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A Taste of Imprisonment May Punish but It Does Not Reform.

  • Date Submitted: 04/15/2012 03:13 AM
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A taste of imprisonment may punish but it does not reform

Prison punishes effectively, but if we want to reform people who offend, and thereby reduce the number of victims, we should stop sending so many of them to prison.
I accept that there are dangerous people who commit terrible crimes and that, however imperfectly they deal with such people, prisons are needed to isolate such people from the rest of us. But those sorts of people and the sorts of crime they commit are thankfully rare in this country. They are not the people filling our prisons.

I also accept that most of those serving long prison sentences are doing so because we not only want to keep them out of circulation but also want to express our outrage and condemnation by punishing them in this way. But it is important to understand that while prison may express our disapproval and may punish effectively, it has an extremely poor record when it comes to stopping people offending again.

Perhaps if we made prisons tougher, it would have the desired effect? I do not think so, but even if it did we cannot afford to make prison conditions worse for two other reasons. First, prisons only run with current staffing levels because most prisoners cooperate. Prisoners are not given TVs in their cells because prison governors are soft but because it is cheaper to spend £100 on a TV than many thousand on an extra officer. Second, we know that the majority of those in prison are suffering from a mental illness, they are 13 times more likely to have been in care, and most cannot read and write as well as an 11 year old. I am not seeking sympathy for them or trying to excuse what they have done, I am simply questioning whether inflicting more suffering on such people is morally defensible. As Winston Churchill said almost exactly 100 years ago, how we respond to those who offend “is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”.

Of course, you can always find one prisoner who says...


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