Opinion

Prisons – necessary evil?

Now – the biggest name I can think of, who spoke out against prisons, is Angela Davis. Whether we talk about prisons as a business or a correctional facility, we have to ask ourselves, whether prisons work. Yes, prisons are businesses in the US, so making sure, they are stocked up with “criminals”, makes money! Should we treat prison as a business and allow for it to contribute to capitalism?

To jump straight in – there are different studies which look at the reoffending rates for prisoners. They speak a very clear language. Prisons don’t work most of the times. For juveniles, the reoffending rate was around 38% in 2013/2014 in the UK. Why do we keep doing something, which obviously isn’t working? Why don’t we finally address the issue in a dedicated manner and explore other ways to achieve better results? Can there be other forms of punishment? What constitutes a crime?

Prisons are a means to lock people up, to isolate and separate them. We have written lots of articles about social isolation and how it can literally kill people. How more and more people feel lonely and what kind of effects it has on their lives and health. Still we apply it on people, who in most of the times need help. Whether it is a drug addict, a young person, who stole from someone, or a woman who defends herself against violence. What is the point in locking them up, if they are very likely to reoffend? How is this contributing to their healing? How is this contributing to our healing as a society?

Also – primarily low-income families are targeted. They are the ones, who find themselves in a situation, where they see no other way of dealing with the pressure, that comes with poverty. As this affects mostly people of colour, we see a high amount of prison population with a diverse background. This promotes racism, sexism and classism. The whole system is based on prejudice and hate. Prison should not be the first answer to racism, poverty and drug addiction. If we can find other ways of dealing with the issues those groups have, we are contributing in breaking this vicious cycle, that marginalised people get into.

Now how do we do that? We need to stop cutting people off from their families and their communities. Instead of isolating those people, we need to listen to them and address their issues. But really, we need to learn how to differentiate as a society. There is no solution which fits each crime. The means of correcting someone’s crime – if it really needs to be defined as a crime – can be a variety of different things and needs to make sense. For low risk offenders, we could start applying community sentencing (community work while under supervision). We could also change our mind-set in terms of whether we have to reach out to the police to take care of an issue. Are there alternatives to calling the police? This specifically applies to white, privileged people, who need to ask themselves, whether they’d like to call an institution for help, which has proven to handle matters in a discriminative manner. Am I contributing to a solution or am I dramatising things?

Last but not least, we need to listen to offenders and understand, what their issues are. A society, where everyone has access to necessary services like healthcare, education and housing, makes for happier and more content people. People, who are less likely to break laws.

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