Does Prison Work? Since the beginning of recorded history, imprisonment has been used as a method of punishing those who have broken societies laws. However, the nature of prisons has changed throughout history to adapt to societies norms. In recent years, our custodial facilities have been questioned more and more as a form of state punishment. In this essay I will attempt to answer the question of whether imprisonment is really an effective form of punishment in terms of it being a deterrent to criminal behaviour, as well as its effectiveness in rehabilitating those who have broken the law.
I will also be answering questions such as “Are all types of criminal behaviour equally likely to be reduced by the use of prison as a deterrent? “. Defining State punishment A normal citizens definition of punishment would likely follow along the lines of “A deterrent to an actual or supposed offender, inflicted by an institution or authority against whom the offence was committed” Flew (1954). This is a simple definition, the main criticism against it being that it doesn’t go into specific detail concerning mitigating circumstances such as the nature/severity of the offence, or the victims of the offence in question.
State punishment was defined by Criminological theorist Nigel Walker as “A sanction imposed on law breakers, which is decreed by law with the passing of legislation ordered by Judicial authorities (in this case the courts), and is executed by legitimate state law enforcement agencies (The courts, the probation services, the prison authorities etc)” Walker (1991). Leading on from this, Nigel Walker identified 7 key characteristics of state punishment: 1 .
The punishment is painful to the offender, whether this pain takes the form of physical, mental, or emotional suffering. 2. The punishment is intentional, and serves a purpose . The punishment is legitimate 4. The punishment is Justified (partially determined by the culpability of the offender) 5. The punishment targets illegal acts/behaviors, as opposed to thoughts. (You cannot punish somebody for simply thinking about breaking the law) 6. The punishment denotes the culpability the offender has in breaking the law 7.
Those who order and administer/supervise the punishments must be aware of all 6 of the above characteristics. Prisons effectiveness as a form of state punishment Prison is the most commonly known (and therefore most commonly questioned) form of state punishment. Its effectiveness as a punishment in general is assessed according to a number of differing criteria. In this section I focus purely on determining its effectiveness as a form of state punishment, which means assessing how well it achieves each of the overall aims of state punishment.
Retribution – This is assessing how well knowing the offender is in prison compensates the victims who have suffered as a consequence of the law being broken (for example, the comfort/security a family feels knowing that a burglar who committed crimes against their property is off the streets and behind bars). How rison is fulfilling this aim depends on the offence in question. What I mean by this is that victims of a minor crime (such as assault) are likely to be satisfied by the fact that the offender(s) are spending time in custody, having their freedom temporarily away from them, albeit temporarily.
In contrast to this, those suffering as a result of a major offence (for example, a grieving family of a murder victim) will take scant comfort from the fact that the person who was responsible for their loved ones death is not only still alive themselves, but also likely to walk free in the future, due to the act that the length of the average “life” sentence is between 20 and 30 years (dependant on the offenders behavior during their custodial sentence). Deterrence – This assesses how effective prison is at deterring offenders from breaking the law again after they are released from prison.
Recent statistical data suggests that prison is not an effective deterrent when it comes to reoffending. The proof of this comes from the most recent set of government figures stating that out of the 640000 offenders which were cautioned, convicted or released from custody, approximately 170000 were proven to have committed a reoffence within a year, iving a reoffending percentage of 26. 8%. This gives a 0. 5% increase in comparison to the reoffending fgures given a year before. It should be mentioned that these fgures represent information taken from adult offenders.
The fgures for Juvenile offenders read differently, with the latest set of data showing that out of the 88000 who committed offences, around 32000 of them committed a reoffence at some point within the following 12 months (35. 8%). While these fgure may look unsettling, it should be mentioned that this is actually an improvement on previous years, with the reoffending rate being down by 1. % since 2000. The fgure in 2000 were out of thel 38800 who committed an offence, around 51900 reoffended within 12 months (37. 4%). (Figures/statistics from www. gov. k) Denunciation – This is a form of deterrence which relies on public criticism towards the offender to prevent the offender from reoffending. Generally, an offender will find it much more difficult to fit into society after being released from prison. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, other members of society are likely to treat the offender with suspicion, shunning them socially, and not being able to trust them. Also, the ffender may be excluded from basic day to day activities, such as taking part in their child’s school activities due to the other parents not being comfortable having a former convict near their children’s school.
Finally, and possibly the most important reason, because of the black mark on their permanent record, an offender will find it incredibly difficult to find employment of any form, let alone a form of employment which will provide a considerable income and/or is a fulfilling career path. Very few employers are likely to employ an ex convict to work for them, meaning that the convict will struggle to ind a steady source of income.
Because of these reasons, a prison sentence can have far greater consequences than the time spent in prison that can follow a former convict around for the rest of their lives, and is therefore a very effective deterrent when it comes to stopping people committing an offence. Reparation – Reparation is where an offender repays the losses they inflicted upon a victim. This area is where prison is seen as one of the least effective forms of punishment due to the fact that the offender doesn’t actually have the chance to provide any form of compensation to the victim(s) of their crimes.
