Can Prison Deter Crime?

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“Danbury wasn't a prison, it was a crime school. I went in with a Bachelor of marijuana, came out with a Doctorate of cocaine” - George Jung
The above quote was given by notorious international drug lord, and one of the most successful career criminal of modern times, George Jung, when discussing the flaws of the modern penal system. While subsequent to this original incarceration, George did also frequently state that he would never allow himself to be detained in prison again, it is obvious that the very mechanism intent on deterring him from such deviance instead served as a stepping stone in the advancement of his criminal career (Porter, 1993). This double edged effect of the detainment of criminals, identified above, brings into question the effectiveness of the most widely recognised method of dealing with criminal activity of modern times. The physical confinement of deviants in society can be traced back to the writings of Plato discussing prisons in ancient Athens. Likewise, archaeologists and historians have combined to describe the ‘Great Prison’ of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (Morris & Rothman, 1998). The modern model of the prison that we would know today, with prison acting as a mechanism at the disposal of the court to a significant extent, is actually relatively young with its origins traced back a mere 300 hundred years to Western Europe and the United States (Coyle, 2005). In the 18th century, the Quakers developed this idea of transforming the prison into a sanctuary for reformation, whereby a criminal would be transformed through isolation, forced labour and religious instruction (Kontos, 2010). Though the methods and motivations of this incarceration have changed over time, the sheer longevity of employing physical detention as a response to behaviour deemed unacceptable by greater society, pays testament to its undeniable rational. Despite general acceptance of this method across the centuries, questions of its effectiveness as a deterrent of criminal activity have become prominent in more modern times with emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment and retribution now evident. In this essay I will attempt to address some of these questions beginning with an overview of societies changing motivations for and expectations of this system. Following this, I will then give an overview of the arguments that say prison simply does not effectively act as a deterrent towards crime. To provide an unbiased balance to the piece, I will then give account of the counter arguments to this, which take the more traditional view of prison still serving its purpose in society. Finally, I will conclude by briefly giving my own opinion on the issue with relation to referenced arguments. Motivations for/ Expectations of Prisons

While it is generally accepted that the presence of the prison as a tool of the criminal justice system as a whole has a positive effect as a deterrent towards crime, there is little evidence to suggest that marginal changes of the inner workings inside the prison has any effect as to the level of this deterrence (Morris & Rothman, 1998). This fact would suggest that a debate into the motivations and therefore nature of incarceration is meaningless, since it is only the basic denial of physical liberty that appears to be relevant. Despite this, I feel it is important to understand the fundamental motivational factors of society behind the prison and how that affects its workings. After all a lack of clarity of direction and conflicting ideologies can have negative effects, only condemning further the failures of the prison system. The functions of the modern day prison can be divided into three main sections which I will now briefly discuss: Retribution/Punishment:

Punishment would seem the most obvious function of a prison and indeed the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states: “The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence........was so serious that...
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