The Punitive Community

Panu Minkkinen, Professor of Legal Theory, University of Leicester:

Penology is the study of the criminal sanction, and in countries that have abolished capital punishment, it usually centres on imprisonment as the most harsh punishment that can follow if a crime is committed. The discussion is usually about justification: How can we justify imprisonment that, after all, intervenes in a violent way in the life of an individual? So imprisonment must have a justifiable purpose. It must be able to deliver benefits to a society that go beyond the mere ‘sense of justice’ that is demanded by the victim or the outraged community. Hence the political rhetoric that ‘prison works’.

What is the deterrent effect of imprisonment? Does it truly rehabilitate offenders, and does the fear of punishment prevent others from committing crimes? Research suggests that all claims concerning the social benefits of imprisonment are exaggerated.

In terms of rehabilitation, prison seems to function more like the ‘academy of crooks’ where a petty criminal, once subjected to the violence of the prison environment, ‘graduates’ as something much more dangerous. In prison, the thief is transformed into the robber who is much more prone to use force in stealing someone else’s property. This is why the criminal justice system attempts to delay a prison sentence for as long as the law will allow using it only as the last resort. Once imprisoned, the prognosis is generally dire: things can only get worse.

Panu MinkkinenSome claim that imprisonment is a form of ‘selective incapacitation’, that ‘locking ‘em up’ takes dangerous individuals out of social circulation and thus protects the public. But this could apply only to the most serious offences, and in order to be effective, prison sentences would have to be unacceptably long. Most inmates in British prisons have not committed the most serious offences but are recidivists, and when multiple-offending thieves are eventually released as robbers, the public’s sense of security is ill founded.

Neither is there any evidence that using imprisonment would prevent the rest of us from committing crimes. We refrain from crimes because we know it’s ‘right’ to do so, and our morality has more to do with the values that we cherish than our fear of punishment. For those who are tempted, research indicates that the probability of being caught is a much better deterrent regardless of what the following sanction is, and in terms of many premeditated crimes, fines are more effective than imprisonment.

So why punish? The conclusion seems to be that because nothing else works, we are only left with retribution. The only remaining justification for the use of imprisonment is captured in the news image of a victim standing at the entrance of the courthouse demanding that justice be done. Every crime is a violent imposition on its victim. We encourage the victim to publicise her suffering so that we can take part in it. But we don’t do this in order to alleviate her pain. Our initial gestures of empathy are quickly reinstated as an anger that we share with other outsiders. What unites us, the outsiders, is our shared and vengeful resentment of a crime that was never committed against us. And every official demand for ‘toughness’ or ‘law and order’ is an estranged political culture’s desperate attempt to tap into this vengeful sense of community.

The victim and her suffering long forgotten, we participate in the spectacle of punishment in much a similar way as the crowds that witnessed the public executions of criminals in former days. We may not see how the sentence itself is carried out, but we invest ourselves as interested parties in simplified narratives of good and evil, of crime and punishment, told by media and politicians alike. We reduce the complexities and contradictions of human life into a crude and emotive tale that amplifies what we think to be most human about us: fear, hatred, and our naturally endowed right to remain ignorant.

Panu Minkkinen is Professor of Legal Theory and Head of School of Law at the University of Leicester. His research interests include legal theory and jurisprudence, critical criminal law, and critical and cultural criminology and he has published a number of publications in this field.


  1. Posted 22/03/2011 at 12:50 | Permalink

    Being an ex-offender, someone who has done the right act of going straight has found that UK society is equally punitive to those who have given up crime. I’m an excluded individual without any rights. I use to lie to employers to gain employment, I had a corporate career for over 8 years, I have a honours degree, multiple sills, now I’m disclosing my un-spent conviction for life, I’m homeless, unemployed and suffering more than I ever did in prison.

    Please take a look at an early essay I did on the putative ‘Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, the law that helps society and communities legitimately discriminate and exclude those trying to do the right thing by society. – here is a quote from the essay

    “The price paid by ordinary people is to become either active participants or passive receivers in the business of social control” {Cohen, 1985, p.233).


