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.
I consume a fairly large amount of media. I've read a lot of books, seen a lot of films, watched a lot of television, played a lot of video games, and seen a fair few plays and musicals. Despite all of this, there are massive gaps in my cultural knowledge. I've never watched a Marx Brothers film, only one Chaplin, and until a few months ago, hadn't seen any Buster Keaton. I have read one Jane Austen novel, two Dickens and very little other classic literature. While I'm vaguely familiar with the shape of much Sherlock Holmes, I don't think I've ever read a story to completion I haven't seen Rocky, the 39 Steps, the original King Kong, past season one of the Sopranos or Dexter, any of Boardwalk Empire, even a complete episode of Poirot. Hell, I still haven't seen the end of the Great Escape thanks to the video cutting out.
So it always annoys me when someone dismissively says "urgh, hasn't everyone seen that yet?" There are very few pieces of media that can be claimed that everyone has seen. Even pieces of culture which have become ingrained, such as star wars, still need to be watched at some point. If you'd gone back in time to child me and ruined the reveal in Empire Strikes Back I would have done... well nothing because I was pretty young, and my ability to get revenge was limited at that point, but I'd definitely be annoyed.
Look, there is more to most stories than the dramatic reveals at key points in the story, and I have watched many things that have been spoiled for me and still enjoyed them, but spoiling thigns can rob that key moment of surprise. I watched Planet of the Apes unspoiled and was actually surprised by the ending (although I have a feeling rewatching it would reveal it as a bit hokey now), and am glad I got that opportunity.
Yes, there are plots you can spoil for me if you want to, and theres not much I can do about it, and by doing so you will have made the world just a tiny bit special. Congratulations, I suppose. For me, I'm going to do my best to let people experience media on their own terms and then have a discussion with them about it.
Labels: books, film, rant, television