Imprisonment: when a person is put in jail for committing a crime.
Prison reform: a movement that tries to ensure offenders are treated humanely in prison
Obviously one option in punishing people who break the law is a CUSTODIAL SENTENCE, in other words; sending them to prison. There are over 81,000 people in prison in the UK as of 2013, which has nearly doubled in the last ten years. The reason for this is a decision by the previous Government to make sentencing stricter for less serious crimes, in other words: sending more people to prison even though the amount of crimes has not really changed.
This increase has included an awful lot of women and young offenders who might have traditionally not been given custodial sentences. There are two reasons why the previous Government made this decision:
- They believed that prison sentences acted as a DETERRENT. Knowing that I could go to prison for a relatively minor crime might help to stop me committing it.
- It is effective at PROTECTING the public from further crime while people are locked away.
However, the re-offending rate has risen from about 50% to 70% over the same period, meaning that more people are committing crimes after they have been released from prison. This might mean that it is not as good at PROTECTING the public as the Government might have hoped!
Some of the reasons for this high re-offending rate are described in the disadvantages listed below:
Advantages of Prison
- It can PROTECT the public from dangerous criminals, such as murderers and rapists;
- It acts as RETRIBUTION as the criminal suffers being separated from society and locked in a small room for up to 23 hours a day;
- It acts as a DETERRENT, making people afraid of committing crime;
- The existence of prisons helps to VINDICATE the authority of the law – it shows that crime and punishment is taken seriously;
- It can offer a chance of REFORM as inmates can gain an education or new skills whilst they are in prison to help them when they are released.
Disadvantages of Prison
- Prison is expensive. It costs over £30,000 per year to keep someone in prison;
- Many prisoners learn criminal skills or meet other criminals in prison. This can lead to higher rates or re-offence or more serious crimes being committed after release;
- British prisons are massively over-crowded. Many prisons have twice the number of occupants than they were built to hold. This creates an atmosphere in which criminals are resentful of society and may not wish to fit back in when they are released;
- Having a prison record can make it difficult to get a job when you are released. Sending someone to prison might make it harder for them to turn away from crime;
- The children and families of imprisoned criminals suffer the loss of a parent, even though they may have done no wrong. This can lead to the end of marriages and so on.
Religious Beliefs about Prison
As mentioned above, all the major world religions accept the need to PROTECT the public from dangerous criminals and for this reason they accept the need for prisons. Religious views will vary depending on the purpose of punishment highlighted in that religion. For example; in Islam the strong focus on VINDICATION and DETERRENCE will approve of prisons as they serve these purposes quite clearly. Christians might focus on the REFORMING nature of prisons.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails…”
He meant that we should judge a society by how it treats those who are at the bottom of the social scale, rather than how it treats those at the top. How we treat our prisoners tells us a lot about who we are as a society. A religion that focusses on REFORM is very different in character than a religion that focusses on DETERRENCE.
For this reason Christians have strongly supported the PRISON REFORM movement that has tried to improve conditions inside prisons and give prisoners better opportunities to gain education and qualifications so they have a better chance of REFORM. Remember that Jesus said:
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” – Luke 4:18
By this Christians do not mean that we should just release all prisoners, but that we should free them from the oppressive states that have made them criminals. This means looking very hard at what causes them to commit crime and helping them to overcome these barriers.