The perception of what actually constitutes reparation varies according to culture. The most common perception of reparation comes in the form of compensation, or restitution, which involves the offender repaying the damage to the victim of their crime, that compensation can come in the form of financial aid, repairs to physical/emotional damage caused, or helping to restore the victim to the situation they would be in had the crime not existed. Prison is an ineffectual method of punishment from this perspective, as compensation is almost impossible for somebody to provide while hey are serving a custodial sentence.
Other cultures may seek another form of reparation, in the form of satisfaction on the part of the victim. This can be achieved via an admission of guilt on the part of the offender, or via a public revelation of the truth, or finally via the dignity of the victims being restored. This is an easier form of reparation to provide, seeing as offenders can communicate with the outside world either whilst serving a custodial sentence, or during the preceding time in court. Rehabilitation and reintegration – This is how effectively a prison prepares offenders or life after their release.
The increased focus on this area is among the most positive changes made to prisons in recent years. This is typified by this quote from the German Federal Constitutional Court “prison institutions also have a duty in the case of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment, to strive towards their resocialization to preserve their ability to cope with life and to counteract the negative effects of incarceration”. Offering prisoners a chance for reformation during their sentence is statistically proven to lower reoffending rates.
In December 2010, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke ublished a paper where he promised to “break the destructive cycle of crime and prison” by ensuring that prisons become “places of hard work”, the priority being to reduce re-offending. By way of example, we can look at the financial repercussions of offering rehabilitation programs for those currently serving a custodial sentence for offences linked to drug addiction. Statistics show that for every 100 individuals, the RAPT (Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) program saves E6. million on both re-incarceration and resentencing. This would equate to an annual saving of over 4 billion pounds if every rug addicted prisoner in the UK were encouraged to undertake the program. Overall, the current rehabilitation and reintegration programs run by prisons are proving to be very effective, but a lack of funding is hampering their progress, as well as costing the government funds which could be spent elsewhere, with David Cameron recently stating that “When this Government came to power we were spending E40,OOO a year (per person) Just on banging people up.
With payment by results, in the near future your money should be going into what works: prisoners going straight, crime coming own, our country getting safer. ” Incapacitation – The incapacitation theory suggests that the way to deter offenders from committing further crimes is to remove them from society (temporarily or otherwise), or by making it physically impossible for the offender to commit another crime. In some cultures, some form of capital punishment would achieve this (such as chopping off a thief’s hand or castrating a sex offender).
In the I-JK incarceration is the most common method of incapacitation, with capital punishment seen as barbaric and therefore outlawed. A prison sentence is seen as effective because for he duration of their stay in prison, the offender is removed from society and therefore cannot commit a crime. The length of a prison sentence and the effectiveness of prison as a form of incapacitation is determined by the future threat the offender poses to society.
For example, a short term stay in prison is likely to deter a petty thief from reoffending, as the potential punishment wouldn’t be worth the meagre rewards stealing again would bring. On the other hand, a murderer has every chance of reoffending after their release, as the fact that they would commit murder in the first place suggests hat their mental health is a cause for concern, and the offender may feel like they have nothing to live for after their release. This is one of the main reasons murder carries such a long sentence.
Actuarial Control – The ideas behind actuarial control suggest that crime is an unavoidable part of society due to the fact that there will always be rationally thinking people who still choose a life of crime. Therefore, our aims should not be to deter crime, but rather to contain it, and control its effects. Prison is the most effective form of punishment when it comes to this because of the fact that the ffenders are locked away from society as punishment for their actions, and therefore cannot reoffend for the duration of their stay.
The primary downside of using prison as a form of actuarial control is the fact that it leads to the numbers sent to prison (as opposed to other forms of punishment keeping them on the streets, such as community service) skyrocketing. This leads to more public money being spent, as well as the issue of the prisons becoming overcrowded. Conclusion To conclude, the answer to the question of whether prison actually works as the most ffective form of punishment depends on the intentions of the government as a whole.
As a deterrent, prison seems to be the most effective form of punishment for short term offenders, but its role as a form of rehabilitation depends on the funding it recieves from the government. Prison is the most effective form of actuarial control, as well as incapacitation, due to it taking offenders off the streets, and cutting them off from society. The area where prison suffers in comparison to other forms of punishment is in reparation, as somebody behind bars cannot pay back a debt to society, unlike an offender erving community service.
Overall, I would say that prisons do work, and that they are currently the most effective form of punishment in the I-JK. Bibliography * Walker, N. (1991) Crime and Criminology * Review of Offender Learning. Making prisons work: skills for rehabilitation (2011) * Mathiesen, T. (1990). Prison on trial. London: Sage * Fowles, T. (2006) Counterblast: The Criminal Justice Act 2003 – The end of an Era? The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(1): 71-3 * Matthews, R. (2009) Prisons in C. Hale, K. Hayward, A. Wahidin, and E. Wincup. (eds) Criminology, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press