmates in U.S. prisonsin 2004. Since minorities are not inherently less moral than whites, there is no warrant in the disproportionate representation of minorities with the current system of retribution. The only way to solve crime and restore equality is by prioritizing the rehabilitative approach.

Subpoint B: Retribution is less cost-efficient than rehabilitation. A report from the Center on Crime, Communities and Culture states that it costs $25,000 to incarcerate a prisoner for one year; educating a prisoner for one year costs only $2,500. Educating inmates could potentially save the state millions of dollars by preventing recidivism. Furthermore, it costs $16 a day to subject someone on probation to supervision, including drug treatment and counseling, compared with $50 a day to keep an inmate in prison. The government has a moral obligation to provide social programs and opportunities for its citizens. The capacity to do this is increased with a rehabilitative approach and suppressed with the retributive approach.

Subpoint C: The retributive approach damages the well-being of offenders.
Bronsteen writes:
ex-inmates are more than twice as likely to report hepatitis C infections, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and urinary tract infections. Moreover, they report much higher levels of chronic headaches, sleeping problems, dizziness, and heart problems. By prioritizing rehabilitation over retribution, the government can protect the pursuit of happiness by preventing the proliferation of diseases. There are more optimal ways to protect society and bring justice to offenders without compromising morality, which is the effect of the current retributive approach.

Thus, I affirm.



First I would like to attack my opponent's case then move on to my case in the next round.

My opponent did not clarify if rehabilitation will be determined for all criminals. There was no statement on differentiating levels of criminality and how rehabilitation will be applied to those levels. Therefore from his case, it is assumed that criminals that were murderers and terrorists deserve to be rehabilitated.

You did not supply any source of credibility for your evidences involving specific individuals. Therefore, we can assume individuals like Rotman(in Contention 2 sub point A) as an internet blogger who just graduated from high school.

Now moving on to specific sub points in the three contentions.
Contention 1-
For all of the statistics in Contention 1, I would like to know which report the statistics were based on. This could have been a report during a different time period, where the statistics may have been different from today. Or, these statistics could have been based on a different country and not the United States. If so, it would contradict your value criterion on The Social Contract of the United States.
Contention 1 Subpoint B: First, the statistic shows 1/3 of the children drop out. That means 2/3 do not drop out of school, which upholds utilitarianism, the better for majority of the population. Utilitarianism is closely linked to the social contract, since the government does the best for majority of the people. Also, there was no specific fact of what their parents were guilty of. If they were guilty of abuse, this may actually help the child live a better life, upholding the social contract in terms of punishment. Therefore, your evidence contradicts your value criterion
Contention 1 Subpoint C: 40% of adults believe that the main purpose of prison is rehabilitation from your statistics. Therefore 60%, the majority of the population, believe retribution
is the main purpose.
Your statistics show that around 80-90% of the people support providing prisoners with some sort of alternative to retribution. Can you tell me what types of prisoners they were referring to? If all, does that include terrorists like James Holmes, who killled and injured many civilians?

Now moving on to Contention 2
Subpoint A: Offenders should be punished for their assault on society, but not in a way that is determined to their basic rights. Retribution can take place without eliminating their basic rights. Therefore, your statement cannot be concluded only to rehabilitation
Subpoint B: Your evidence only serves purpose to a small amount of unfortunate criminals in the prison system. Rehabilitation may serve justice to these criminals but how so for criminals that have done much worse?

Finally, moving on to Contention 3.
Subpoint A:Where does it say that 60% of inmates that are of minorities are not deserved of their crime. You do not have any evidence on showing false punishment to these certain individuals. Your subpoint cannot be proven true, therefore retribution is not racially discriminatory
Subpoint B: Many criminals, like James Holmes, are educated, but still have committed a crime. You may save money by educating criminals, but there is no guarantee that it will change the citizen. Then you may have to use other programs, which ultimately may lead up to a cost similar to incarceration.
Subpoint C: Inmates could have already had those certain diseases before punishing. HIV is a sexual disease, therefore stress, if any, from retribution should have a very little effect on it. Also, these diseases are mostly an effect of living conditions in prison. You did not state explicitly how rehabilitation will affect the living conditions. Therefore, rehabilitation may or may not affect living conditions in jail.
Debate Round No. 1


I affirm. I'm going to take this speech to respond to my opponent's refutations to my own points. Since my opponent has made no contentions of his own thus far, you, judge, can assume that I am winning today's debate if I am able to pull my contentions throughout the round.

Let's start with the technics. It is not my burden as the Affirmative to state which people will be given rehabilitation and to what magnitude. All I must prove (see the Affirmative burden in Round 1 of this debate) is that the government, which is arguably the implied agent of the resolution, should prioritize rehabilitation OVER retribution. In his/her speech, my opponent asks me whether or not murderers and terorrists deserve to be rehabilitated. I argue that yes, criminals should be rehabilitated regardless of what they have done because it makes society a better place. Howeer, I do not have to argue against retribution altogether. My opponent must remember that his/her burden is to show that retribution should be prioritized over rehabilitation; it's not necessarily one or the other.

