Use of Imprisonment: To Reduce or Abolish?

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Evaluate the claim that the use of imprisonment should be reduced or abolished.

Imprisonment is the harshest sanction that can be used by the courts when deemed necessary in punishing those who partake in criminal offences in this present day. When imprisonment first developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth century it was initially a place where people were held before trail or before punishment, imprisonment itself was not used as a form of punishment. At this period of time prisons were very badly maintained, death was the sentence for many offences. (Howard League 2011) The eighteenth century saw hard labour as the most suitable punishment for petty offenders using prison hulks, which were ships of offenders who were sent to do hard labour and then chained up at night. (Howard League) After the introduction of various Acts such as the Prison Act 1898 and the Criminal Justice Act 1948 prisons are now a very different more humane place by abolishing hard labour as a punishment, it also brought forward a comprehensive system for punishment and the fair treatment of prisoners. In 1933 the prison service became an agency of government (Howard League 2011) Currently there one hundred and thirty-nine prisons in the UK (Howard league2011) containing 88,070 prisoners with a useable operational capacity for said prison population of merely 89,413 ( The Prison system itself is in a state of crisis, firstly because the prison system is not fulfilling all of its aims, which are to hold prisoners securely, provide safe well-ordered establishments in which prisoners are humanely, decently, lawfully and finally to prevent the risk of reoffending. (Cavadino and Dignan 2007) However figures published by the Home office in 2006 show that after being released from prison 65.8% of prisoners are re-convicted after two years of release and for young men aged eighteen too thirty the figure is at 74.8% (Cavadino and Dignan 2007) This clearly shows that the prison service is not fulfilling one of its aims if the reconviction rate of offenders can be so high. This suggests imprisonment is potentially the most important and the most problematic attribute of the UKs penal system (Cavadino and Dignan 2007) as the prison system does not work in reforming its offenders it cannot be justified.(Cavadino and Dignan 2007) This is because it continuously and spectacularly fails to achieve one of its avowed aims.(Cavadino and Dignan 2007) Secondly with the prison population steadily rising aspects of the entire legitimacy of the penal system come into question, this brings people to claim that as the prison system clearly seems not to be working, the use of imprisonment should be reduced or even abolished, this issue is what will be evaluated in the main content of the essay. Alternatives to prison can be seen in the work of Sir Anthony Bottoms who believed that use of non-custodial sentences such as the community sentence “attempt to distinguish from serious and dangerous offenders who should be imprisoned and lesser criminals who should be dealt with through dischargers, financial penalties and community’s sentences” (Bottoms 1977) Therefore they should be used as alternatives to imprisonment for less serious offenders as it would reduce the amount of people being sentenced to prison unnecessarily saving valuable space and costs. Although prison was once a dominant discourse the ideal of reform became discredited through a development known as the “collapse of the rehabilitative ideal (Bottoms 1980) He formed this ideal through research result’s that suggested that the measures that were intended to reform offenders by the prison system were no more effective than punitive measures. (Cavadino and Dignan 2007) Bottoms devoted his life to research on the penal crisis and stated that use of the community sentence would not only divert convicted offenders from custody but it would also create what he called “Widening the net” in...
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