Prisons are commonly found in all societies in the world. They have a long history dating back to the earliest of civilizations. Ancient Sumerian city-states are known to have deployed legal codes governing a system of punishment for criminals. These city-states existed thousands of years ago. With the idea of how ingrained prisons have become in our society, the question remains: what is the point of it all?
The prison system offers a way to gain retribution for immoral, unjust and, essentially, illegal acts. The criminals are meant to be punished, and the removal of their freedoms could serve as sufficient punishment in the eyes of the law. Rehabilitated services could also be provided, as they are in many cases. With the ineffectiveness of prison to solve legal issues and the failures to reform or effectively rehabilitate prisoners, it is appropriate to ask if prison systems should be abandoned altogether.
The first point of criticism of prisons is the nature of vengeful retribution, and how that is an inhumane practice. We as humans are meant to be forgiving and accommodating of the failures of others. In extreme cases, where people display a moral failing, there lies the possibility of individual retribution. That is to say that there are other measures which can be taken to effectively deal with many crimes. For example, an offense of fraud could result in the seizure or demand of payment of all stolen money, as well as other measures such as the dismissal of employees where this is appropriate.
The above point deals with the option and increased effectiveness of individual retribution, but what about the question of necessity. The existence of another system points to the lack of necessity for a prison system, except for extreme crimes such as murder. The rule of law will still exist to govern legal relations between individuals and society at large. However, communities do not need prisons in many cases, as other less vengeful, more humane methods can be deployed to deal with legal issues. If another system could exist, then the possibility to imagine a prison-ridden world becomes real.
Prisons are also notoriously ineffective in punishing individuals and rehabilitating criminals. Some people in the author’s life, have expressed a sentiment akin to wanting to go to prison. They would say things like, “in (so and so) country, (one) is allowed to have an Xbox in prison.” It does not take a rocket scientist to gather that some people are not bothered by the prospect of going to prison. What that means is, prisons have become ineffective in preventing crime.
In the EU, car thefts, robberies, home burglaries and homicides have all decreased in various periods up to 2016. Sexual violence and assault have, however, increased. These statements are all provided by Europa. Criminal recidivism is said to have not declined, with rates reaching up to 50%. This points to the understanding that prisons are not, in fact, effective, but that people might be under-reporting crimes as a potential result of a growing lack of faith in the prison system.
Another fair argument is that prisons should not be abandoned, but should be reformed instead. This is a popular argument growing in stature as a result of several issues with prisons, today, around the world. This change in prisons systems could very well work, although the very notion of having prisons to begin with is questionable. They serve a purpose in providing security, with relation to severe crimes. As for the lesser crimes, there is an argument to be made that misdemeanor offenses should not result in prison sentences in many cases.
It is important to remain objective, and stress the point that prisons can hypothetically solve legal issues, as they do in many cases. If it is proven that society is better off with prisons, then it should be said that the prison system should not be abandoned. That is to say that, prisons provide security to law-abiding citizens and a way to right the wrongs of criminals. What is important here is the security, livelihoods and well-being of the people in society who choose to abide by the law. Prisoners should also see that their security is seen to, and prisons could, yet again, be critiqued on those grounds.
With all this being said, it becomes clear that the integral nature that prisons have in society as a solution to crime is something which can be brought into question. Law and order is of the utmost importance, and is an integral part of all advanced civil societies. Prisons are not necessary, however, and they present a problem to societies in many ways. These problems include the high rates of repeat offenders and the inhumane nature of stripping people of their rights. It could be that the prison system is the best system we have for most matters of retribution, but that notion could be challenged with the emergence of a more effective and humane system.
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