  2. leslie
    Posted 18/03/2011 at 15:20 | Permalink

    hugh hit the nail on the head, (we are so far removed from an egalitairian society).
    We need to fix society first, then if we still have problems lets pontificate about how to fix them eh prof. reading the profs words what a load of nonsense. Ive been in and out of nick a few times in my life, finally i got the message {im too old too run anymore}. The prof seems to be fixated on the notion that you enter nick for robbing the corner store and end up doing a job like Brinks-mat warehouse (rubbish) What you do learn though is how to live there, In a total alien enviroment which soon becomes second nature. thats when you have the ability to learn from cell mates. thats if they are sharp (if your banged up for 23 hrs with a retard then you read a book). Anyway the prof needs to address his words seen as he is a professor? (We encourage the victim to publicise her suffering) should read (We encourage the victims to publicise their suffering). tad sexist there profo.
    Prof quotes(Neither is there any evidence that using imprisonment would prevent the rest of us from committing crimes). We refrain from crimes because we know it’s ‘right’ to do so?? (more rubbish) you seem to live some place ive never been. most people i know simply choose to not commit crime because of the hassel and upset it brings, Police kicking your door down at 6 in the morning, spending the weekend in the police cells. Drag you away thursday night then up in court friday morning, oh no they like to come early saturday morning keep you the weekend for court on monday. Then the attitude of the police stinks you just dont need these people in your life. going to court and getting £££fined£££ puts a lot of people off (cant afford to live as it is) but hey i could do a bit of lifting and hey presto more money for booze or weed but then think of the fines oh yea. probation hacks a lot of people off signing weekly at your local cop shop too. And the final hurdle prison, Most people are frightend of prison. The question i get asked the most is what is it like, and thats because people are scared of the unknowen. But some people i know have had a taste of prison and so its easy to them now. If they need money just rob someones house sell the gear, Then live it up for a while till the next job or till you get caught. Its a double edged sword get fined then rob to pay the fine or get sent down and rob when you get released, mabey even a vicious circle rather than a sword. any how most of us realise its hard to run from the cops when your getting on in age, and if the mats-brink job never turns up then its time to behave. Prison is good, fines are bad and cops are bad mps are bad profs are bad because it was the boffins who made the atom bomb. bloody cash greedy boffins eh who needs them. lets start an uprising and throw all the boffins in nick with the crooked bankers and MPs.


    hugh d cgowan Reply:

    It is true to say that prison does “not” work because I returned there time and time again until I was sentenced to five years.I remember when the sentence was passed,and it might not be impossible to belive that my only concerned thought was going back to Barlinney instead of my local prison because it meant I couldn’t get the contraban I wanted.As I was led down the stairs of Glasgow high court I remember trying to work out roughly how long I’d do.
    Truth is,that it is similar individuals who end up in prison.Those who are risk takers but cant afford to go bungee jumping or white water rafting.Its the people who find the daily dose of oppressive hegemony too hard to cope with.Its those who have morals,but they are overshadowed by psychological dependencies that have eaten up their normality.I’ve never met a man in prison who feels that he’s not entirely normal.What we cannot change we adjust to,and some people are more willing to take risks.But generally these types come from a culture that has became disgusting to middle and upper class individuals. The crime in this country stems from societal unwillingness to become more egalitairian..Look at the university policy just can someone from a deprived background afford to pay 10,000 for their betterment..Yes,there are ways of getting funding,but who pays the rent because there’s no housing benefit?Who pays the daily food bills,electrical bills etc?And what will await them?more dole and disability benefits, and struggle because there are no professional jobs for “that type”.”Ex-offender” label is a ball and chain that will always hold people back,and worse still it will keep them in the same old dingey flat,in the same old run down community,doing the same old endless rounds of a hampster wheel.

    Its easy to see this because(and you might be surprised)I have choosen as Leslie did,to move out of crime.I’ve chosen academic pursutes.I now expend my energy studying social psychology..and I’ve done a BA at Glasgow university with not much at the end of four years..For what?coz I have no professional I do it to see how the institutions in society keep some people hanging in no-man’s land for tiny scraps from the table of the ruling class.

    Prison is a waste of money,and with all the privatised prisons now,it becomes profitable to the elite MPs and CEO’s.Its a buisness now and we should never forget it.
    People who engage in infringing on someone’s rights in an agressive manner without provocation should go to prison.Child murderers and sex offenders should be locked up.These people do not think rationally and are removed from normality.People who are indiscriminately violoent towards those weaker,more vulnerable than themselves without explaination,should not be bitter about ending up in a six by eight cell for 23 hours a day.
    I state that some people do deserve prison sentences,but it should be decided on an individual basis,not a one size fits all basis.There should be consideration from victims of crime,as well as families who will struggle if the breadwinner goes to jail for smoking weed or some other socially constructed law that’s there to control,not protect!


