This essay looks at whether prison works as an answer to all serious crime committed by adults. Is prison there simply to punish offenders or to reform them, to deter them from committing more crime or just to make society feel safer? People are put in prison as a result of the crimes they have committed. Some crimes are more serious then others so are treated differently. The more serious a crime, generally the higher prison category and prison sentence they serve. The prison population in England and Wales has hit an all-time high, new figures from the Home Office show.
The number of people held in 139 prisons reached 75,550 – Six more than the previous high in April last year – and Home Office estimates suggest this figure could reach 84,000 by 2009. Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, deemed the figures "very disappointing" and said "the weight of public opinion may be pushing some judges into continuing to use custodial punishments. " (Internet 1) As a result of going to prison it is suggested that many ex offenders return to society and re-offend again due to many reasons. Many prisoners are homeless and unemployed after they are released from prison. Given this fact, it's not that surprising that many ex-prisoners drift back into crime.
Twenty-one of the twenty- three service users in a Lancashire Homeless Hostel had been in prison. As a consequence of being in prison these men became labelled and are seen as deviant, Howard Becker a well known theorist suggested that being labelled 'deviant' might have a profound effect on an individuals subsequent behaviour. (Wincupp & Griffiths 1999) The homeless men appeared to be interested in reintegration within society, but lacked the know how. (Internet 5). Ex offenders feel out of place in society and are institutionalised.
Attempting to find employment for some ex offenders regardless of skills or educational levels can be extremely difficult. Merton (1938) developed his 'StrainTheory' by stating that crime results as one possible response when there is a divergence between cultural goals and institutionalised means and described some groups as having their opportunities blocked. They find themselves in a society with aspirations of material wealth and the inability to obtain this wealth through conventional means. (Wincupp & Griffiths 1999). With unemployment levels high most employers would not consider someone with a criminal record.
For some of the men life was a pattern of prison then on release the homeless hostel. Eventually due to drug dependency or a desire to have material wealth without the means to support it (Strain Theory) they commit crime and arrive back in prison. Some become victims themselves in society; homeless people are labelled as vagrants or tramps. Some members of the public avoid them and label them as scruffy because they are wearing clothes that are worn out or have been purchased from charity shops. Some question their personal hygiene, these stigmas that are attached to homeless people together
with frustration can lead to criminal activity. Some offenders become so used to prison life they cannot cope and re-adjust normally in society. Some people re-offend due to the lack of skills they have, the average reading age in prisons are those similar to that of a twelve or thirteen year old. For some the only way to survive is to commit crime, they submit to their 'Master Status' which Becker described as a status where all actions performed now or in the past will be viewed in the light of their label 'Criminal'. (Tierney 1996). Due to the lack of educational facilities in some prisons, a lot of the re-offending will continue.
Prisons may well be a deterrent in the fight against crime but it has been suggested that prisons, harbour, brew and make criminals stronger and angered, thus they become more of a danger to the public when released. (Internet 2). There are many initiatives, which the government are introducing to combat crime, like "tagging" instead of sending offenders to prison, which removes them from the community. Some offenders are allowed to give back to the community; community sentences are given for some minor offences.
The home office plans for 30,000 offenders a year to serve a community sentence under curfews enforced by the tag. This should be treated with encouragement and has been suggested will soften the most hardened criminals, plus act as a controlled re-introduction to the community. Almost 100,000 people live behind bars in Britain. They are locked up in our name, yet we know remarkably little about the life they lead. Are we too hard on our criminals or, as the tabloid headlines frequently suggest, too soft? And more importantly: does prison ever work? (Internet 3)
In a sense society does feel reassured by the comforting knowledge that bad people go to prison. But in reality, it is more worrying to send people to the current prison set up, as prison is simply 'an expensive way of making bad people worse. ' (Matthews 1997). Statistically we cannot condemn the prisons entirely as twenty percent or more do not re-offend after being released, but what about the other eighty percent? This obviously needs to be addressed. This leaves a looming question, are prisons there just to punish offenders for the crimes they have committed or to reform them?
Ideally prisons should reform, but currently, only a minority are, considering that eighty percent of offenders re-offend within two years of being released. There are a few procedures that take place when a prisoner first arrives at prison. These are done to make sure the prisoner has everything they need and to highlight any problems they may have such as a medical complaints. The first thing that happens is that the prisoner's property is listed by an officer and put into safekeeping. The prisoner can keep some of the items, the rest will be returned to them when they leave prison. (Internet 4).
Once the prisoner has had a shower and been allocated their Prison Number, they are seen by a member of the healthcare team. It is important that every prisoner is assessed so that they can be given the proper care that they need whilst they are in prison. All the information is treated as confidential – just like going to a normal GP. (Internet 4) Shortly after arriving at prison, the prisoner will have an interview with a member of the probation staff, or a 'personal officer'. A personal officer is a prison officer who has been allocated to individual prisoners. The reception interview is another chance for the prisoner to discuss any problems they may have.
Prison staff are there to help if there is anything the prisoner does not understand or if they need any advice or support. To help prisoners settle into prison life, an induction session has been developed to explain how the prison works and what each prisoner's responsibilities are. It also helps prisoners to think about making the best use of their time in custody. Of course, from time to time, prisoners may have worries or problems that they might need to speak to someone about. Their personal officer or the officer in charge of their wing or unit are there to talk problems through with prisoners.
In addition prisoners can talk to a prison 'buddy', chaplain or directly to the Samaritans. (Internet 4) Lord Justice Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales said, "if the Prison Service contains the prisoners in conditions which are inhumane or degrading, or which are otherwise wholly inappropriate, then a punishment of imprisonment which was justly imposed, will result in injustice. " In March 2000, Lord Justice Woolf urged politicians to "stop playing the jail card". (McLauglin et al 1996). The former Conservative home secretary, and Chairman of the Prison Reform Trust,
Lord Hurd of Westwell, in an interview with the Guardian, warns of the corrosive impact of overcrowding. He says, "It is time for inmates to be given the vote and for a prime minister to visit a prison. If prisoners had the vote then MPs would take a good deal more interest in conditions in prison, no serving prime minister has ever visited a prison and discloses that a plan for Tony Blair to do so was shelved because of public relations fears. It is one of our public services and prisons are important institutions. Prisons are not a series of wastepaper baskets into which you can simply toss somebody and not hear from them again.
''(Internet 4). Prison can work, but not if the system is overloaded and under-resourced. If prison is to work in society's best interest, it is imperative that only those that really need to be locked up, are, and that all prisons work towards a positive regime where respect and dignity for inmates is not compromised for misguided reasons. Prisons may have there critics, but whatever the criticisms, the case is growing increasingly strong that rehabilitation decreases recidivism more than any competing correctional practices, including incapacitation. (Matthews and Francis1996 cited Cohen et al 1983)