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JLeslie's avatar

Do you think Jail/Prison is for punishment or rehabilitation?

Asked by JLeslie (58772points) September 30th, 2009

I thought of this question after hearing about Polanski being arrested. Let’s say he has not committed any like crime in the last 20 years, that he is a good citizen now, and that was one mistake in his past, and realizes the error in his ways. Must he be punished now? I was talking to someone who lived in Europe the last 10 years, and he believes America’s thoughts on justice and punishment are all screwed up. Certainly if someone is a threat to society, routinely commiting crimes, they need to be removed, but let’s say it was one act a long time ago and now they are productive, contributing citizens?

I was curious what the collective thinks?

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31 Answers

Sarcasm's avatar

I think it’s school for criminals, neither punishment nor rehabilitation.

jaketheripper's avatar

Today it is mostly for punishment
I think ideally it would only be for rehabilitation, which in alot of cases does look like punishment. But I think we are a great distance from a real institution of rehabilitation

deni's avatar

I think jail should be for punishment for crimes like rape and murder. He raped someone, I don’t think it matters how long ago it was, and since he was never punished, he should be now. It sucks for him, but I don’t think he deserves to get away with it just because he evaded the law for 30 years.

I think we need to be a little more picky about who we put in jail. If someone is caught with some weed, they shouldn’t be thrown in a cell with a rapist. Its a waste of money to house these people who have never committed a violent crime or hurt anyone else.

SheWasAll_'s avatar

When the justice system started, the goal was rehabilitation. Now it’s just “get them off the streets!” The average person doesn’t really care when the crime was committed, just that you committed one. And they don’t care after you serve your time, you’re still a criminal in their eyes. That’s why ⅔ of offenders end up re-offending within 3 years of being released; they don’t know anything else and most people aren’t willing to teach them anything or give them a chance to change.

deni's avatar

I thought of rehabilitation incorrectly when I wrote my first response. I think jail should be for punishment AND for rehabilitation. If you kill another person, you deserve to be punished. Can that be argued? But at the same time, you need help, and you should be rehabilitated. I think we need to incorporate the two.

Axemusica's avatar

I think it’s the intention to rehabilitate, but it’s mostly for punishment. The person who committed the crime changes based on their own will to do so. I used to be a big time thief. I’ve stolen everything from car stereo equipment to Ski-doos, never a auto though. I moved to a different state at one point and my brothers in crime did a “job” or some “dirt” and got caught and thrown in jail and prison and what not and it was an eye opener for me, because I know that if I was there, I would’ve most likely been with them. So, in a sense, if the person in question wants to change is the real question. Also, prison is a good way to show them if they want to continue staying there, but then again, they might be institutionalized by staying so long that they want to commit more crimes to get back to what feels like “home” to them. It could really go both ways.

gussnarp's avatar

Originally the purpose of prison was two-fold: to punish, and to keep people locked up where they couldn’t hurt anyone. Later the notion of rehabilitation was added. Since the 80s the American system has pretty much let rehabilitation slide. I think prison should serve all three purposes. Punishment must exist in order to create a deterrent. It isn’t 100 percent effective, of course, but it must exist. Rehabilitation must also exist if we intend to ever let anyone out of prison, and I think most of us would agree that most people shouldn’t be locked up indefinitely. And finally, prison should be used to take the most damaged and violent offenders and lock them up permanently, or until it can really be proved that they are rehabilitated (something that the current state of psychological science cannot really prove yet). I think repeat rapists, child molesters, and murderers should probably never get out. As to Polanski, the man drugged and raped a 13 year old girl, then evaded the law and lived a life of wealth and privilege while avoiding capture and never paid any price for his crime. He should go to prison as punishment because a society simply cannot allow such a heinous crime to go unpunished when it is well within its power to see that justice is done. Particularly when the criminal has used his wealth and fame to help him avoid punishment.

Likeradar's avatar

I think in its current state, prison is acting as punishment and often as the opposite of rehabilitation. From what I’ve read and heard, many people who go to prison come out more violent, hostile, skill-less, and with more ideas for how to commit crimes than when they went in. (sorry, I don’t have any references for that :( )

Ideally, prisons would be for rehabilitation and punishment. People need to learn anger management, life skills, ways to cope with stress, compassion, and trades. I don’t think it should be particularly pleasant though. I think the aim should be to think being there would suck, but once a person is in, we could definitley do a better job of helping them learn how not to come back.

deni's avatar

@Likeradar I think you are correct. Violent people go to jail for a while, spend the whole time lifting weights and bulking up, and probably come out even more hardened and angry.