  3. Yvonne Gilfillan
    Posted 17/03/2011 at 21:34 | Permalink

    Far too often acts are criminalised to appease the media or the political elite, thus resulting in many individuals and groups of individuals falling foul of the legal system and ending up within the criminal justice wheel: Police, courts, prison, probation, police, courts, etc, etc. Prison does not work and there is wide-ranging research evidencing this fact. All prison does, in effect, is replicate and exacerbate the prejudices and discriminations already felt in society by the most vulnerable, deprived,excluded individuals. Punitive measures are not the answer as they fail to satisfy justice in the holistic sense. We seriously need to be looking overseas to the fabulously positive examples of restorative justice as the guide to how individuals (offenders and victims) along with their respective communities can heal, repair, restore and move forward from the initial criminal act.

    Prison does not work, restoration does.


  4. Howard
    Posted 10/03/2011 at 23:19 | Permalink

    I believe that society should be based on the Greatest GOOD for the greatest number. This is why we form communities and pay taxes. It is also why the majority of us allow elected officials (mps) to decide on our laws with only our implied consent. We allow the Police to enforce the Criminal Law and the Judiciary to enforce the punishment. This is also with our implied consent.
    In light of the above, it appears to me that people who break the law withdraw themselves from society as a result of their crime. In the vast majority of cases the lawbreaker willingly and knowingly breaks a law, whether it be robbery, assault or murder.
    Society has a right to be protected from lawbreakers where possible.
    The question therefore, becomes how to protect society not how to look after the lawbreaker.
    As has been mentioned prison doesn’t work! Why? Because there is no fear element, lawbreakers are not afraid of being caught and being sent to prison.
    Prison should be feared, a place of minimal rights. Not Human rights. These were given up when the lawbreaker decided to go outside the law.
    Prisons should pay for themselves by the inmates working an 8 hr day, or studying so they could be useful citizens. The regime should be strict and designed to enable the offender to be released into the community as a useful citizen.
    At the present time this cannot happen because of the HUMAN RIGHTS ACT.
    Sentences must be long enough to allow the above training to take place.
    Having laid out the above generalities, I would like to say that prison is not the place for many criminals (possibly the majority) who would be better off repaying society for their offences. The problem here is there is no will to enforce community sentences.
    There will always be cases where the crime is so terrible the perpetrator can never be released, in this case I believe Capital punishment is more humane than a life sentence


    hugh d cgowan Reply:

    As a resonse to the above comment I would like to say that even a “lawbreaker” is entitled to a decent and fair punishment.what you are suggesting implies that prisoners should have their rights as citizens taken away..mmm would this be for all crimes?
    Would this be used for the crimes of the upper class,for example the various kinds of internet fraud through false advertising or for breaching privacey laws?
    Should it be for the recent allegations of the Uk press,and the addmitions of guilt that followed,that they had spied on individuals who were of interest,and would sell newspapers?
    What crimes should we take away the rights of criminals?There was an experiment carried out in the late 60s which explored the behaviour of students in a role of prison guards.Others were put there as prisoners,and what they were attempting to find out was if people in positions of power became unruley..These were all students from normal non-criminal backgrounds,but adopted roles that would be saw as inhumane.I’d love for you to see this as it would show exactly why prisoners SHOULD have the same protections as others enjoyed by the Human Rights Act.

    Would it be for such crimes as breach of the peace(I like in the UK),which could mean anything from shouting at someone for cutting you off on the main road or possibly sticking two fingers up at them in the same scenario?
    No-one suffers damage to property,or has their rights infringed upon.

    You see,there is a general labeling of “lawbreakers” by people like yourself,and individuals like yourself have no real concept of what it means when a person chooses to commit a crime;what state of mind he/she is in;what socioeconomic situation being endured;and probably of most importance is how this individual sees things morally and socially.Would it be “criminal” for a young mother stealing baby foor for her hungry baby?
    No,not all crime is worthy of what you suggest,and I suspect that if you found yourself being accused of a crime,and in the system,even falsely accused,you’d see things in a different light.
    Some people only have the bad luck to be caught up in crime when they see it through the media,or petty crime which they have suffered in some way.Most people are influenced by the media coverage the see.But never actually look in to the contributing factors which pave the way towards criminal activity.


