Should Prison be Punitive or Rehabilitation in Nature?
A question that has existed since the beginnings of the modern prison system has been that of whether prison should be an unbearable punishment for an action committed, or rehabilitation for the accused to rid them of a particular behavior. In ancient times, a violent crime was usually responded with a violent verdict, resulting in torture and pain, and the concept of 'an eye for an eye' that led human law for thousands of years. Recently, however, civilization has rejected the outward torture of prisoners, and has tried to implement a system based on fairness, both during the trial and during the punishment. While prisoners may not feel like their jail time is fair, modern civilization has elected judges to make these decisions for society. There is still the question, however, of what in today's world is the goal of prison, to punish, or to change. I believe that prison time should be treated as a punitive punishment for inmates for three reasons, including the retribution of the offended, the setting of precedent for other would-be criminals, and finally to keep this individual off of the streets for as long of a time as possible.
The most important reason for prison sentencing to be treated as a punitive measure is to provide justice to the weak, and the oppressed who has been victimized by the inmate in the outside world. The justice system cannot undo what crimes have been done, but it can control the future of those who perpetrated that crime. This is the basis of the prison system vs. some other form of corporal punishment; to control time is to provide a punishment enough, since people have such short lives. The victims or victim's families of a terrible crime require compensation from society for the inconveniences cost to the family for the state being unable to protect them. This is a contract of social justice that is upheld by the state in the most humane manner by simply imprisoning criminals rather than maiming them, or holding public executions, which are mostly a thing of the past. The modern state administers punitive justice for the very purpose of compensation to the victim or the state itself, this is seen as important to the purpose of justice. Rehabilitation is simply a suggestion that is placed upon the principle of punitive justice, and rehabilitation should not supplant the punitive measures that are necessary, or else society will be upset with the state for leniency when it should be setting an example of criminal justice at its best.
It is important too for the inmate to experience a prolonged period of imprisonment, in order for them to recollect and review where they have gone in life and why they did what they did. This period for self-reflection may take years for the most wicked criminals, and decades for those who are worse still. The inmate needs to learn that what they did was truly wrong and against societies rules, and can never be repeated. This is why prisons first existed, to keep prisoners alone so as to be able to reflect on their thoughts. Integrated prisons have only worsened the ability for a prisoner to behave normally, since the culture of prison is so rough and immoral. The best solution to this would be to lessen the amount of time that prisoners have to communicate to one another, and to disallow the passing of material goods between cells, with regular checkups on cells to report violations. The 'prison economy' needs to vanish so that prisoners are not thinking about their short-term benefits, but rather their long-term goals of leading a normal life.
One of the most important advances in prison culture is the increased use of prisoners as labor for the state. This cheap labor has helped to keep costs down, has given a purpose to the prisoners who are working, and allows inmates to earn money while behind bars, whether for themselves when they are released, or by going towards the support of a prisoner's family. Inmates are usually physically very strong, and are capable of sustaining a safe and productive work environment, depending on the scenario. The traditional view of using prisoners as road workers is rather out of date. Now, they are typically trained to work inside in factories, stamping metal, and other trade skills. Even electronic repair and high-tech sectors are able to use the labor time of skilled inmates. This system of providing work to prisoners is the best sort of rehabilitation, one that does more for the state than against it, by increasing the profit margins of labor. (Turner, 2012) The capitalist system found a way to thrive even within the most solid government sector, prisons. The prison economy, both formal and informal, are forces that need to be better regulated in order to advance both causes of rehabilitation and punitive justice.
The second reason that prison time must be treated as a punishment is to teach other potential criminals what to expect in prison if they do break the law. Having to spend ten or more years behind bars will make most human beings think twice before committing murder or rape, and the police are becoming better and better at catching criminals as well. Television shows such as CSI and NCIS embellish the effectiveness of forensic analysis in order to make people fearful of ever committing a crime, and gives others the feeling of safety knowing that the police are better at their jobs than they have ever been. Unfortunately, prison culture has gone through a period of romanticism in American youth, especially with tales of gang culture during its reign in the early 1990s. Controlling the message of just how bad prison is, and how foolish it would be to choose to go to prison in exchange for committing an illegal act, is an important propaganda tool that needs to be recognized as a crime deterrent.
Most violent crime is committed by individuals under the age of 30, and usually are men, which is a trend that has been consistent throughout all of humanity. Young people feel as if they are exceptionally safe and out of harms way, and therefore are more likely to commit crimes, thinking that they cannot be caught. Knowing the dangers of prison, as well as the seriousness of the court system, has been the best tool available to discourage crime. By keeping those youth ages 18-24 in the prison system for several years after they have committed a serious crime, the penal system is capable of waiting out their most rebellious years, and the youth will mature in prison with the capability of receiving education. Longer punitive jail times leads to less of a chance of young inmates of being back on the street before they have outgrown their most tumultuous years.
The third reason why prison sentences should be treated as a punitive system is to keep the streets of America clean of criminals for as long as possible. In the interest of all law-abiding citizens, there needs to be a grace period between a horrible act of crime and the freedom of that individual to walk the streets once more. This is why trial lawyers attempt to go after the longest sentence time possible when going to trial in certain situations, and less time in others. (Peak, 2012) The more heinous the crime, the longer the prison sentence, this has been a fact for hundreds of years. Judges decide to give convicted criminals longer sentences not because they feel that the convicted should be rehabilitated for longer, but rather because they need a longer punishment for the crime they committed. This rationale has allowed for a three strike system that allows for escalating sentences for repeat offenders, as well as a good behavior system that allows for sentences to be reduced. Both of these mechanisms allow for some small manipulation of a prisoners sentence.
Keeping streets clean of crime can be done in two ways, one an active way, which is by hiring police, by educating the public against committing crime, and by utilizing civilian good will to report crime in progress. The other way is passively, by keeping known criminals out of the public eye and unable to commit crime for a long period of time. This method of reducing crime has led to unequal representation of communities affected, with many fathers being kept away from their children for long periods. Also, when prisoners are kept away from society for a long time, they are often unable to get a job or operate in a normal way in society. This is a problem to be sure, but keeping criminals off of the streets for years at a time has also done much to reduce crime and to create a safer country as a whole. By utilizing both active and passive crime fighting, the legal justice system…