Prisons were instituted as humane alternatives for punishing offenders as opposed to flogging and public executions. As a subcomponent of the criminal judicial justice system, prisons serve specific objectives in the advancement of the values of equality, truth and justice. However, with an overcrowding prison population coupled to a myriad of challenges, the prison system has been blamed for the increasing recidivism rates.
This paper offers a critical analysis of the prison system, its purposes and current conditions, rehabilitative programs, reintroduction of prisoners into the society, protection of the public and approaches used to reduce recidivism. Introduction Prisons were initially instituted to furnish custodial supervision of individuals assigned to them. From its establishment in the 1700s the prison system has barely changed. The changes have mainly been in the addition or subtraction of subunits which provide food, education, training, therapeutic management and the provision of an economic base necessary for state run industries.
In the late 1700s prisons were basically humane alternatives to public executions and floggings. Later on as the century neared its terminus the Quakers pushed for the enshrinement of an application of the theory of penitentiaries where focus shifted to correction of inmates and not punishment. By the 1870s indeterminate sentencing, vocational training and parole was introduced. However, by the 1970s uncertainty about the effectiveness of the prison system arose and conditions which had earlier on been considerably humane began to deteriorate.
These challenges to the effectiveness of the prison system continue even today. As the concepts of good penology continue to change so does the growth in the size of the human population. The need for using the prison system as an arena for satisfying societal need for punishment of offenders is basically guided by five specific rationales: revenge, deterrence, retribution, incapacitation and rehabilitation. These rationales are, to varying degrees, rooted in the conservative, liberal and radical ideologies (Pierce 2006, p.
61). Descriptively, the correctional system, as a subsystem of the criminal justice system, can either be institutional/residential corrections or community corrections. Prisons, jails and other detention facilities are broadly categorized under institutional corrections while probation, home detention, parole, community service, parole, electronic monitoring, day reporting, weekender programs, treatment or work programs, as well as other nonresidential supervision are included under the community corrections.
While jails and other detention centers act as first correctional environments in which accused persons are exposed either before they are taken to court or after court hearings or for those serving misdemeanor offenses, prisons are reserved for those who have been convicted of at least a single felony offense. Thus, misdemeanors are incarcerated in the jails while felons in the prisons (Stanko et al 2004, p. 17).