  5. Posted 09/03/2011 at 20:37 | Permalink

    Believing in the doctrines and teching of Jesus and following him we need to belief in the pardon and forgivenes of our fellows brothers and sisters. The redemption of any huma being is possible if the rest of the society is not moral ill. Rehabilitation and training of the offenders, for better life should be a mandatory precept of good government.


  6. D.A.
    Posted 09/03/2011 at 10:23 | Permalink

    The arguments made above are based on the assumption that punishment does not work when punishment is not implemented in British prisons today. Punishment and reform need not be mutually exclusive. Effective punishment itself can serve to drive reform by encouraging criminals not to reoffend.

    Prisons are not effective at punishing offenders, as pointed out by Hugh. In fact, Hugh’s insights brought forth a lot of questions for me. Why do prisoners have a weekly allowance? And TV and radio devices? Many people in the community outside prison spend their lives watching TV day after day of their own free will; why is this considered punishment in prisons? Are victims of violent crime not punished more; to scared to go outside in some cases, for fear of being attacked?

    With view to the arguments that criminals are victims of circumstance, I personally know many people who have been brought up in the most deprived areas of inner cities with no money other than that afforded to them by the local government body, who are the children of broken homes or who had violent parents and the majority of these do not grow up to be hardened criminals. I would say that there is no excuse for pre-meditated criminal behaviour. The people of this country are provided with funds enough to be clothed, fed and housed adequately. There is free education and free healthcare. What excuse is there to break into someone else’s home and steal their possessions? What excuse is there to rape and attack another person? What excuse is there to kill? And why should this behaviour not be punished?

    Make prison a punishment. Stop giving prisoners pocket money and TV in their bedrooms. These are not children, these are adults who have committed some wrong against other members of society and, as has been pointed out above, have generally committed multiple offences resulting in them being jailed. Put prisoners to work; make them pay for some small part of their keep if you can.

    As for the families of those imprisoned; I would argue that the criminals themselves made the choice to be imprisoned and seperated from their families when they committed the criminal offence. If you want to blame someone for the fact parents in prison are seperated from their children, blame the parents who committed the criminal act, not the people punishing them for it.

    Everyone has free will. Criminals are not all victims. The vast majority of inmates made a choice to commit a crime. Let them accept the consequences.


  7. ziv
    Posted 07/03/2011 at 18:03 | Permalink

    Yes, prison does work–for some. But for many it does not. Usually it is not an outside influence that spurs a prisoner to reform their life, it is a personal realisation that their way of life is not working. Prison can be a wake-up call for those who have a degree of self awareness, and the impetus to change, and a support system that encourages such change. For others who keep repeating their criminal pattern, it is a place to hold them while they serve their time.

    I believe that for a prison sentence to be effective the prisoner must be helped to see that what they are doing or have done is wrong. This may involve restorative justice, where the offender meets with their victim in a supervised setting, and must listen to the victim’s account of the crime committed against them and the aftermath of that crime. The offender should be made to attend group counselling sessions, where, with the supervision of trained counsellors and other professionals, they can explore the reasons why they have offended, and are made to come to terms with what they have done and the consequences to their victims, their victims’ families and their own families.

    Offenders should be coached in anger management and impulse control, as it is often lack of impulse control that lands them in prison. Another issue that should be addressed is self esteem. Men with low self esteem often act out in aggressive ways, and extend violence towards others more vulnerable than themselves because it gives them a sense of power. Many male offenders have experienced deprivation, neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse, lack of strong male role models and fractured family circumstances. Because they no longer wish to be victims, they switch to the extreme and become abusers. Many offenders have complex issues of substance abuse, which, coupled with low self esteem and low impulse control, make for a high likelihood of criminal behaviour.

    All these issues need to be addressed in order to aid the offender in becoming whole and recognising that what they have done is wrong, and that they have hurt many people. Prison should be about resocialising offenders so that they, in essence, can ‘grow up’ and become healthy, stable and responsible members of society.

