Are Prison Appropriate for Non-Violent Offenders, or Should They Be Given Alternative Punishment?

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Are prison appropriate for non-violent offenders, or should they be given alternative punishment?
The United States of America has a higher incarceration rate than any other country in the world. The imprisonment rate in USA is even greater than China's, India's and Russia's incarceration rates combined. Today, we can say (within the margin of error) that out of 100 people in the United States, nearly two are in prison. This increase is mainly attributed to three common factors: mandatory sentencing, non-violent crime incarceration and three strike policies. Non-violent crimes are prosecuted in state or federal courts and can carry long prison sentences, massive fines, and a social cost that is not easily offset for the incarcerated person, who might eventually become nothing more than a social pariah if effective measures will not be considered

Across various cultures, the arguments for imprisoning non-violent criminals as opposed to conferring them alternative punishments has been for centuries an intensely discussed subject and a fervently mediated topic in political, judicial and social endeavors. Society has often "waxed and waned" leniently on the issue of whether to punish non-violent felons by incarcerating them in jail or by providing alternative means of castigation, thus offering specific treatment (such as, *The FREED Program -see End Note-) with the hope for the rehabilitation and restoration of the aforementioned group of lawbreakers.

The purpose of this essay is to provide strong and factual evidence of these alternative punishment methods, in general, and the FREED Program in particular, as being less costly, more effective and a lot more adequate as a deterrent of crime for non-violent offenders.

To attain a clearer understanding of some technical terms like non-violent crime, imprisonment and alternative punishment, it is imperative to first define these words as terms of reference in order to eliminate any confusion. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics non-violent crimes are defined as “...property, drug and public offenses which do not involve a threat of harm or an actual attack upon the victim”. This can range from drug use to white-collar crime like larceny to theft, consumer fraud, DUI, bribery, corruption, smuggling, media piracy and embezzlement. The term “prison” has had different meanings and served different purposes with the passing of time. According to Wikipedia “...for most of history, imprisoning has not been a punishment in itself, but rather a way to confine criminals until corporal or capital punishment was administered. In the old times, prisons used to be called “dungeons” and were used to temporarily hold prisoners; those who were not killed or left to die in dungeons often became galley slaves. In other cases, debtors were frequently cast into debtor's dungeons, until they paid their jailers enough money as a trade for a limited degree of freedom.” Historically, incarceration ranged from social banishment to hopeless waiting on the death row, while financial ruin, torture and exile were occasionally part of “the procedure”, as well. However, that view of prison has changed, beginning in the 19th century, in London, along with the revolutionary views of Jeremy Bentham about what is known today as “modern prison” as commonplace. In today’s politically correct environment, (except for the prisons where “waiting on the Death Row” is an ongoing procedure), a prison does not serve its original purpose anymore, failing to operate as a deterrent against crime. Some of the prisons today serve rather as entertainment facilities, providing inmates with three full meals a day, a warm bed, recreational areas where they can watch TV and play around the pool table. Furthermore, they are being provided with a gym, access to an exercise yard to keep them in shape, libraries where they can choose to read whatever book they want, having had at their disposal religious and...
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