Is the prison system the only way?

Throughout the world, many cultures have numerous ways of dealing punishment or penance to individuals that commit crimes against others. Some have extremely harsh measures (loss of a hand for stealing is one) to measures that are just ridiculous (low security prisons for prisoners who crimes are embezzlement and such.)

Now my point: are we as a country punishing those who commit crimes against others justly or injustly? Are criminals being released to early or to late? Are prisoners receiving to many “perks” for going to prison? Think about it, all prisons supply food and shelter, some form of entertainment, and some are even providing college educations that are being paid from our pockets.

Give me some of your ideals and thoughts on this situation, and if you want, toss in under-age crimes also for fun.

What are we trying to accomplish with it? Rehabilitation? Retribution? Compensation of the victims? Elimination of recidivism? Restoration of the cosmic balance?

One way to answer the question is to ask, “What should the purpose of the judicial system be?” If the Teeming Thousands take this tack, then I’ll come back when they have settled this debate. Call me in a few centuries.

The other way is to say, “Assuming for the sake of discussion that the purpose of the judicial system is X, does a term of imprisonment accomplish X?” Be prepared, even if the question is asked in the form, “Assume that X…now assume that Y…now assume that Z…”, to see impassioned posts by people proclaiming, “No, no! I cannot stand to be in the same universe with anyone who does not immediately state that the only legitimate purpose – yea, the only purpose imaginable by the less than totally depraved – of the judicial system is A!”

Well, prisons are exorbitantly expensive; during the time that prisoners are incarcerated, they aren’t harming anyone outside the prison system (although they may do significant damage to other incarcerated individuals), but – assuming the prisoners are eventually released – they may have a contraintentional effect insofar as the experience of imprisonment may be positively correlated with subsequent violent crime, all other things being equal. (Prisons as “finishing schools” for violent criminals).

If are a believer in punishment (retaliation), rehabilitation, subsequent-crime prevention, or even “justice” in some abstract sense, this sounds like a pretty bad report card on the efficacy of the prison system.

If you believe in deterrence, the model doesn’t look quite so bad, although it is still a very very expensive scare tactic.

I am not quite sure how you can say that prisons score terribly well on the deterent side. They work great in theory as long as you assume rational actors but that assumption doesn’t even work well with economic models.

I also don’t see how you can say that they score poorly on the punishment side of the equation. I suggest you spend a week in a typical american prison to enjoy the luxurious surroundings and respectful treatment. I think you got confused between the concept of punishment and whether it is effective in modifying subsequent behavior.

As Akatsukami points out you really have to define your goals before getting carried away. In our penal system punishment is an end in itself. The idea that you can take a bunch of fucked up people and lock them up together in a high stress environment, subject them to long term psychological torture, and expect them to come out better people is so laughably ridiculous its amazing that anyone takes it seriously. Punishment and isolation are the only goals that are served to any degree by prisons.