MissAnthrope's avatar

At least in the U.S., it’s used as punishment. It should be for both punishment and rehabilitation, otherwise, you’re segregating a section of the population and when they get out, then what? If you haven’t taught them how to live in society appropriately, haven’t taught them any work or life skills, it’s going to be very difficult for them to re-integrate and be positive, contributing members of society.

Not to mention, as punishment-only, it ends up being criminal school, as someone else mentioned. They maintain the same street mentalities, meet up with other criminals, and learn new tricks off each other. Without giving them a viable alternative, of course they’re going to go back to what they know, except they’ll be more clever (new tricks and an increased desire to not get caught).

Firstandlast's avatar

I would like to think that jail is for rehabilitation but for a large portion of the population it is a revolving door. A large amount of inmates who have been in jail for a few years land up going right back in after they are released. Some inmates return because the commit more serious crimes then they committed before. I think it would be wise if we reassessed what is the purpose of incarceration especially for individuals whose crimes aren’t as severe as some.

gottamakeart's avatar

I think jail has become more like storage, and is a waste of time for many and tax money for the law-abiding.

I favor treatment, probation and monitering, ReHab, Therapy, medication, even Chemical Castration (if they are a serious repeat sex-offender)

I’m sure a lot of people are locked up that probably don’t actually need to be. (minor non-violent crimes)

OpryLeigh's avatar

I think it is both. They don’t have the freedom of the law abiding which is a punishment for what they have done but, ideally, whilst serving their punishment they are learning to take responsibilities for their actions. This is the rehab part. Hopefully they will get help from proffessionals in the form of therapy and/or medication and they will learn from their punishment. I know this isn’t always the case but I hope in some cases it is.

Zuma's avatar

I’ve been to prison on a drug bust, and I can tell you that prisons exist for one thing and one thing only: to inflict pain and suffering on people (i.e., punishment). Prison is a pain delivery system—but not just any kind of pain, but pain that permanently injures and humiliates.

The problem is that about 60% of the people in prison are there either for drugs, for committing a crime to get money to buy drugs, or because they did something stupid while high on drugs or alcohol. About 40% of the people in prison are there because they are mentally ill, many of whom self-medicate with street drugs. In California, about 56% of prisoners are there on parole violations, the vast bulk of them “technical” violations for things like not showing up for an appointment with your parole officer, or having beer cans in your trash, or any number of other things that are not even crimes—and, of course, drugs.

Naturally, there is quite a bit of overlap in these categories, but actual serious crime comprises only a small proportion of the total. Murderers and rapists account for less that one half of one percent of all prisoners; serious violent crime accounts for around 4%, and around 9% have committed property crimes ranging from shoplifting to bank robbery. In other words, only around 16.67% of the people in prison are there for things traditionally considered crimes—arson, fraud, burglary, identity theft, assault, kidnapping, sex offending, etc. The rest are caught up on bullshit drug charges and parole violations.

There is absolutely, absolutely, absolutely nothing constructive to do in prison. If you are lucky, you may have family on the outside who may send you some books. Also, if you are lucky enough to have a job, it is invariably something unskilled, like milking cows, slaughtering chickens, sorting trash, or mopping floors—for 9 to 43 cents per hour, 55% of which is taken for “restitution.” You are punished for not doing what you are told to do; you are punished for doing what you are told to do; you are punished because someone in your group did something without any explanation why; and you are punished just because some guard wants to impress another guard by showing him what a dick he can be.

Needless to say, whatever you’ve done the punishment almost always far exceeds the crime; leaving the person being punished feeling victimized, humiliated, resentful and stewing in a cold murderous rage toward the society that punishes him. There is no “professional help” in prison. In California, two people a week die of medical neglect; another two commit suicide; and at least one person per day is injured in violence due to overcrowding.

Imagine somebody shoving your face into a bowl of warm shit, or smashing you in the face with their fist as hard as they can. What you “learn” from punishment is that society doesn’t give a shit about you, and that it wants to hurt you, humiliate you and make you suffer for years on end. And the lasting impression you take away from this “lesson” is that you and your life are worth absolutely nothing, so why should you regard anyone else’s life as worth more than yours?

If this doesn’t send chills down your spine, it should. If I were younger and in much better health, I just might be lurking in an alley waiting for some smug, condescending, law-abiding, self-satisfied citizen to come along to take my revenge. It is a testament to the inherent decency of so-called “criminals” that more of you aren’t stabbed in the neck for your callous indifference to the suffering you cause.

