Wednesday, October 03, 2012


The main issue with prison is that we release people at some point. It would certainly be easier if we didn't let people out again. More expensive, certainly, but recidivism rates are pretty damn high: around 50% according to a quick google. It would, perhaps, be a little unfair to the remaining 50%, but its really the only way to be sure.

After all, what precisely is prison for? It is to protect society from criminals? Is it to punish said criminals for their deeds? Is it to help said criminals reform? The issue is that it is all these things simultaneously. As a society, we have never really agreed that prison is for something particular, and thus we end up with the situation we currently have, with people on a merry go round of crime.

Is it terribly surprising that after locking someone up for several years and then releasing them with a criminal record (making it harder for them to get jobs), that people then continue committing crimes? The pragmatist in me will always want prison to be about rehabilitation.

If we don't have the chutzpah as a society to keep burglars in prison for the rest of their natural lives, then we need to try and design prison to prevent them from stealing again. Yes, it might be a little frustrating to hear that committing a crime doesn't lead one to 10 years of sitting on a stone bed being whipped, but provided prison isn't actually preferable to life outside (and it would be difficult to do so. We as free people under estimate the loss of freedom of movement. Imagine being stuck on a cruise ship that never stops for 10 years) then its probably fine. It just seems like a massive waste of our resources to not give prisoners any options when they leave prison just so we can feel they have been appropriately punished. I don't want the lesson of prison to be not to get caught next time, but that there might be a better option for said criminals.

There are societies that do it better: Denmark has a 27% reoffending rate, for instance. It is possible, we just have to gather our collective will to do it.


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