The criminal justice system as it currently stands operates on what could be considered a median point of past and future penal systems. Historically especially in Britain it has been the concept that if a person commits a crime they are caught convicted and punished, the punishment was nearly always a custodial sentence for a length decided by the crown at one of the countries HM Prisons.
But in the last half century there have been radical changes to the penal system in the UK with various groups promoting the issue of prison rights, and there currently exists a new movement more concentrated around left wing criminological theory, which suggest that criminal should not be removed from society as this would infringe upon their personal rights but help them change through rehabilitation services as an alternative option to incarceration, with such polices and penal reforms being seen as a soft option the criminal justice service is seen as laughable.
The previous reforms which are in place today exist as governmental response to a "revolution" in the prison system during the 1960's and 1970's, which took the form of leftist criminological thinking manifested in the form of a push for the abolishment of the prison system as it stood and still stands. This movement had been in the making for the previous two hundred years since 'The state of the prison' (Howard, 1777) which criticised the conditions of what was then a privately run organisation of internment, in particular the element of overcrowding and the condition of care for inmates at such facilities.
The report had a damming effect on the issue of imprisonment of offenders at a time when the UK still integrated capital punishment into its justice system. Then came reforms in the history of the prisons with the work of Jeremy Bentham, whose work was the format of the very first state controlled penal complex and is still the basis for today's penal structure. Looking closer at the history of the cause for abolition of the prisons we can see that the main period for its rise is during the late 1960 through to the 1990's, it came about with pressure groups forming concerning prisons.
Groups like RAP (Radical alternatives to Prison) and PROP (preservation of the rights of prisoners) the later who's strategy was based on realising change through peaceful protest and strikes and was first and foremost an organisation of prisoners and ex-prisoners. PROP's 'statement of intent' declared that it had been formed to "preserve, protect and extend the rights of prisoners" (Fitzgerald, 1977:137) while its 'CHARTER OF RIGHTS' listed demands "arising out of the common situation of British prisoners" (Ibid: 138).
The foundation of abolitionism has supported certain prisoners in their claims for rights, dignity and the struggle to achieve these goals. Radical alternatives to prison (RAP) however went about its protest in a different manner producing its own publication "The Abolitionist" for the better part of a decade and through the groups campaigns and protest it was able to challenge the governments absolute power in deciding the purpose and to what extent prisons could be used, for example what offences could the justice system pass custodial sentences etc.
But even in protest the groups equally admitted that there was no apparent equal to the punishment of imprisonment and the effects it would have on its detainees, "There can be no blanket alternative to prison" (Radical Alternatives to Prison, 1971:14), it stated however that there were then and would be many various methods of punishment to substitute in place of a term in prison, as well as resolutions to the "social problems" that lead to crime and prison that would no endanger a persons rights or dignity.
As of the start of December 2004 there were just over 75,000 detainees reported to be held in Penal complexes in the British Isles, and with government and the media putting prison conditions and numbers under constant evaluation, it would appear that the claim of prison being morally objectionable would have some basis. To use as an example HMP Weare the countries first "prison ship" for 200 hundred years is under threat of closure for "extremely poor prisoner conditions".
Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said the jail was "merely an expensive container, unsuitable for use as a training prison in the 21st century and a decision on its future must be taken urgently. If it is to continue in any capacity, substantial and sustained investment will be needed to bring it to an acceptable standard" a claim that is supported by the prison service director general P Wheatley. The prison was bought by the government in the late 1990's as a short fix for controlling prison overcrowding, during 'New labours' first changes to the criminal justice system after it came to power in 1997.
With stories and reports such as this it does appear that the prison service is in a state of serious disrepair and decay, due to under funding and high prisoner numbers which would prove the claim that the actual time spent under imprisonment is morally objectionable as the current state of living conditions would appear to be against what is morally considered acceptable. Such conditions would appear to contravene Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly of the United Nations in 10 December 1948