Unfortunately, prisons and jails are a necessary part of society. While a utopian society where everyone follows all applicable laws may seem ideal, it is not likely. Humans are prone to flaws, including illegal and immoral behavior. Prisons were designed to deal with individuals who commit illegal behavior. However, the purpose of prisons has often been debated. Some believe that they should serve only to punish criminals and to deter illegal behavior in others. Others disagree with this assessment. Prisons should focus on reforming the individual; this will allow the individual to live a better life and avoid future illegal behavior. Prisons should be about reformation. This is clearly seen in the prison model of other countries. These countries do not have the same level of criminal recidivism that is seen in the United States.
It has been well established that using prisons as punishments does not work. Prisons should focus on restraining and isolating an individual only while he or she is dangerous to society. This is a necessary part of prisons. However, individuals, whether children or adults, do not learn lessons by having anything painful inflicted upon them. For prisons, inflicting painful punishment only reinforces the idea that violence and inflicted pain are necessary means. They are not necessary means. It may seem that removing an individual from society is a painful punishment; it is only a means to the goal. Once the individual has been rehabilitated, he or she can rejoin society (Gilligan, 2012).
Rehabilitation is also important because it helps to reduce the rate of recidivism among prisoners. The vast majority of prisoners will leave prison at some time. Only a small subset are imprisoned for life; “lifers” have committed violence and horrendous crimes. However, most individuals are in prison for drugs, theft, assaults and other crimes. These individuals will rejoin society at some point. If prisons do not offer rehab for these individuals, they will reoffend. For instance, prisons need to provide valuable job skills. This will allow the individual an opportunity to find gainful employment, thus avoiding returning to a life of crime (PBS, n.d.).
The prison systems in other countries have clearly indicated that rehabilitation in prisons works. Sweden is one such example; it is a stellar one. Sweden recently closed four prisons. It no longer needed them since the number of inmates has steadily decreased. It does not suffer from recidivism. This is on contrast to the United States; in the U.S. prisons are seriously overcrowded and recidivism rates are greater than fifty percent. Sweden focuses on a strong liberal policy of lenient sentences for non-violent crimes and a strong prison rehabilitation system. This includes the use of prisons that do not focus on “punishment.” Rather, the prisons are well-run and not the desolate places found in the United States. Norway runs a similar system. Actually, some countries accuse Norway of treating prisoners “too good.” The accommodations are rather luxurious in Norway’s prisons. Prisoners state that they are treated like adults and given responsibilities. Responsibilities encourage individuals to behave in a responsible manner; this is a necessary part of a functioning society. Prisoners will be expected to behave in a responsible manner once they are released. It is important to teach them what this includes. In addition, prisons in the Scandinavian countries offered extensive education and life training programs. This allows individuals to use the time in a productive manner that will help them as they return to society. Since the reform of the prisons in these countries, violence in the prisons have also sharply decreased. Violence in prisons may result from the poor manner in which inmates are treated (James, 2013).
Violence begets violence. Treating people with disrespect encourages individuals to treat others with disrespect. Prisons need to recognize this. If they work on punishing individuals, the individual will learn nothing as a result. However, if they focus on rehabilitation of an individual, the individual may develop useful life skills and avoid reoffending.
- James, E. (2013, February 24). The Norwegian prison where inmates are treated like people. The Guardian. Retrieved December 22, 2013, from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/25/norwegian-prison-inmates-treated-like-people
- Gilligan, J. (2012, December 29). Punishment fails. Rehabilitation works. The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2013, from: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/12/18/prison-could-be-productive/punishment-fails-rehabilitation-works
- PBS. (n.d.). Point of view: prisons to punish or reform? Retrieved December 22, 2013, from: http://www.pbs.org/pov/whatiwant/special_prison.php