Prisons in Crisis
“Building more prisons to address crime is like building more graveyards to address a fatal disease.”—ROBERT GANGI, CORRECTIONAL EXPERT.
IN A WORLD where political correctness often whitewashes the darker side of reality, we have soft alternatives for the bleak word “prison.” We prefer “penitentiary” or “correctional facility,” where “vocational training” and “social services” are provided. We even favor the term “inmate” over the dehumanizing word “prisoner.” Yet, look under the veneer, and you will find that prisons are facing serious problems today, such as the skyrocketing cost of keeping offenders behind bars and the ever-widening gulf between the aims of incarceration and the actual results.
Some people question the effectiveness of prisons. They note that while the number of prisoners worldwide has soared to over eight million, the crime rate in many lands has not significantly diminished. Moreover, while a large number of those in prison are there for crimes involving drugs, the availability of drugs on the street is still a grave concern.
Nevertheless, many consider imprisonment to be the punishment of choice. They feel that when the offender is jailed, justice is served. One journalist describes the zeal to put criminals behind bars as “lock-’em-up fever.”
There are four principal reasons why lawbreakers are put in prison: (1) to punish the offenders, (2) to protect society, (3) to prevent future crimes, and (4) to rehabilitate criminals, teaching them to be law-abiding and productive after their release. Let us see if prisons are accomplishing these objectives.