    Unfortunately, restorative programs take money, and governments and politicians consistently refuse to allocate sufficient funds in order to implement these programs. The ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ approach is cheap and appeases society’s desire for vengeance, without having to examine the reasons why people offend, or accept the responsibility of socially retraining them. For those offenders who do need to be incarcerated for their natural lives, they too should be made to participate in self awareness and accountability programs, so that they may enrich their lives and take responsibility for their offences while serving their time. For those sociopaths for whom nothing will work, it is enough to keep them in prison for ever. No punishment or harsh regime will make a difference to that type offender, as they operate on a completely different mindset from other people.

    Society needs to wean itself off the old Victorian idea of the incorrigible criminal who offends because they are evil, and also the notion of community vengeance on behalf of the victim. Rather punishment needs to be purposeful, with an outcome that ensures the offender can emerge from prison with a better chance of settling into a lawful and responsible way of living.


  8. cb3
    Posted 07/03/2011 at 05:28 | Permalink

    Surely the loss of freedom is punishment. Reform should be facing what they have done, and learning how to be a useful member of society – maybe learning a skill and starting to work. Perhaps prisons should start businesses – furnituremaking, market gardening,IT,
    I see no gain in imprisoning mothers for crimes such as theft or fraud etc. But they should serve society in school hours,learn a skill, face hat they have done.
    Men who are not a danger should also work for the community in a way that their commnity needs. Or be attached to a business.


  9. 25thDerivative
    Posted 06/03/2011 at 17:23 | Permalink

    In my previous comment I should have begun by makeing clear that research supports the proposition that convicted prisoners with families are mostly career criminals, fraudulent business people, and individuals with uncontrollable rage issues or alcohol/drug dependecy issues.


  10. David
    Posted 06/03/2011 at 14:21 | Permalink

    I would imagine that Panu Minkkinen has not had the misfortune to have his wife raped by a stranger, or his house burgled and desecrated. I wonder how he would feel then? To quote:”Some claim that imprisonment is a form of ‘selective incapacitation’, that ‘locking ‘em up’ takes dangerous individuals out of social circulation and thus protects the public. But this could apply only to the most serious offences, and in order to be effective, prison sentences would have to be unacceptably long”. maybe prison sentences should be unacceptably long. This could have a deterrent effect. After all, deterrence is an actual word, so it must have the meaning which we understand. To make my point to the extreme, would levels of crime drop if the punishment was death for any crime?
    Criminals should not be allowed to become repeat offenders. Every time they repeat a crime, the sentence should be doubled.they should be made to sign an agreement the first time, they are sent to prison, which would give their consent to this arrangement. Too many criminals are recidivists. This indicates they have a criminal attitude, which in most cases is not possible to reform. Tell me if I’m wrong. Any criminal who feels guilty about his crime will probably not commit another one. Unless perhaps he is a drug addict, and needs to commit crime to pay for his habit. The availability of drugs in prison, would indicate that there is some collusion perhaps, because it causes less trouble amongst the inmates, if they can get what they need.

    As far as having the largest criminal population in Europe, maybe criminals come from the European Union, or further afield, because they perceive that we are soft on crime. If caught, they know that they will have facilities in prison, that they may not have in their normal lives, i.e., three meals a day, sports facilities, all free of charge, and of course a bed for the night. This is supposed to be punishment?almost every other day seems, we hear stories of prisoners complaining about their conditions, followed by the inevitable comment that they are going to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Oh dear! Aren’t we being awful to them?how can we get it across to them that they have cast themselves away from decent society?they have really forfeited their rights by being criminal.

    Hugh mentions that children of criminals suffer as a result of their parent going to prison. Yes, indeed they do. So of course do the victims of these wretched criminals. I would like to ask a criminal how he would feel if somebody robbed his house or raped his daughter. Perhaps he would realise how innocent victims feel.

    Much is said about rich and poor,however most poor people are not criminal. I feel a lot of crime. is just through sheer greed. Think of the drug dealer, with his flashy cars and gold and jewellery. How many young people aspire to this image?The influence of gangster rap and videos has a lot to answer for, glamorising the criminal lifestyle. I have to say this is particularly in the black community.Correct me if you think I am wrong, and don’t call me a racist. I am a realist. Some people need to get their act together!


    James T Reply:

    So the solution is what then? Lock everyone up until we’ve trebled the prison population and outlaw gangsta rap?