Judge, my opponent attempts to threaten the validity of my evidence. He/she says that you can assume Rotman to be an Internet blogger. Edgardo Rotman is an author for The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. If you would like a sample of what he has written, you may see this link;. However, it is not my burden to provide links for every single one of my cards, especially when the Con side of this debate has still not fulfilled any burden of proof whatsoever himself/herself.

Judge, my opponent spends a lot of time criticizing the evidence in my first contention. This is really the only offense coming out of the entire speech: criticism of sources. Let me state that all of the studies, statistics, and experiments that I referenced in Contention 1 of my constructive speech are from 1997 or later. Unless my opponent can somehow prove that 16 years of lapsed time invalidates every single one of them, all of those statistics further stand. He/she tries to say that these statistics are from a different country. My responses to this is that just because we are talking about the criminal justice system in the United States does not mean that all of the studies I reference in my constructive speech must be based in the U.S. If we can see statistics that show that rehabilitation has less of a detrimental effect on society, then my opponent gives no reasons for why those same policies should not be implemented and extrapolated in the United States.

When my opponent tries to respond to Subpoint B of my first contention, the ONLY offense that he/she has whatsoever is that since 1/3 of children with a parent in prison drop out of school, 2/3 of children do not drop out. I have many responses to this refutation, each one pointing out a hole in my opponent's argument:
1. The card says "more than 1/3", not just "1/3". Thus, anywhere between 33.3333% and 99.9999% of children whose parents are in jail drop out of school. Think about the impacts of this, judge. Children deserve a good education regardless of almost anything. The behavior of their parents should not affect the opportunities that the children themselves have. Thus, if we can see that, for every three children whose parents are in jail, more than ONE of them drop out, the social contract is seriously threatened.
2. My opponent tries to pull through an interesting argument that says that since 2/3 is bigger than 1/3, the current punishment policies uphold utilitarianism. This response is really only a premise of common sense: if you have fewer parents going to jail (serving retributive justice), fewer children will drop out of school! My opponent has no offense on this point whatsoever; let it flow through the rest of the round.

When my opponent refutes subpoint C of my first contention, he/she says that since only 40% of adults believe that the main purpose of punishment is rehabilitation, that automatically means that the other 60% believe in retribution. This blatantly untrue, and my opponent has no oevidence to support it. The other 60% could be a MULTITUDE of different things; I'll even give a few examples to make this debate easier for you: incapacitation, deterrence, community service, national sovereignty, etc. My opponent has no offense going onto my statistics, just weary speculation that can't be taken seriously for today's round.
He/she also attacks my 80-90% statistics. It doesn't matter what kinds of prisoners these people who were surveyed were referring to. The fact of the matter is that (or the purpose of the subpoint, rather) is to show that the VAST MAJORITY of people in general prefer rehabilitative methods to retributive methods of justice! It doesn't mean that we can't have both; it just means that if you're better trying to uphold the social contract, rehabilitation is the way to go.

Subpoint A of my 2nd contention is sort of a constitutional argument, which arguably ties in pretty well with my framework of the social contract. My opponent says that "retribution can take place without eliminating [offenders'] basic rights". How so? If they are deprived of what the Constitution grants them as citizens and as human beings, tell me and the judge exactly how their basic rights might not be eliminated with the retributive system of justice.

From reading the refutation, it looks like my opponent doesn't understand Subpoint B of my 2nd contention. The fact of the matter is that [and this is one of the most important voting issues in the round] **the state should recognize that it plays a role in causing crime**. This means that since not every citizen is afforded the same privileges and opportunities in society, there should be rehabilitative methods of punishment to even the playing ground and provide justice to people who have been given less. I urge my opponent to read Contention 2 Subpoint B again, because so far there is very little valid offense to the point, if any.

What my opponent essentially says in response to Subpoint A of my 3rd contention is that minorities are inherently worse than white people. He/she tries to say that minorities are twice as deserving of punishment (60% of the prison population but 30% of the national population, 60/30 = 2) as whites. Please, don't let my opponent get away with that refutation today because it makes no sense in the spirit of today's round.

My opponent tries to respond to subpoint B of my 3rd contention by saying that saving money (with rehabilitation) won't necessarily allow for more effective programs. I urge you, judge to look at all of the proven effectiveness of rehabilitation that I have in my case. They're healthier, their rights are better protected, they're less likely to be repeat offenders...the list goes on. So if we can spend LESS MONEY on MORE EFFECTIVE programs, and you, judge, believe that that is important, then please let Contention 3 Subpoint B flow through today's round.

Lastly, my opponent's refutation to subpoint C of C3 is that criminals may have certain diseases before entering jail. I refer you to my evidence that says that ex-inmates are 2x as likely to report infections and AIDS than anyone else in society. What this shows, judge, is that cramping up a bunch of prisoners in poorly maintained prison cells is not the way to uphold the social contract. With rehabilitative procedures, we can protect the well-being of offenders by making sure that they aren't locked up in dirty, sweaty, uncomfortable jail cells. There are better ways to reform the offender and the victim and restore society.