As for rehabilitation, you mean you want me to grovel before some glorified unsympathetic prison guard who gets paid $80,000 a year to keep this whole racket going. You want me to explain to him how sorry I am for offending society with my dope smoking and begging forgiveness for my getting high, and how I will never, never, never do it again? Fuck you. I would rather be punished. I don’t have a drug problem; I have a government persecution problem—a problem that has nothing to do with saving society from the scourge of drugs and everything to do with keeping the rabble in line, and sweeping the streets of “undesirables” (i.e., blacks and Hispanics) and making a good living doing it.

Prison isn’t about crime, it is about getting politicians elected. It is about exploiting people’s fears and hatreds toward the “others” in society. It is a thoroughly corrupt appendage of the state which the dominant groups in society make money off of excluding, beating down, discouraging and disenfranchising selected target groups in society. The more dysfunctional you are when you get out the more likely you are to come back—and that is job security, ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. And don’t think your average prison guard doesn’t know that, because it is one of things they rub your face in.

By the way, it now costs around $47,000 per prisoner per year in California; all of which is money taken away from higher education—and what you get for all that are streets safe from pot smokers and parole appointment-missers. And that’s the real crime.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Zuma Did the horrible time you obviously spent in prison make you think twice about breaking the law (whether you consider it to be a crime or not), to such an extent that the powers that be felt prison the only option for you, again?

JLeslie's avatar

@Zuma every post you have written about your time in prison is sooo good. Maybe the one positive thing is you could write a book about it.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Zuma – I have had a couple of family members in prison for drug-related crimes. My cousin spent time in San Quentin, which I associate with being a bad-ass prison for violent offenders, but he wasn’t violent, he was actually a pretty sweet, meek guy. Anyway, I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like, how bad it is in there, and I think the whole system is fucked up. I apologize for dropping the f-bomb, but “screwed” doesn’t begin to cover it.

It’s a huge vicious cycle, and I wish we could overhaul the prison system so that we’re actually rehabilitating people, or at least attempting to teach them some normal life skills so they have a decent chance at integrating back into society and finding their place there. Studies show that prison isn’t a deterrent, I don’t know when those in power will wake up and see all they’re doing is churning out angry criminals who are only more determined.

Zuma's avatar

@Leanne1986 Are you asking if I would think twice about breaking the law again after being to prison? Of course not!

I’ve been partying off and on since 1966 and never gave the law much of a thought at all. If you are white, educated and respectable looking, your chances of getting caught and sent to prison are slim to none. In my case, a Mexican-American friend of mine got pulled over for the Nth time, and he made a deal with cops and the DA to set me up instead. If you are poor and white and live out in a trailer park, or if you are simply black or Hispanic, going to prison is a normal and accepted part of everyday life—something you are more likely to do if you grow up in that neighborhood than, say, go to college.

After seeing the cops lie under oath, and how people are pressured to accept bad plea bargain (because they throw the book at you if you insist on a jury trial), and the utter contempt with which the cops treat people who haven’t been found guilty, I must say that my former respect for the law is now one of deep contempt.

Moreover, I am not the least deterred. I am, of course, mindful of the big fist that passes for “justice” but I am not terrorized into submission. One thing I learned in prison is that they can’t watch you every minute, and that even when strip search you and toss your cell, pretty much the only time they find what you’re hiding is when you are careless or somebody rats you out. The reason I follow the law is not out of fear of punishment but because I am a kind and compassionate person. When you start abusing that, you don’t get a more law-abiding person but less.

When I was in a 300-man dorm I conducted a survey of the other white guys there. I was thinking of how the government pays farmers not to grow crops, and how every man has his price. What would it take to simply pay prisoners not to take dope? Out of about 60 guys, only two even offered a figure. One said he would straighten out if the state paid for his college education; the other said $5,000 (but I know he was lying). All the rest said that no amount of money would even tempt them to quit drugs. Indeed, several told me that on the day they paroled, they had made arrangements to have a needle in their arm before they even got off the prison parking lot. So why would you think these folks would “think twice” about anything?

Let me tell you a simple but terrible truth: people can get used to anything, and in a surprisingly short amount of time too. After a short while prison, punishment simply doesn’t scare you anymore. You can lock people up in solitary confinement for months on end, and reduce their human contact to having a feeding tray shoved through a slot in the door; in fact, you can even torture them and they will still resist you. Punishment only makes you compliant when it is being applied; otherwise it makes you fearless, defiant and ready to punch someone out at the slightest insult. If you think prisons and punishment makes you safer, or anyone more law abiding, then you’re a fucking idiot and a fitting target for revenge.

