Are Prisons Effective?

Is it worth it?

Are Prisons Effective?

To diminish crime, what should we do? Should we throw the criminal in prison so that when they get out, they will think twice before committing another crime? Having criminals in prison keeps them off our streets, which makes society feel safe. But is prison the only solution for preventing crime? Or is there an alternative to it? Research has shown that prison is not effective, as it does not reduce crime, despite placing criminals in prison. It may be that offenders are encouraged to reoffend after finishing their sentence. However, do they reoffend because of what they are surrounded by, more crime? What causes criminals to step forward and end their lives in prison? A tragic trend which has increased in recent years.

Put the criminals in prison and allegedly the crime rate will lessen, but that is not the case. It has been presented that the crime rate for Britain has only been increasing as the years have passed. When a survey was carried out by the crime survey for England and Wales (CSEW) in 2015, they concluded that there was an increase in various types of crimes, such as possession of a knife or sharp weapon (increased by nine percent). This is along with the number of rapes being reported increasing, as the figure reached 31,621 offenses and other sexual offenses with 63,861 offenses reported. These were at their highest since the introduction of the national crime recording standard in 2002/03. Rehabilitation doesn’t simply mean putting the criminal in prison and letting them learn their lesson. It’s about helping them become an enhanced person through accepting the mistakes they have made and improving their value system. That is how you improve crime rates! It seems that prisons aren’t effective in reducing crime as the CSEW statistics show the crime rate is actually annually increasing.

The crime rate does not reduce, despite putting criminals in prison, but it also does not reduce due to the high recidivist rate. But what provokes them to reoffend and not escape the crime game? Astonishingly, according to the government statistics, the highest age group for reoffending is youths between the age of 10-14, the rate being 39.5 percent. Furthermore, The Telegraph newspaper has reported that re-offending causes up to 2,000 murders, rapes and other serious and gruesome crimes. Unpredictably, many of these crimes are committed after someone finishes their sentence from a previous crime. But why? If prisons were an effective form of punishment, surely these statistics would not be high. Perhaps prisons are lacking the coordination of guiding the inmates to the right choices, which will benefit them during their sentence, and also afterwards. It seems that the way prisons are run is not really much of a help, as prisoners are not deterred and re-offend to a high degree. Statistics suggest inmates often reoffend within the first three months.

Conceivably, criminals reoffend because of whom they are surrounded with in prison. When criminals are put in prison, we expect them to learn their lesson and not reoffend. Research and evidence indicate that those who are surrounded by violence, even in prison, are more likely to duplicate what they see, which then leads to increased violence. The Mirror newspaper has stated that prison violence has increased by ten percent in 2015, compared to the year before with a massive 14,262 offenses in 2014. Attacks on prison staff have soared by 36 percent. For example, a female officer was brutally attacked by an inmate, which led to severe injuries to the officer. In a recent inspection at Glen Parva prison near Leicester, it was branded as “unsafe” due to the incidents that had occurred between inmates and staff. Undoubtedly, it seems that prison is potentially more dangerous for those who are there for a "petite" crime, such as theft. When they are sentenced for a month or so, they could learn enough to commit another horrific and more violent crime than before, which just seems outrageous. Therefore, prisons could be viewed as an "initiation rile." Prison violence is not only unsafe for staff, but also for other inmates who are forced to share a confined space with inmates who are a hundred times more dangerous than themselves. This makes prison an unsuitable setting as the risk of violence is a serious issue.

As prison violence surges and becomes destructive for the vulnerable prisoners, it also carries another risk with it. Picture this: a family member is waiting for their loved one to be released from prison when they get the tragic news that the person has committed suicide. The Guardian newspaper stated that four people took their lives in Elmley, Kent in 2015 which had only 1,231 inmates. It has been shown that one in ten inmates have, distressingly, self-harmed in 2015 across Britain. Undoubtedly, the care and attention these prisoners need is lacking. Kevin Scarlett, a 30-year-old inmate who had a serious mental health problem, later hung himself in HMP Woodhill in Buckinghamshire, after staff drastically failed in his care. It shows how irresponsible his "supervisors" were. Similarly, a 22-year-old man in England who was a first time offender, told guards he was feeling suicidal but nothing was done. Within eight hours of being locked up on remand, he killed himself. How careless can the guards be that so many prisoners are losing their lives? To conclude, suicide is a serious problem in British prisons. Prison guards must receive additional training in identifying and caring for inmates during their vulnerable time inside.

Due to the potential risk to health, you may wonder, why do we still promote prisons as a means of rehabilitation if they are not effective or safe? Well, certain countries like Norway believe that rather than punishing criminals, they help recover the damage that has occurred during the crime. Less than 4,000 Norwegians were behind bars in August 2014, despite the large population of five million. What do they do to keep the numbers so low? Norway believes in a concept called "restorative justice" which aims to repair the harm caused by the crime. Rather than punishing people, it focuses on rehabilitating prisoners, such as Halden prison. Halden is a 75 acre facility, built in a way that provides the feeling of as much normalcy as possible. This simply means that there are no bars on the windows, the kitchen is fully furnished with sharp objects and the bond of friendship between guards and inmates creates a comfort and a safe surrounding. If this concept helps reduce crime and reduces the number of reoffenders, then why aren’t other countries using the same concept? The low number of inmates and reoffenders compared to our own would suggest that our way of keeping people locked up for years just isn’t working.

Prison should be the best method in order to make them effective, yet the way prison operates is ineffective, as many criminals reoffend within the first few months of being released. This is actually causing crime rates to not decrease but to increase. Similarly, individuals in prison are at increased risk of learning more serious crimes. The feeling of isolation counted with irresponsible officers on duty leading to suicide is only increasing. Although the prison system varies in each city and country, so some claim the system is fair whilst others would disagree. Why not adapt the system from other countries that have the most effective concept of punishment? Not only will this keep the crime rate down, but also encourage prisoners to keep out of prison after finishing their sentence for good! Let us change the perception of prisons not being effective and let’s look to other countries who are updating forms of rehabilitation which is proving to be effective.

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Krishna Bhandari
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