Imprisonment is an increasingly common method of punishment in modern British society, its basis being to punish the offender by depriving them of their liberty. Costing the taxpayer "lb 36 million a week" (Frances Cook, director of the Howard League), an amount that makes an entire third world country's economy look like pocket money in comparison, it would be fair to assume that Her Majesty's Prison Service is one of great efficiency and effectiveness. In reality however, imprisonment is under constant debate and has many critics, leading us to question its effectiveness. The Oxford English Dictionary states that to punish is to "cause an offender to suffer for his or her offence" (Liebeck & Pollard, 1997). Prison usually involves indignity, physical discomfort, psychological pain and general unhappiness, as well as impairing future prospects of employment and social integration upon release. Therefore suffering is definitely involved and prison certainly classifies as punishment.
Even in cases where prison is a painless process, welcomed by the offender as a refuge from their problems in the outside world, punishment is still inflicted and suffering still occurs because of the intrusion on the offender's personal liberty. So imprisonment is unmistakably punishment, but how effective is it? The suffering involved in punishment can be justified in two ways, and the extent to which these apply to imprisonment may help us assess its efficiency. One root of punishment is retribution, whereby both the victim and society seek to equate the suffering of the victim to the punishment of the offender, and believe the offender is deserving of their punishment; it is their 'just deserts'. The perspective of the victim has not been widely researched in Britain, but anecdotally the opinion is that the punishment for a crime is rarely seen as severe enough, especially in cases where severe physical or psychological injury has been inflicted upon the victim.
The late Lord Denning argued "in order to maintain respect for the law, it is essential that the punishment inflicted for grave crimes should adequately reflect the revulsion felt by the great majority of citizens for them" (The Times, 21. 07. 02. ) A recent example of the failure of the criminal justice system in achieving retribution is the well-known case of the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. The heightened emotion and media attention in this case prompted public outrage and commentators across the country to consider the return of capital punishment. One newspaper argued "The killers of Jessica and Holly should be killed, not because we hold human life in low regard, but precisely because we hold it in such high regard.
The execution of those who take life is the clearest possible statement from society that it regards murder as a wholly unacceptable activity, a uniquely serious crime which warrants a uniquely serious penalty." (Neil Clark, The Times, 21. 07. 02). Marnie Collins Introduction to Criminal Justice January 2003 So, in cases of horrific and heartless crimes, it seems imprisonment simply does not cause enough suffering for the offender, as this punishment is not in proportion to the moral culpability shown by the offender in the act of crime that they committed.
But we must remember that the view of the tabloid newspapers does not necessarily reflect public opinion, as shown in the Daily Mail's reader's poll (printed 20. 08. 02). Although a Mary Kenny of the Mail wrote, "Only the death penalty would properly satisfy our need for justice" (20.
07. 02), the subsequent poll showed only 56% of readers agreed with her, compared to 76% who supported capital punishment in 1995 according to the Mori Poll. (The Guardian, 21. 07. 02). The Mail's poll also showed only 20% of readers thought pedophiles should be castrated, and only 23% wanted them locked away forever.
These results show that contrary to the view of journalists, the public realise that morality is required when devising adequate retribution. A killer may well deserve to be killed, but to do so questions the morals of society and requires a morality which equates to that of the criminal. The philosophy of 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' therefore, cannot be used literally in our society without us regressing in terms of civilisation, ruling out many alternatives to imprisonment such as the death penalty. So, although prison may not always be effective punishment in terms of retribution, it is the most effective and humanitarian form of punishment available. In contrast to the idea of retribution is what Walker termed Reductivism (cited in Cava do & Dignan, 1972: 32), whereby punishment is used to reduce the rate of crime. This can involve deterrence (punishment as a consequence of a crime may deter potential offenders from committing that crime), reform (punishment incorporates a program of helping and encouraging the offender to steer their life away from crime) or incapacitation (the punishment physically prevents the offender from re-offending).
Imprisonment certainly incapacitates the offender, but the majority of criminals are eventually released back into society, and therefore are only temporarily incapacitated. Thus deterrence and reform are more crucial in reductivism. The Mori poll for 2001 showed that the public do not view prison as effective in reducing crime, as reported in the Guardian (21. 07. 02). When asked what best helps to reduce crime, only 8% said sending more criminals to prison, while 55% said better parenting and nearly 40% suggested more activities for young people.
