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Prison Reform

December 6, 2010
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                What is the purpose of the present prison system in America? Most would say it is to keep the law abiding citizens safe from the law breakers while a smaller multitude would say it should be to deter crimes from happening through the consequence of incarceration.  Some may even claim that the prison system helps its prisoners by giving them time to reflect on their actions and assume the only conclusion that could be reached through a process as such is a resolution to stay on the right side of the law and engage society in a mutually productive way.  All these commonly held beliefs about the prison system sound ideal but are not based in reality simply because they ignore the obvious flaws(partly due to ignorance) and drastically exaggerate the effectiveness of the system.

                As it stands the cost of maintaining the current prison system is constantly growing with more and more criminals being locked behind bars for various offences.  Guards cannot guarantee a prisoner’s safety from the other prisoners even as is and Scott Anderson’s in his book “Rape in Prison” claims there are over 300,000 instances of prison rape per year.  Also there are gang fights, the barbaric practice of solitary confinement and a lack of psychological services for the prisoners.  I cannot accept these problems as necessary conditions of a system to decrease crime because there is no concrete evidence that the penalty of incarceration significantly decreases criminal behavior from happening or reoccurring.  I believe our current system may actually increase the number of repeat offenders.  I have a few insights that I hope could reform the prison system into a force of good for society.

                The most crucial and biggest impacting change I present is the distinction between those who are dangerous to society and those who broke the law.  Our jails are packed full with murders, rapists, kidnappers, etc. but are also filled with drug dealers, drug users, shoplifters, businessmen, and others that are NOT a threat to the public’s safety.  I propose allowing those that are not dangerous to society to be released from jail and permitted to pay their debt to society through programs that focus on not only rewarding good behavior but restitution to those affected by the crime by working for them in some way.  This way allows for justice to be experienced firsthand, economic benefit for those hurt by a crime and it will greatly reduce prison populations.  With prison population’s reduced greater security can be offered to each prisoner and this could be taken even further with the relatively cheap implementation of emergency help buttons and an accompanying system.  A service I think would greatly help those willing to let it would be psychiatric therapy to both the dangerous and non-dangerous prisoners.  Instead of raising taxes to fund these services I advocate completely eliminating the ineffective probation system and appropriating all the money to the psychiatric services. 

                I recognize the changes I propose are only but the first step in changing the prison system and I’m interested in hearing your ideas on the prison system and how it can be bettered.

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7 Comments
  1. Sara Mitchell permalink
    December 6, 2010 11:45 AM

    I think you offered some really great ideas and addressed issues that have been ongoing throughout prisons everywhere. I like the point made about keep those criminals who are harmful to society in prison but giving an alternative to those criminals who are not harmful to society. However, in your example of those who are not harmful to society, you included drug dealers and drug users. Although I do agree they are not necessarily dangerous to society, they are, however, abusing illegal substances and for that I think they should be in jail. Not putting drug dealers or drug users in jail and instead offering them to pay for their crime in some other way is something I do not see as fitting. Drug dealers are not going to just stop dealing if once they are caught they don’t have to go to jail. I think you are definitely on the right track that something needs to be done to reduce the amount of prisoners, but it needs to be extremely well thought out so people like drug dealers are not put right back on the streets.

  2. Katelyn Salowitz permalink
    December 6, 2010 3:06 PM

    I also enjoyed this post. Prison reform is a serious issue in this country. Overcrowding is a serious problem and needs to be addressed. I liked the idea of releasing the “nondangerous” criminals and having them instead pay their debt to society in a more constructive manner such as cleaning parks and highways or even using talents to help others (apart from their crime). Also rehabilitating “semidangerous” criminals is also a good idea I think. For example, some need psychological services and I believe funding could be better spent to help criminals overcome these obstacles. Then hopefully with these services they would eventually be able to come back society and be contributing individuals.

  3. December 6, 2010 4:55 PM

    Very interesting post. Our prison system today is, without a doubt, a very flawed system. I think that you suggested some very interesting potential changes but you also ignored some very crucial considerations. Generally, people commit crimes because they are “forced” into doing so by external social or cultural forces. While some criminals commit their crime because they suffer from a psychological disorder, most criminals break the law because they do not have the means to achieve their goal working within the law. For example, people who steal do so because they do not have enough money to afford the desired object and because of a psychological term called “relative deprivation”. This means that those who are on the lower part of the social ladder choose to act in deviant ways because they live in a consumer culture where there are obvious different socioeconomic levels and they can feel worthless if they live without the many consumer items that most people possess. The point here is that in order to make positive change in our prison system we must stop the problem at its root. While it may be an unrealistic goal, we must seek to make change within society and its hierarchal structure.

  4. reedmarcus permalink
    December 6, 2010 7:09 PM

    Prison reform has been one of the more highly debated topics and issues over the past few years in the United States. I think that the notion of different alternatives to those who are harmful to society and those who aren’t certainly makes sense in terms of the different levels of punishment for those who act illegally. The only issue in this process would be determining the line between those who are harmful and those who simply made a big mistake. Drug use certainly would be a topic of discussion and it would be hard to justify either way. By creating different sentences for different crimes, it would begin to limit the overcrowding in the prison system. There are criminals that need more than just prison to set them straight, and by altering the way in which sentences are issued it may help limit the amount of crimes that occur following criminal’s stay in prison. As a whole, adjustments to the prison system need to be made and by adjusting the way in which the prison sentences are made, this is a promising start.

  5. blanchc permalink
    December 6, 2010 11:58 PM

    It seems to me the easiest way to cut down on the prison population would be to legalize marijuana. Drug related offenses account for half of the federal prison population (http://www.bop.gov/news/quick.jsp#4) and a large chunk of those, about half, are marijuana related offenses.

  6. Jeff Safenowitz permalink
    December 7, 2010 9:23 PM

    This is a very interesting post. I agree with you when you say the current state of prisons in America is not very good and could use some type of reform. However, releasing “those who are not dangerous to society” is rather arbitrary and naive. It is estimated that Bernie Madoff stole $ 18 billion dollars from investors. He ruined countless lives and business by stealing. Yet, he never physically harmed someone. He received a life sentence. According to your reform, he would be eligible to be released. The sad truth of the matter is that “white-collar crime” is just as serious as “blue-collar crime” and should be punished accordingly.

  7. Samantha Eisler permalink
    December 8, 2010 1:56 PM

    Overall I thought you made some really good points in your post but one thing that a strongly disagreed with was the notion of putting so called “harmless” people such as drug dealers back onto the streets. Whose to say that people such as this are not a harm to society. In fact, I’d argue that the people who are wandering the streets dealing to your kids and your friends, leaving them vulnerable to arrest and the trouble that comes from them, are more than harmless.

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