It seems to me that prisons have three functions and don’t do any of them well. Because they are unclear what they are meant to be doing they fall between stalls.
Their functions are:
c. To keep dangerous criminals away from the public
a. The process that takes place with the police (arrest, interrogation etc.) and the courts (ordeal of trial and waiting sentence)
b. The publicity and the effect of that on one’s job, relationships
c. One’s status in society
d. Future employment
e. Fines imposed
f. Prison sentence
Much of this takes place before a person is tried and many innocent people suffer hell and have their whole lives affected while many criminals gain in status from the experience and find it enhancing if anything.
Is it a deterrent?
It smacks of old-fashioned biblical revenge. It clearly does not work for most criminals. They go straight back to offending.
b. Rewiring the brain onto different, productive behaviour
c. Addressing the underlying problems (drugs, alcohol, unemployment, traumas, personality disorders, addictions, brain chemistry) via counselling, education, gaining skills and qualifications, medical help, resettlement programmes.
What is the point of punishing people who are victims of their own situations. Surely they need help to get out of the messes their lives are in, to get out of the rut and away from the causes of their problems? If the underlying issues are not addressed they simply drop back in to the same lifestyle. Prison puts them with like-minded people who have the same problems and they reinforce each other. They gain their status with the wrong crowd. Rehabilitation is giving people the means to break their behaviour patterns and get out of the cycle.
Locking People Away involves:
a. Selecting those who are beyond help and locking them up forever
b. Accepting that some people are so evil they can’t be allowed out
But do they always get it right?
Are innocent people convicted?
Can people change?
In my view we do need an element of deterrent punishment but it needs thinking through. I am very concerned with the effect the system has on innocent people caught up in the process.
We need to really address rehabilitation. I do not think our system does a hundredth of what it should. It we want to give people a chance when they get out we have to do a lot more. Money and expertise needs putting in. It would cut reoffending and pay dividends in the long-run.
Some habitual criminals do need locking up – particularly the extremely violent ones. But that doesn’t mean, especially with new treatments, that they could not be successfully treated.
The penal system needs an overhaul and bringing into the 21st Century.