If some guy with tattoos on his neck comes up to you in a parking lot and asks for a dollar, you’d best hand it over. If you say “Get a job!” those might be the last words you ever utter (besides, Oh No! Please! Stop!) Ninety-five percent of the people who go to prison eventually get out; and every one of them is a ticking time bomb. Unfortunately, it is their families that suffer their explosions. And don’t think that this is by accident.

This is the dominant white “respectable” classes waging war against the lower classes, knocking the poor and people of color out of society and out of the political process. They even call it a ”war against drugs” or a ”war against crime.” Every time you send a black or Hispanic person to prison, you are, in effect, sending them to the back of the line. Everyone else moves up a space. It is affirmative action in reverse.

Its blindingly obvious to people in the ghetto that the only people who go to prison on drug charges are relatively low level dealers and users. The politically connected people who fly the stuff in using military and CIA planes; the people who launder the money; the banks and middlemen which so handsomely profit from billions in unaccounted for cash never, ever, ever get caught, much less go to prison. Do you think they think twice about breaking the law? After Reagan left, they even found e-mails on the White House computer showing how Oliver North was running plane loads of cocaine out of the basement of the White House and nothing was done about it. Manuel Noriega sent tons of drugs to the US with the blessing of Bush Sr. and the CIA—and that’s not even the half of it

Before I went to prison I never thought about hurting anyone. But, afterward… Let’s just say that if certain people fell into my hands, and I thought I could get away with it, I would cheerfully torture them to death, or at least be sorely tempted. Do you get what I am saying? Are you, perhaps, sensing just a wee bit of anger here?

After prison I hardly think about of anything but revenge. Fortunately, I am an educated and patient man, and the revenge I am going to take will be in the form of a book (or two) which blows the lid off this whole corrupt mess. But don’t expect me to work as a scientist again, or lift a finger to make a “positive” contribution to society. When I hear the people above calmly talking about how they are in favor of “monitering, ReHab, Therapy, medication, even Chemical Castration” I just want to shove a dull, rusty screwdriver in the side of their neck. Why? Because that is their level of human regard for me.

When they are talking about Therapy, they aren’t talking about healing the humiliation and brutalization that has been done to me in prison or in life; they are talking about turning me into a docile automaton, with rudimentary job skills, who accepts the fact that from now on he is a second-class citizen, who will stuff down his rage (which is not recognized as legitimate) and obey his “betters.”

Therapy is just another fist in the face, only it requires you to bare your soul to the judgement of imbeciles, who armed with a smattering of psychological pseudoscience, think that just because they have the power, they have a right to pick over your every human fault. Indeed, if you fail to show the proper servile deferential “attitude,” or worse, you show the slightest whiff of defiance, this too now becomes a pretext to deny your freedom and dignity.

@JLeslie Thank you. As I said I do plan to write a few books. You can see some of the early draft chapters at my blog on Justice and my Prison Diary .

@MissAnthrope The system is beyond fucked up. Punishment, whether it is spanking a child or the far more serious the things that are done to prisoners always, always, always turns the punished person against the punisher and only makes the punished person harder to manage. Children who have been subjected to corporal punishment almost invariably fantasize about committing violence to those who abuse them. Imagine how much stronger those impulses are when you strip people bare of their normal defenses (like being able to walk away) and you humiliate and degrade them for years on end.

The people in power are not going to “wake up.” They are the ones perpetrating this fraud. Law and order politicians get and stay elected by cynically manipulating people’s racial fears and hatreds by framing it in terms of “crime.” So, as long as there is racism in our society, there will be a drug war, and it won’t help anyone get off drugs because, in reality, it is little more than an ethnic cleansing program with a $50 billion budget.

You don’t have to punish to correct. If you want people to stop taking drugs, at least grant them the dignity of making the choice for themselves. Small fines or a modest tax would do the job nicely. Where other countries have decriminalized drugs, about 5% of the addict population quits all on their own and stays quit—all at minimal trauma and expense.

MissAnthrope's avatar

@Zuma – That’s the other thing.. I don’t think we should treat addicts as criminals. Addiction is a medical and psychological issue. It’s complete and utter crap, the percentage of drug users behind bars. And, as you said, the majority are low-level peddlers and users, they just keep getting caught and flipping on each other in a vicious cycle. Same faces, never any big fish. As for the addicts, they’d be better served dealing with their addictions than being thrown in jail. They would certainly have a much better chance of staying clean and out of trouble if someone helped them, someone who treated them as humans and didn’t look down on them.