Because my opponent presents very little offense so far in the debate and has not refuted my value, value criterion, definitions, or burdens, let absolutely everything from my constructive speech flow through for today's round.

Thus, I affirm.


sm forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


I affirm.

Realize that my opponent has made no offensive arguments so far in the round. He forfeited Round 2, so I will be spending this speech impacting the voting issues and making the "Pro" ballot a very easy choice.

Voting Issue 1: societal benefit
Voting Issue 2: personal benefit

One of the reasons that Pro is winning this debate is because I have demonstrated much more societal benefit with the rehabilitative approach than my opponent has shown with the retributive approach. Rehabilitation reduces recidivism rates (allowing for less crime and fewer lives lost), helps the economy (since the costs of rehabilitation are much less than those of retribution), and is consistent with society's intuitions (ex: 88% of people support providing prisoners with skills training). The ONLY offense that my opponent has in response to these benefits is that my sources are not valid. Please remember that I have collected all of my sources from legal dictionaries, professional journalists, or basic polls (ex: statistics in Subpoint C of Contention 1). Ultimately, we can see that since rehabilitaiton not only saves more lives but uses less money in the process, the Pro side should certainly win those voting issue. As my opponent has silently agreed to by conceiding in his speech in Round 1, whichever side upholds utilitarianism is the one that deserves victory. We can see that the Pro clearly saves more lives and protects them at the same time. Reduced recidivism and reduced costs create a win-win situation that my opponent has been unable to refute throughout the progression of this debate.

But even if you don't buy that, the other of the two reasons that the Pro wins this debate is that the rehabilitative approach is, as I have stated in my speeches of Rounds 1 and 2, better for individuals. First, look to where I talk about how ONE IN THREE children with a parent in prison drop out of school. Youth whose parents go to jail are SEVEN TIMES more likely to be convicted as a crime as adults. I am sure my opponent would agree with me that we serve justice where it is due and do not serve justice where it is not due. To prevent tearing innocent families apart and creating a domino effect of clandestine crime, the rehabilitative approach must clearly be prioritized on top of the retributive approach. Furthermore, ex-inmates are more than TWICE as likely to report hepatitis C infections, tuberculosis, and AIDS. Finally, the victims of the current retributive system of justice have had access to fewer rights and benefits than everyone else, making the retributive approach an inequal balance of justice. If you believe that the social contract, access to human rights, or cohesion in families are important, judge, then the Pro side clearly wins on this voting issue as well.

Keep in mind that my burden to you in this round was that it is important to consider reforming offenders as opposed to just turning them into prison-dwellers. If you believe that decreasing recidivism rates, protecting families, protecting health, promoting constitutional rights, serving justice proportionally, evading racial discrimination, saving money, or upholding well-being is important, then the Pro side clearly wins this debate. I have responded to all of my opponent's speculative questions that he made in Round 1, and you can clearly see that he has conceded all of the technics (value, VC, definitions, burdens) and has made no effort to support UNIQUE BENEFITS to the prioritization of the retributive system of justice over the rehabilitative system of justice.

I would like the judges and my opponent to remember that this is not a dichotomous debate. We do not have to pick, as citizens and as a federal government, between rehabilitation and retribution. We can have both! The most important thing in this debate to realize, however, is that the rehabilitative approach better achieves utilitarianism and constitutional ideals. While we can implement the retributive system of justice in U.S. prisons around the nation, I have clearly shown throughout this debate that it is more important to serve rehabilitation and then retribution rather than vice versa. The government needs to be careful with how it prioritizes, or it may be undermining its own premises and ideals.

All of the technics have been conceded, and all of my offensive arguments carry throughout this debate. Judge, you should pick the side that better achieves utilitarianism: upholding the greatest good for the greatest number of people. For all reasons, I see no other option than the Pro ballot.

Thus, I affirm.


sm forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


To promote fairness and equality of opportunity in today's debate, I will sacrifice this last speech to give my opponent one more chance to extend any arguments he may like to in today's round. Extend all of my burdens, definitions, and arguments throughout the round.


sm forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Archangel35 5 years ago
Pro, Can you please post your sources for this debate? I would just like to see them
Posted by tcarter 5 years ago
I regret that I am not eligible to cast a vote on this debate. It is certainly a very interesting topic, and I would have enjoyed seeing Con complete the rounds. For me, personally, I think that rehabilitation and retribution need to be balanced, so I came into this curious as to which side would be able to sway me. In this, I think Pro did a very good job. His initial arguments were laid out well and were extremely logical. Con attempted to deconstruct them in his one and only participatory round, but I believe he failed to do so. What's more, Pro then followed up by strengthening his arguments with solid facts and good sourcing.

I would hand this debate firmly to the Pro side were I eligible to cast that vote. My one and only criticism of Pro's arguments are that I believe he could strive to make initial arguments more concise. Doing so, with a heavy emphasis on sourcing and facts would put a serious burden upon the opponent, giving him less room to skewer the assertions and force him to seek out competing studies/papers/other sources, and to present his own unique, competing arguments. Make them work for it.
Posted by youmils03 5 years ago
youmils03 members, please vote for either Pro or Con. Thanks.
No votes have been placed for this debate.