    I don’t think anyone sensible dissents from the view that murderers, rapists and those guilty of serious crimes should be imprisoned. The really difficult question is what to do about less serious crime. And there is evidence that prison is a. extremely expensive and b. not very effective at dealing with this. And therefore only any use if our objective is to punish.

    I’m not some sort of wet liberal that would excuse the offender his behaviour because of some theoretical do-gooding ideology. But the hard fact remains, that those of us on the right have impotently struggled with for years – prison is ineffective at preventing re-offending.


    Ziv Reply:

    Why is it always the racists who say ‘no, I’m a realist’? You obviously know nothing about the Black community or you wouldn’t come out with such rubbish. You assume that all drug dealers are Black, and that all Black people listen to ‘gangsta’ rap, and that ‘gangsta’ rap ultimately unduly influences people to commit crime because they are greedy and want flashy cars and gold jewellery! How ridiculous! In Victorian times they used to blame the penny dreadfuls. To blame ‘gangsta’ rap is equally as specious.


  11. 25thDerivative
    Posted 06/03/2011 at 12:12 | Permalink

    Sociological research supports the proposition that starting a family has a positive social effect. Therefore it is arguable that only career criminals, fraudulent business people or individuals with uncontrollable rage issues tend to commit serious criminal offences. The majority of those in prison being young single males. The immorality of hurting ones children by being labled a criminal being a strong enough deterrent in the majority of cases to prevent the individual from further contemplation of committing an imprisonable offence. Those individuals with families who do commit serious offences know the consequenses of their actions.
    One perspective that seems to have been overlooked is the possibility of running prisons at a profit. Apparently there is, and has been for some time, a drive to make prisons not only pay for thamselves, financially, but to make a profit. Farm prisons, wherein the prisoners rear animals (mainly pigs) not only make money but teach prisoners new skills, whether they want to learn or not!. Many prisons take in contracts from assembly line manufacturing. Soldering plugs onto electric wire, assembling toys etc.
    If the focus is to be on punishment, the lose of liberty; to go to the shop, to travel, to think beyond the confines of the prison wall. As well as being forced to live in, and socialise with, a building full of convicted criminals, resultant in the subsequent hardening of social interactions, the very basic wages, and the removal of trust, are punishment. As punishment they may not seem harsh enough to many in society. Harsh enough being an arbitary issue.
    It is also arguable that the removal of an individual from the mainstream social structure for long periods of time is not only detrimental to the individual, there is sufferance of labeling, both in prison and on release, and, perhaps more seriously, the gradual degredation of the ability to socialy interact with others at a passive level, but is also detremental to society, many recidivists becoming so to avoid the necessity of re-establishing their social skills and credibility, institutionalisation thereby becoming the easier option.
    There are so many aspects to the subject of imprisonment that dissertations from sociological, psychological, philosophical, criminological and other perspectives could easily be completed , with much of the subject matter still remaining unquestioned.
    The ideal social structure would have no need for prisons as there would be no criminals. As we as a society have more convicted criminals incarcerated in prisons than other European contries it follows that our social structure is far from ideal.


  12. bishopmead
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 22:38 | Permalink

    Should we perhaps consider a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system, tailoring sentencing to the individual criminal rather than to the crime? The hardened habitual criminal who has no intention of being reformed could then be incarcerated for the protection of the public, whereas the offender that can embrace rehabilitation with suitable education and training would serve a non-custodial sentence on condition of adequate performance. Prison would then become a place of punishment (with less comfortable conditions and fewer privileges than at present). Maybe a return to more punitive conditions would make habitual criminals think twice, whereas the misguided and “accidental” offender should achieve rehabilitation.


    Sarah Reply:

    The penal system in Britain may have developed almost by accident in response to a cultural movement, however was proving to be effective until the meddling by well meaning people these last few decades.
    We already know that crime as a cultural norm is passed through communities, that is why we worry about prisons becoming criminal academies. So someone though it would be good to tag & ASBO those criminals to send them out into the community and spread their criminal influence into the general public, rather then keep it contained in the prisons?
    It is not the British punitive community that needs looking at, it is how crime as a cultural norm keeps being introduced and fed back into society to grow.


  13. Spectator1
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 21:38 | Permalink

    I have to disagree with this piece:

    “Neither is there any evidence that using imprisonment would prevent the rest of us from committing crimes”

    There is significant evidence that suggests that prison is effective. And certainly more effective than community sentences:


    moderatorchris Reply:

    Spectator1: Thanks for the comment and widening the debate. We encourage informed and considered debate so welcome your views. Does anyone want to come back on the evidence presented by Spectator1 suggesting that prison is effective and specifically is more effective than community sentences?


