There are several generally accepted beliefs about prison. Firstly, that prison is a social defence against anti-social people. In short, it keeps us safe. Secondly that prison punishes wrongdoers through their loss of freedom. Thirdly that it teaches convicts the error of their ways, so that when they are released, they can enter back into daily life as law-abiding citizens.
However, there is growing evidence that prison is not always the best solution to the problems of crime that we face. Several scientific studies have shown that prison is not nearly as beneficial to society as we might imagine. There are several explanations for this.
The difficult conditions in most prisons mean that criminals rarely receive a positive education. Rather, they spend their time inside with other prisoners who teach them the tricks of their trade. Also, when they are released, it is very difficult for them to find a job, so they often feel that they have no choice but to reoffend. It’s the only thing they know. So the truth is that they are more likely to commit crimes again when they are released than if they hadn’t been sent to prison in the first place.
As a society, we have to pay attention to the results of these findings. In practice, we may be a lot safer if we give criminals the ability to gain the practical skills they need to get a job and live successful, productive lives, rather than just locking them away. There is little proof that prison works. Perhaps now is the time for us to take important decisions regarding our system of punishment. At the very least we need to give it more thought. It could be a matter of life and death
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