25 August 2010

Does Anyone Know What the Point of Prison Is Anyway?

Amplify’d from www.good.is

Although private prisons have been sold on economic grounds, a study this year by Arizona's own Corrections Department questions whether such facilities can even deliver in terms of cost savings, reports the Arizona Republic. The state's cost study showed that it's often more expensive to incarcerate inmates in private prisons than in state-run facilities, despite the savings that private operators typically promise.

... what is the service that prisons are supposed to deliver? There isn't much agreement on this question. Most people probably have a vague mix of ideas swimming in their head about what prisons should deliver. Prisons should sequester criminals to protect the public; prisons should provide a deterrent to potential offenders; prisons should rehabilitate; prisons should punish riminals by giving them an unpleasant experience that they "deserve."

How the hell do we know if prisons are delivering with a mandate like that? The aims of prison, as understood by the public and articulated by politicians, are often contradictory, or at least apparently so. Do therapeutic rehabilitation programs compromise the deterrent effect of prison, or make the punitive element too weak? Do punitive policies make it hard to rehabilitate? 
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Man is looking through the gates is prisonImage via WikipediaSurely it is in the best interests of private prison operators to have more people in prison? It seems to me that their very existence creates a lobby group for both harsher penalties for crime, and for the kind of socially destructive policies that create an environment where criminal activity is more likely to take place.
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