  14. Posted 03/03/2011 at 21:59 | Permalink

    As I a soeone who has spent several years in prison I feel there should be a couple of points raised.First,when a offender is sent to prison he will simply ajust to the prison enviroent.The great educational thinker Paulo Freire said that what people cannot change,the will ajust to.I see this as an iportant statement because we all quickly adjust to our surroundings,albeit that soe do so better than others.
    On the other side of the fence is where the hardship of prison is ostly felt.When someone goes to prison,the family bear a great part of the grief through picking up the peices.Those on the outside also have to coe to terms with a new life without the detained person.Children suffer some psychological stress trying to come to ters with the loss of a parent who has been jailed.The list of hardships felt by the reaining family is likely to be far greater than the prisoner.The prisoner has had almost all their responsibilities for looking after themselves by having meals cooked,money supplied,items of luxury provided fro the outside such as quilts and curtains,CD and radio devices,and a TV that costs them one pound out of their weekly allowance.
    It is not to say that the prisoner feels great stress aand pressure,of course,and I am not agaainst prison in some situations,what I a saying is that society should focus on the root causes of criminal behaviours,the why’s and how’s of a persons actions.The should focus on mending the broken lives of the majority of people who end up with a chaotic lifestyle which lands the in prison.I mean,we are so far removed from an egalitairian society,witth a get rich quick attitude being the norm.If thre was more time spent on avoiding poverty and all that can be linked to it,to stop these kids growing up without being able to have a childhood where they are psychological comfort.These children grow up to be the ones with addiction problems,impulsive natures,and thbe thrill seeking psyche.
    Send those who cannot remain in society to jail,not the most deprived and unhappy people who have developed lower morals through the neccessety imposed by capitalism.
    Capitalism and consumerism is the real evil,and deprivation is its right hand.


    moderatorchris Reply:

    Thanks for this personal and insightful take on the issue. Is there any support for Hugh’s views that the hardship of prison is mostly felt outside it, and that capitalism and consumerism are at the heart of the issue?


    Jane Reply:

    I suspect that where prisoners do have families for whom they care, and who care for them, then the suffering of that family has considerable impact upon the prisoner. However, as such prisoners with families are apparently career criminals, or subject to violent rages, then the effect of their behaviour on their families is very much by-the-by to their criminal acts.

    It has long seemed to me that prisoners should not be kept for the duration of their sentence at no financial cost to themselves, instead the bill for their imprisonment should be set against their assets, either current or prospective. Loss of freedom (perhaps aka having all ones physical needs met by others) is clearly of its own an insufficient deterrant whereas I believe that significant financial loss, which ought to include compensation to any victim, would be more feared because it would not be wiped out at the end of the term of imprisonment nor foreshortened by ‘good’ behaviour.


    Alison Reply:

    (To moderatorchris) I believe it is hardest of all on the families of inmates. I am not sure, though, that the problem is consumerism/capitalism per se; in my opinion it’s the disintegration of stable family life and the failure of our educational system to adapt to the changing requirements of our workforce. That is, we are turning out young people who years or decades ago would have slipped into “unskilled” occupations – but these jobs exist no longer. These kids leave school and if the aren’t going on to university (and 60-70% don’t) they find there is nothing for them. What do they do, how to they “become somebody”?

    Then there is the problem of our schools turning out people who don’t have basic literacy and/or numeracy. But that’s another thread.


    Alison Reply:

    Hugh Gowan shows more insight, wisdom and maturity than many other people posting here. We should listen to him because he is someone for whom prison had the desired effect: that of self-exploration, reflection and rehabilitation. Why is this? Why did it work for him; what can his experience tell us?

    I believe the large number of people in prison is a warning sign for us all. It is society that is to blame, not individuals. There will always be a few miscreants; that is part of the spectrum of human behaviour. But when you start to put large numbers of people in prison, and you observe that (in the main) these people come from a background of broken homes, poor schooling and drug abuse, then we have a problem. It is not their problem – it is ours. And it is ours to solve – not by locking people up, but by finding out how they got into this situation in the first place, and then acting to change society so that it doesn’t channel people down that path.


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