JLeslie's avatar

@MissAnthrope some of it is racism I think. I work in an outpatient drug rehab and most of the patients are white, I think they send the black people to jail.

judycat's avatar

Im debating this question in debate class.And I believe that Jail /Prisons should be used as punishments not rehabilitation. For those who commit minor non-violence crimes should be doing community services.If u look at how much we spend on those who are in jail for the smallest thing its ridiculious.Some schools like in example my school,we dont have air conditioning.We have cut our budgets.Wheres the tax money going.?It should be going to school funds not jails/prisons.They should be getting anything.They should be suffering and know what they have done.

Zuma's avatar

@judycat Hey, guess what. Prisons and jails are used to punish people for minor non-violent crimes, and its that way on purpose. Not only are punishments vastly disproportional to the crime, there is a strong racist tilt to the whole criminal justice system. For every white male in jail or prison there are seven blacks, but its not because blacks commit any more crime than whites, it is because the legal system is designed to sweep “undesirables” off the street so more privileged groups can move up a notch by taking their place in society.

The vast majority of people in prison are there for drug-related crimes, and prison only makes them want to use drugs more, not less (see above). Another large percent are the mentally ill whose illnesses are only made to worse by punishment. And an even larger percent are caught up on technical parole violations for things that are not even crimes—like having beer cans in one’s trash, or falling asleep in front of the TV with a steak knife stuck in one’s baked potato.

Anyone who thinks that making people suffer is a good idea simply hasn’t suffered enough. But don’t worry, just keep running your mouth about how you think prisoners don’t deserve the dangerously substandard conditions they currently get, and how they ought to be made to suffer even more and, believe me, some homeboy will likely take you aside and smack that snot clean out of you. And you would totally deserve it because this isn’t your harmless, idle, everyday ignorance, this is actively advocating making other people suffer.

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JLeslie's avatar

@chrisj46 DWI I have to disagree. Do all the drugs you want, but don’t get behind the wheel of a car, there is no excuse in my book. I think most people with drug habits do go to rehab, it is the dealers that go to jail. Although, there is probably some racism in the system, I have been told that blacks are more likely to wind up in jail, and I kind of believe it.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. They were called penitentiaries for a reason, it was to do penitence and to reflect on what you did. It was also a place to learn skills to integrate back into society as a productive citizen.

There days it is all about punishment, getting some “Pay back”. So many time you hear the term “Getting away with it”. Americans are so bent on vengeance and getting even that we will lock up 3 innocent guys per 50 arrested so long as no guilty escape justice.

Many times the justice is not applied equal even if you have money. Certain things that should not be criminal like Martha Stewart bogus insider trading deal and many things that should be or not prosecuted to the fullest as in the case of Biurny Peguerp v William McCaffrey.
He lost years of his life because people and the law believed he did a violent act less than 2 hours in duration. But that act to most of society is worse than the lie of it, so the lie even though it cost a man 5 years he can’t get back she is only in lock up for 1 to 3 years; nowhere near the 20 years he was sentenced.

And Mary Turner and Emmett Tills never got justice, partly in the place and time they were murdered (as well as many others) the US had no spine nor stomach to really get in there and bring the evil doers to justice.

ItsAHabit's avatar

Prison does not rehabilitate.

Ron_C's avatar

I know that this is an old thread but I would like to add my bit.

Prisons were reformed in the 1800’s to become a place to rehabilitate an offender. Over the years, especially with the advent of “private prisons’ they have simple become a profit center. Officials don’t stop prisoners from forming gangs to prey on other prisoners, prisoners are raped and tortured with no recourse to justice, and they learn nothing except hatred and how to avoid being caught the next time. There is very little difference between the U.S. prison system and one in Turkey, for instance. I suspect that the majority of prisoners don’t belong in prison and the rest are allowed to ride roughshod over the young and mostly innocent.

JLeslie's avatar

@Ron_C The privatization of prisons is very concerning to me. It is done even in the juvenile system, and kids are kept imprisoned much longer than they should be in many cases. Very very scary.

Ron_C's avatar

@JLeslie how can we fight this disturbing trend? I find it morally reprehensible to profit from the suffering of prisoners. That is even worse than mercenary armies.

JLeslie's avatar

@Ron_C I have no idea. There are so many things that disgust me, and I take no real action. Sigh. I want all retail workers to protest against stores opening more than two hours before regular store hours on Black Friday. I want the total incompetent bullshit I see all the time in the health system, and the misuse and abuse in healthcare to stop (I just got off the phone with a relative, and doctors are so full of crap and such idiots in how she is being treated, what she has been put through, and the abuse of the medicare system it makes me sick to my stomach). I want to stop the privatization of prisons. I want so many things to change.

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