America’s Prisons and Their Effects On Society
Every civilization in history has had rules, and citizens who break them. To this day governments struggle to figure out the best way to deal with their criminals in ways that help both society and those that commit the crimes. Imprisonment has historically been the popular solution. However, there are many instances in which people are sent to prison that would be better served for community service, rehab, or some other form of punishment. Prison affects more than just the prisoner; the families, friends, employers, and communities of the incarcerated also pay a price. Prison as a punishment has its pros and cons; although it may be necessary for some, it can be harmful for those who would be better suited for alternative means of punishment. What are prisons for? This is a question that must be asked in order to understand the problems facing prisons. Prisons serve two main functions; separation and rehabilitation. Criminals cannot be allowed to walk around with everyone else without being punished; they must be separated from society. The thought of going to prison helps deter most people from crime. Rehabilitation is the main goal of prison; making a bad person into a good person by the time they are released. These seem like cut and dry functions, but as of late some believe that prisons in the United States have failed in their attempts to separate and rehabilitate. Not only do prisons separate the criminals from the innocent, to be effective, according to Lappin and Greene, they must also separate the criminals from the worse criminals. Convicts in prison for non-violent offenses are not supposed to be housed with violent offenders. “Unfortunately, our prisons are becoming more and more overcrowded making it harder to make these separations. The result is that non violent people become violent due to over-exposure to violent people” (Lappin, H. G., & Greene, J., 2006). “In 2007, one percent of American adults were in prison, which is by far the highest incarceration rate in the world.”( Trachtenberg, B., 2009). Why? Trachtenberg believes it’s because prisons do not rehabilitate people. A violent criminal is sent to prison because he is a threat to society. He is supposed to serve a lengthy term so that he will learn his lesson and become a productive member of society. During his time there he is supposed to learn to appreciate work by cooking, doing laundry, or some other prison job. While he is there he can receive his GED so that he can get a job when he gets out. This plan has good intentions but it has been proven to be ineffective. First off, the time this violent offender is supposed to serve will most likely be cut short due to overcrowding. “Prisons in America today are operating with a population between 117% and 137% of their intended capacity”( Muhlhausen, D. B., Dyer, C. C., McDonough, J. R., et al., 2006). Even though budget cuts are forcing prisons to be closed, all the prisoners in those prisons cannot be released; they have to be crammed into the remaining prisons to the point where there is simply no more room. Obviously there will always be people breaking the law, so just because the prisons are full does not mean that there are not new people who need to be brought in. Therefore, if 50 prisoners are brought in that means 50 prisoners must be let go. Many of those who are let go are getting out far too early. Secondly, “work in prisons is a part of rehabilitation and a primary activity.”(Shaw, V. N.,1998). Work is intended to give the prisoners a sense of purpose, give them an appreciation for work, and teach them social skills. These are all good things but most prison work doesn’t do any of this. Inmates share job responsibilities with hundreds of other inmates, and they do not have to work hard at all. If anything prison work gives prisoners bad work habits. Thirdly, education in prisons needs to be a requirement. It should come as no...
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