To Punish or Reform

Warning: sanctimonious rant ahead.

The U.S. Department of Justice declared that they will no longer enter into or renew contracts with privately run prisons. Meaning they realize that allowing for-profit businesses to oversee human lives might not be the most humane thing. Most people will glance past this and not care because, quite frankly, who cares about violent felons? Well, I do, because there’s not just violent sociopaths we’re segmenting away from society. I’ve been thinking a lot about the prison system lately. The main mental wrestling involving whether I am more interested in punishment or reform. I think I’ve come to the point where I am deeply concerned with rehabilitation.jail break cute

“But what if someone rape-murdered your child and pooped on their dead face?” This is always the counter-argument (in so many words) to any attempt at making prison even slightly more humane. The very idea of prison seems to be punitive measures against social deviants. It’s also a sentiment with which I can empathize. Of course I want someone who victimizes me and mine to be punished. I also want to prevent me and mine from being victimized. Which is why I think we’re going about incarceration all wrong. Instead of having, for example, a burglar go to prison and come out with remorse, empathy and skills to not have to go back to burglary, we’re instead getting that burglar who now sees the world as a jungle that requires hyper-violence in order to survive.

There is way too high a recidivism rate for us to think that our current system is worthwhile. The first problem I can think of is that felons are treated as, well, felons after they get out. If we believe our justice system is working, we have to stop potential employers from asking if a person has a felony and using a felony as a method to prevent a person from acting as a normal citizen. If a person “served their time” then we need to treat them as a general citizen after time is served. If we’re interested in “punishing” people, then maybe we should figure out at what point we’re done punishing the person. People who are considered sex offenders have to register and tell all of their neighbors, whether they were arrested for mooning a police officer or raped the mayor’s dachshund. Same category, no differentiation, and both are punished for the rest of their lives.

koopa prison breakThe biggest problem is that society doesn’t want to treat felons like humans who may have made a mistake but more of a person who is a cancer on society. People in prison are less sociopaths than they are people who just got caught. Yes, of course murderers and rapists should be punished, but we also need to think about how we’re punishing them and what we’re doing to prevent further perpetuation of evil.

“We have to make sure that the consequences are harsh enough to prevent dissuade potential criminals,” is another argument that gets casually thrown around as though it has any meaning whatsoever. The decades that we’ve had this system have proven that no one is deterred from committing a crime because of the potential consequences. We don’t live in The Purge.

Also, we need to acknowledge that not all people in prison are there because they deserve to be. There’s a segment of prisoners who are wrongfully convicted or suffering from mental illness. Perhaps not a large segment, but in punishing felons there’s a bit of punishing innocent people caught up in an over-zealous justice system.funny-prison-escape

It’s not that I want the prison system to be completely abolished, but I do want massive reform. I would advocate for mandatory educational classes. I would pray for classes that teach prisoners skills that give them a chance at employment once they are inevitably released (keep in mind the word “inevitably” because we can’t keep drug dealers interred indefinitely). I want the punishment to end after prison time is served. I want all people to be treated equally in the justice system. And I want prison rape to not be seen as a joke but a serious problem (no, I don’t think a car jacker deserves to be raped, maybe you do), at the very least knock it off with the hack joke “don’t drop the soap,” is that so much to ask?

If being a self-righteous pontificator is wrong, then lock me up. (It’s not illegal, is it? I don’t want to go to prison.)


Add yours →

  1. Nah, you’re too pretty for prison honey. You are so right though about the mandatory classes, even college classes would be great. If they graduate and search for jobs before they are let out, they should be given a small wardrobe for work too. It would help their self-esteem. There are too many men and women that are incarcerated because of a small drug charge and they come out of the system worse than they went in. They need help and I think they would be willing to get with the program if it were offered.


  2. abeerfortheshower August 22, 2016 — 1:44 pm

    Yeah, what Leeanna said. I had a cousin who spent 8 years in prison for having an ounce of marijuana (because when you have that much it was considered intent to sell, even though she wasn’t selling it, it was just for her). Regardless of what you think about marijuana, she didn’t come out of prison a better person. She came out jaded and angry at the system. And pretty pissed off that she missed her child’s life growing up, especially now that you can legally have an ounce of marijuana in Colorado and no one gives a crap. She was released about 2 months before that whole legal weed thing went down. Yeah. 8 years wasted for absolutely nothing.


  3. Well, I could probably write pages on this topic, but I’ll try to be brief. Punishment, no matter how harsh, is no deterrent because criminals always assume they will not get caught. Moreover, brutalizing people does not deter them, it only turns them brutal too. Rehabilitation should be the ultimate goal of prison but we should not be naive that it is easily achieved. Sometimes it can be done, but many times it cannot. Or at least, many repeated attempts are often needed before self-destructive and anti-social behaviour can be changed. Prisons need a lot more addiction counseling and other counseling/mental health services than they have right now.

    We do not have private, for-profit prisons in Canada and I hope we never do. Introducing a profit motive into the system opens it up to all sorts of inhumane cost-cutting and potential for corruption. I read about the kind of things that go on in Arizona and elsewhere and it is appalling.

    One more thing. If people truly want to prevent criminal behaviour, money is best spent and intervention is best achieved early in children’s lives to offset the damaging effects of poverty, child abuse, mental illness, racism, etc. If government waits to act until people are part of the criminal justice system, it’s usually too late by then.


  4. I’m glad they are doing away with profits from prisoners. The whole system stinks and does nothing to make things better. It will take a long, long time to change anything though, and if it ever gets better and rehabilitation is a reality we’ll certainly be better off. I’m just glad I’m old, sometimes, so I don’t have to look at the further degradation of society, because improvement isn’t very likely. Sorry to be such a pessimist.


  5. Privately run prisons are wrong just my thought oh and the thought of many just saying, reform is what should be aimed for but there are some who are not ever going to change this is a fact and nothing is going to change that, here too many get out far too early and repeat offend and it is frustrating, it is not something i know anything about and doubt I ever will it is difficult to know what to do just that gaols should be run but the government and not people out to make a buck.


  6. I want everybody who poops on me to receive counseling, an education, and medical treatment in the hope they’ll leave a facility much less likely to poop on the next person. I have a concern about the no more private prisons thing, though. Orange Is The New Black’s prison is a for-profit prison now. Where will this no more private prisons thing take the plot? What will happen to Piper next? People live inside my flat-screen TV. They are very skinny.



    • Luckily for OITNB, states can still run private prisons. (Booooo.) Hopefully this decision encourage states to respond similarly. Then we need to end private detention centers, because that’s another issue and they’re being run by the same companies…


  7. I agree completely. I even hate using the word “Criminal” – it’s such a garbage nonsense label that’s totally unfair. There are people who break laws and commit crimes and get caught, and people who break laws and commit crimes and don’t get caught. Yet people who go to jail for pot are “criminals” and Boyfriend is an “upstanding member of society”? Doesn’t seem fair to me.

    We need to stop incentivizing harsh prison sentences – the private prison industry didn’t just lobby for privatizing prisons, they also lobbied for harsher drug laws to get more people arrested. It’s so gross to profit from humans like that.


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