Prison Alternatives Essay, Research Paper
Prison inmates, are some of the most dysfunctional people in society. Most of the inmates have had too little discipline or too much, come from broken homes, and have no self-esteem. They are very insecure and are at war with themselves as well as with society. Most inmates did not learn moral values or to follow everyday norms as they were brought up in society. Take a group of people, strip them of possessions and privacy, expose them to constant threats of violence, overcrowd their cell-block, deprive them of meaningful work, and the result is a bitter underclass more intent on getting even with society than contributing to it. There are better ways to deal with crime and punishment in America.
Most of today s correctional institutions lack the ability and programs to rehabilitate the criminals of America. One can predict that a prisoner held for two, four, eight or ten years, then released, still with no education or vocational skills will likely return to a life of crime. Often their life in crime will resume in weeks after their release. Although the best prisons and programs in the world will not cure the problem totally, improvements still must be made.
Next, some believe that if we want to rehabilitate criminals we must do more than just send them to prison. For instance, we could give them a chance to acquire job skills; which will improve the chances that inmates will become productive citizens upon release. These programs must aim to change those who want to change. Those who are taught to produce useful goods and to be productive are likely to develop the self-esteem essential to a normal, integrated personality. This kind of program would provide skills and habits and replace the sense of hopelessness that many inmates have.
Out of ninety-five of America s federal prison institutions only 2.3% of them are violent offenders ( Federal Bureau of Prisons Quick Facts ). So why not save the spaces in our prisons for the violent offenders, sex offenders, and drug offenders and take the nonviolent offenders out and put them to work and rehabilitate them to keep them out of the prison system and solve the overcrowding of them. Prisons take the nonviolent offender and make him live in the same conditions that a hardened killer would have. America has to wake up and realize that the current structure of our penal system is failing terribly. The government must devise new ways to punish the guilty, and still manage to keep American citizens satisfied that our justice system is effective. Restitution programs would make this possible ( Restitution ).
The very nature of prison, no matter how humane society attempts to make it, produces an environment that is harmful to its residents. Even if their release is delayed by longer sentences, those residents will eventually return to damage the community, and we as a society are paying to make this possible. Taxpayers pay approximately $15,000 a year to house an inmate in prison ( McKean ). Why should taxpayers be forced to pay to keep nonviolent criminals sitting in prison cells where they become bitter and more likely to repeat their offenses when they are released?
Instead, why not put them to work outside prison where they could pay back the victims of their crimes? Most inmates that are over crowding our prisons are nonviolent offenders. The government should initiate work programs; where the criminal is given a job and must relinquish his or her earnings to the victim of their crime until the mental and physical damages of their victims are fulfilled. A court will determine how much money the criminal will have to pay for his restitution costs, and what job the criminal will have to do to pay back that restitution.
The most obvious benefit of this approach is that it takes care of the victim, the forgotten person in the current system. Restitution offers the criminal a means to make a real change of character. Imprisonment alone cannot do this; nothing can destroy a man’s intellect more surely than living without useful productive work and purpose. Restitution also provides an alternative to imprisonment for nonviolent criminals. Working with the purpose of paying back their victim allows a criminal to understand and deal with the real consequences of his or her actions. Removing nonviolent offenders from prison would relieve overcrowding thus, eliminating the necessity of spending of public funding for prison construction.
The concept of restitution appeals to America’s sense of justice. Restitution would dissuade crime with the same effectiveness as prison. Prisons in their current state have not done much of a job when it comes to deterrence. Restitution programs would be able to greatly reduce the incidence of further crime, since they restore a sense of individual responsibility, making the offender more likely to be able to adjust to society. It is not so much the type of punishment that dissuades crime, but rather the certainty of punishment. An effective and aggressively run restitution program would be a greater deterrent than the threat of prison. The payoff for crime is so great that many are willing to risk prison. The certainty of restitution, by requiring payment, takes the profit out of crime.
Many Americans believe in our current prison system, and also believe that it is an effective form of punishment for the criminal. Some people say that criminals can live decent, civilized lives in prison and graduate to decent, civilized lives in the free world. It is well known what goes on behind closed doors in prison. Most inmates learn little of value during their confinement behind bars, mostly because they adapt to prison in immature and often self-defeating ways. As a result, they leave prison unimproved, and sometimes considerably worse than when they went in. The first time offender who is arrested for burglary does not belong in a prison where the only thing he will learn is how to become a better and more violent burglar. Instead, why not make him pay restitution to the storeowner whom he robbed? If this form of punishment was initiated for the lesser offender, our prisons will have the vacancies to incarcerate the Jeffery Dahmers of the world in prison for life.
Crime is the result of morally responsible people making wrong moral decisions, for which they must be held accountable. The just and necessary response to such behavior is punishment, which may include restitution for community service, stiff fines, or in cases where the offender is a danger to society, prison. But let’s not kid ourselves any longer. The prison was not designed to cure the individual; it was made to lock him up.