To Punish or Reform? Aren’t Prisoners Human Too?

By Hina Singh

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Prisoners exchange their freedom to settle their debt to society for their crimes and are locked up under brutal conditions. But they deserve it right?

The stigma of being a prisoner is that you are violent, abuse drugs, and are a threat to society; just overall, fundamentally flawed. In some cases, this is a reality, but not every prisoner is of this stereotype. Many or most become that way from being put in prison instead of being rehabilitated earlier.

If the American Department of Corrections strives for the most efficient forms of rehabilitation in correctional centers under fair conditions, prisoners can be rehabilitated. Although the department is fearful of recidivism, due to financial pressures, the prison program pays little attention to the process of preparing the prisoners for reintegration into society.

To prevent future crimes and lower the crime rate overall in society, punishments such as retribution and deterrence are enforced in the American prison program for varying crimes. Criminals who carry out violent acts and repeatedly harm others should be in prison as a form of social protection. They disrupt social progress and should take full responsibility to learn from their mistakes and should be fully penalized for them.

Punishment is necessary for people who are intent on carrying out immoral acts but it isn’t meant for those who don’t have any other option or break the law by mistake. Most of the time, inmates don’t actually need to be in a cell; they aren’t necessarily dangerous to society.

Instead, inhumane conditions inside prisons increase the chances of drug addiction, the creation of gangs, and eventually a need to return to the life of crime after release. As reported by CBS News, 77% of drug offenders re-offend. Rather than punishing these people who are dealing with a mental illness such as drug addiction, they should undergo drug rehabilitation. This is an easier and cheaper option for the prisoners to overcome their addiction and reintegrate into society.

The National Institute of Justice states that the recidivism rate of state prisoners in the US is 67.8% within three years of release, after the supposed punishment and rehabilitation to stop this from happening.

The reason the rehabilitation may be so ineffective is that the court is inclined to offer an early release to prisoners regardless of their progress in rehab. This is because the Vera Institute of Justice has found that inmates can cost $60,000 a year.

The foci of the American program are punishment and serving justice when it should be rehabilitation and correction. In the US, punishment is put first and rehabilitation second, but in Norway, the correctional department is based on rehabilitation which focuses on “cognitive-behavioral programs rooted in social learning theory”, according to Business Insider.

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These programs are clearly successful, as the recidivism rate in Norway is 20% compared to 60-70% in the US, as reported by The Guardian. Norway’s rehabilitative program focuses on treating its prisoners as human beings and prisoners can choose to participate in engaging activities such as cooking and music classes that are available in their free time.

In many countries, prisoners are just waiting for time to pass and rely on drugs or gangs as coping mechanisms, but taking part in brain-stimulating activities eliminates boredom while promoting creativity and positivity. Other nations should learn from Norway’s experience to model their own versions of rehabilitation programs.

We can endanger the safety of our loved ones by continuing to build more prisons and create more victims by what prisons are producing.

Investing in rehabilitative programs and embracing them as a new approach to reduce and prevent crime will prove more effective in the long term.

Crime is an inevitable part of any civilization. A society can determine the fate of its citizens and its overall wellbeing, but it requires a creative and experimental approach to break this vicious cycle.

 

Works Cited:

  1. “Recidivism.” National Institute of Justice, 17 June 2014, www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/recidivism/pages/welcome.aspx.
  2. Slifer, Stephanie. “Once a Criminal, Always a Criminal?” CBS News, CBS Interactive Inc., 23 Apr. 2014, www.cbsnews.com/news/once-a-criminal-always-a-criminal/.
  3. Sterbenz, Christina. “Why Norway’s Prison System Is so Successful.” Business Insider, Insider Inc, 11 Dec. 2014, www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-so-successful-2014-12/?IR=T
  4. James, Erwin. “The Norwegian Prison Where Inmates Are Treated like People.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 Feb. 2013, www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/25/norwegian-prison-inmates-treated-like-people.
  5. “The Price of Prisons.” Vera Institute of Justice, May 2017, www.vera.org/publications/price-of-prisons-2015-state-spending-trends.