If you want to know everything that is wrong with our prison system, just look at this paragraph from a NY Times story on Martha Stewart:
Was the conviction of Martha Stewart for lying to federal investigators worth the effort?
For her, “the last five months in Alderson, West Virginia has been life altering and life affirming,” Ms. Stewart gushed in a statement on her Web site on Friday. She added, “Someday, I hope to have the chance to talk more about all that has happened, the extraordinary people I have met here and all that I have learned.”
Prison, it seems, was a good thing. And that could present a problem for criminal law enforcement.
Punishing wrongdoing, the theory goes, has two primary goals: to penalize the wrongdoer and to deter potential wrongdoers. But in Ms. Stewart’s case, it is not clear that either goal was achieved.
Prison shjould have THREE primary goals:
Punishment, deterrence, and REHABILITATION. Because we have failed to pay attention to the rehabilitative aspects, we are soon going to release a swarm of super-criminals into mainstream society.
Martha is just reading a script that will prime the stupid for her book, TV show, and movie that will be coming up.
If you go to jail for something that wasn’t a crime, I’m not sure that not being rehabilitated by your stay is that big a deal.
Well said, JC. My only quibble is that punishment is not an end unto itself. The three major goals of prison, as I see them, are quarantine, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Punishment may be a means to the ends of deterrence or rehabilitation (but not always, necessarily), or it may be a side affect of quarantine. Those who would punish for the sake of punishment are involved in nothing more than self-indulgence.
While prison cannot play a role in achieving this end, the justice system has one other end to meet: restoration. When a person transgresses the law, or the rights of another person, restoration should be made to the extent possible. That’s one theory of capital punishment – by providing a measure of indulgence in vengeance to a victimized family, a perpetrator’s execution may serve to partially restore the peace of mind he took from them. The other theory behind capital punishment, deterrence, doesn’t hold much water.
No, the primary purpose of prison is to remove from society those who chose not to follow the rules we have agreed upon. These rules are for our safety and well being.
Punishment, rehab, deterrence are extras, with deterrence the most important.
Does anyone have any stats about successful rehabilitation programs?
The only person I know who went to prison came out worse than when he went in…but that might have been more related to the fact that once in prison you have to lift weights, fight, and join a gang just to avoid being preyed on.
I’d say legalize drugs and work that angle first, because those are the people with a problem that is a “gateway” to harder criminal actions.
I wish there were some evidence that prison could under some circumstances accomplish rehabilitation.
Note you should change swarm to stream and your tense from future to past. ie We have been releasing a stream of “super” criminals into society.
First, prison is a bargain. It costs approximately 20% of the criminal’s property damage on average to keep that person locked up, not counting the loss of life and only counting the crimes proved in court. Now… Rehabilitation is a great goal. There’s a lot of talent behind bars, and converting people from a drain on society to contributors is the ultimate win-win. How can this happen? Education is one method, but generally simply produces a more knowledgeable criminal. Religion helps, but relatively few inmates actually ‘see the light’ and ‘sin no more’. Psychology is an art, not the science it claims to be, and the practitioners are expensive for a very uncertain result.
I work for a state’s prisons, and believe me when I say many of us are incredibly frustrated with the situation as it stands. We throw each of those partial solutions at the problem and still see a staggering recividism rate.
Speaking for myself only, the greatest similarity within the people we confine seems to be the lack of foresight. Instant gratification, no thought of possible consequences. For a few people, experiencing the consequences is enough to turn them away from crime. For the majority, that doesn’t work.
Mr. Cole, I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on actually being successful at rehabilitation.
I agree with some of the comments above, ie, to summarize, that there is only really ONE purpose of prison: Prevention. Mostly, prevention by ‘quarantine’, perhaps.
I have a friend who worked on penal law for years and got cynical. When this kind of question arises, his response is, “criminal law exists to satisfy the public desire for vengeance”. i suppose this was meant to reflect the motivations behind what happens in practice. I hope it isn’t true. some of what people refer to, when they discuss this in a classical theoretical way, about ‘punishment’, appears to me to be little different.
i agree with Aaron that the penalization of the personal choice of people who have used drugs with a prison sentence is the place to start looking for solutions.
the message behind the letters to GWB from inmates on this subject still have, for me, devastating emotive power:
GWB took drugs and drove drunk. why do some people’s similar mistakes (usually if they’re black) require decades in prison?
M. Scott Eiland
Punishment, deterrence, and REHABILITATION.
Don’t forget incapacitation–preventing the criminal from committing that crime–or other serious crimes–again. The death penalty is the ultimate incapacitator: the recidivism rate for murderers post-execution is precisely zero. Life without parole in solitary confinement would be almost as reliable for that function.
Eiland – fortunately, 118 innocent people have evaded this permanent incapacitation since 1973, despite being convicted.
I’ve nothing against the death penalty on principle, but the practice can look more problematic.
Anyone know if those “boot camp” punishments in Arizona work?
I’d think a 3 month program of this for minor drug offenders, and then an offer to join the US military might be useful.
Some of the people using drugs are “lacking foresight”or confused about life might be interested in joining an organization that can take care of them while providing a planned, structured future.
or maybe just leave people free to make their own choices as long as they’re not harming others.
not arresting them , not taking away from their families, not paying for their upkeep in prison etc.. sounds cheap to me.
I do not see any basis in that article for asserting that rehabilitation did not take place. Martha described it as a life changing experience, that is exactly what prison should be. In the best case, her time there may have been an inspiration to other prisoners with whom she interacted.
As for the person who chose to drag GWB into this discussion, I would like to point out that there is no evidence that he engaged in destructive drug abuse or that he was the sort of alcoholic who habitually drove roaring drunk; the kind most often responsible for drunk-driving fatalities. The record does show that he became aware that his drinking was an issue, he took it upon himself to deal with the problem.
juvie boot camps are not very effective by themselves.
Again, a partial answer to a complex problem.
Also, the services are getting a better grade of recruit these days, so are not as interested in marginal types that need lots of ‘TLC’.
A couple of opinions and relflections on other postings.
Several years ago I read an interesting article that was authored,(I think) by the then warden of Angola State Prison. In his article he stated that virtually every prionser in his; and other facilities; were there because of “compromise.” At some point in their lives ALL inmates decided to compromise between good and bad – and do bad. He stated further that at some point each of them took that initial step of what may have seemed to be a minor or trivial crime and the next steps became easier. The question becomes then, how do we help people avoid that first step?
A lot of writers seem to take issue with whether or not prison even does any good in the long run. It seems that if we cannot fully rehabilitate inmates then their incarceration was a partial failure for the wole of society. I say partial because, at the very least, it gets bad guys off of the street for a little while.
Rehabilitation seems to be a pipe dream for many prisoners and their reformers. Where does the fault for this lie; society, economics, personal greed, environment . . .?
And finally, Ape wrote “GWB took drugs and drove drunk. Why do some people’s similar mistakes (usually if they’re black) require decades in prison?” I am a former police officer and worked for several years as a “dedicated” DWI enforcement officer. With over 600 convictions for DWI I can easily attest that very few people go to prison for DWI UNLESS they have numerous convictions within a limited time period. There ARE people out there that simply will not comply with DWI laws and societies desires to stop DWI.
Ape, that was NOT a pro-Bush tirade, so don’t go ballistic.