In other words, the public are of the view that tackling the actual root of crime is more effective than the using prison as a deterrence technique, or trying to reform offenders after a crime has been committed. Not only did most people think imprisonment was ineffective, but 59% thought it actually made criminals worse, while only 14% thought it did offenders good. When asked how best to spend more money on reducing crime, only 2% of people wanted to use it to build more prisons. Frances Crook of the Howard League would agree with the majority of respondents in this poll. In his view "Sending people to prison is likely to cause more crime rather Marnie Collins Introduction to Criminal Justice January 2003 than reduce it. 84% of young men sentenced to prison re-offended within 2 years." The notion that ex-prisoners are likely to re-offend is also supported by Klein et al (1977).
They found that the further an offender proceeded within the criminal justice system, the more likely they were to be arrested again (Anon, web). This would suggest that imprisonment is the least effective form of punishment when considering deterrence and rehabilitation, as ex-prisoners are more prone to re-offend than criminals who have been subject to other forms of punishment. One factor contributing to the rate of re-offences in ex-prisoners may be the severe and ever-increasing problem of over-crowding in British prisons. Farrington and Nut hall (1980) found that offenders who left particularly crowded prisons were more likely to offend than those from less crowded prisons (web), and since most British prisons are over populated at present this may be very relevant.
Crowded conditions mean the offender is locked in small areas with other prisoners and thus learns criminal attitudes, behaviour and knowledge; "prisons are the universities of crime" (Lord Mccluskey, web), and so rather than deterring offenders from a life of crime, prison may actually be encouraging them to do so by teaching them more about it. In these crowded conditions offenders are also likely to become stressed and aggressive which may increase the likelihood of them re-offending upon release. Overcrowded prisons are also less likely to help the prisoner to reform, with staff struggling to remember individual prisoners' names let alone much else about them. The jobs offered by prisons often involve repetitive and basic tasks because of the scale of prisoners involved, which the prisoners view to be tedious and unchallenging, again increasing stress and aggression. If the prisoner manages to blend in and cause no trouble, it is possible for them to serve their sentence with minimal contact with rehabilitation workers, whilst learning little that will be of value in the real world apart from lessons in crime.
It is possible for prisoners to gain many skills and qualifications during their sentences if they choose, as many educational programmes operate within the prison. These are often of little value to the prisoner upon their release, however, as the acquisition of a criminal record significantly reduces their job prospects and employability. Although offenders have served their punishment in prison they remain to go on to be punished by society. The prejudices surrounding prison are a major factor in its downfall as an effective use of punishment, as the hardships faced by ex-prisoners in finding employment and social integration can often force them back into a life of crime.
Once a citizen falls down the hole of society by their conviction of crime, it is very difficult for them to climb back up and out, and become a member of society again, and so many remain stuck in that hole forever. Marnie Collins Introduction to Criminal Justice January 2003 It is clear that the use of imprisonment as punishment is not as effective as we would hope and perhaps needs to be reviewed. With a view to the overcrowding of prisons, perhaps community-based punishments should have a greater role in the criminal justice system for less severe offences. The circumstances of the crime should be considered to a greater degree when deciding upon custodial sentences as well as the crime itself. Less crowded prisons would make more effective prisons. Prisons also need to be better prepared to reform and rehabilitate the prisoner, but there is also a need for society to change.
Once a prisoner has served their sentence their place in society should be redeemed and they should be given the chance to lead a normal life again with equal opportunities... CAVA DINO, M & DIGNAN, J The Penal System: An Introduction, Chapter 2 (Sage Publications Ltd, 1997). FITZGERALD, M & SIM, J British Prisons (Basil Blackwell, Publisher Ltd, 1979). FLYNN, N Introduction to Prisons and Imprisonment (Waterside Publishers, 1998). FREEDMAN, J Prisons Past Present and Future (Macmillan & Co. , 1978).
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07. 02. TOYNBEE, POLLY, Ignore the tabloids. The death penalty is a dead issue, The Guardian, 21.
07. 02 Web site References. COOK, FRANCES 'Prison leads to use of police cells', web accessed 06. 01. 03. Mccluskey 'The People Versus', web accessed 07.
01. 03. ANON 'Types and Effectiveness of Punishment', web accessed 06. 01.
03. ANON 'Alternatives to Prisons', web accessed 07. 01. 03.
ANON 'Joining Forces to Protect the Public', web accessed 07. 01. 03.