Sunday, 26 July 2015


US Prison System is an Epic Failure and a Factory for Creating Criminals
By The Free Thought Project on July 24, 2015

(RT) — The mass incarceration policy in America over the last 40 years has created more problems than it has solved. The longer the term served, the higher the rate of reconvicted felons, a new study reveals.
The research from University of Michigan economics professor, Michael Mueller-Smith, has proven that prison terms don’t rehabilitate a criminal and turn them into a law-abiding citizen.
The US penal policy just doesn’t appear to be working. The criminal world is expanding, despite more and more criminals being incarcerated and isolated from society.
The American practice of imprisoning people for even the most trivial offences, not only ruins lives, but tends to act as a college for crime.
Up to 75 percent of former prisoners are rearrested within 5 years of their release date.
The study says that every year spent in prison increases the probability of a return to crime by 12.4 percent (5.6 percent a quarter). Also, those once accused of committing lesser crimes often go on to commit more serious offences after serving a term in prison.

Peter’s Point of View

Prison as a form of punishment has been around for as long as organised government and the availability of written language, leading to the establishment of the first formal legal codes, the best known being the Code of Hammurabi of Babylon about 1750 BC. So imprisonment for criminal offending is not new and during over 3,000 years of universal and continuous use it has undergone only superficial reform.
New York's Sing Sing Prison

It is interesting to note that during this period the world crime rate reached its all-time high and even today’s crime rate cannot match that of 3,000 years ago. During this time the leading causes of death were starvation, murder, war and disease with an average life expectancy of less than 25 years. Slavery was normal and less than 50% of an average country’s population was in paid employment. The gap between rich and poor has never been so wide at any time since, and that is why crime was a problem. Crime was a means to survival.

The purpose of imprisonment has always been for punishment. Although at times rehabilitation and reformation have been of secondary importance, punishment has always been paramount. But in this situation punishment as a word should be interchangeable with revenge. But revenge has never worked in any context. Revenge creates more victims, more ill-feeling, more crime, and lowers the boom for everyone. Ask the Arabs and Israelis if revenge has ever done anything for them.  The reality of crime is that most criminals see themselves as victims too, and in many ways they are. Imprisonment does not reduce crime.

Prison buildings at Norfolk Island
The first truth about imprisonment is that it doesn’t work. The second truth about imprisonment is that there is a popular, but false, belief that it will work if the sentence is long enough and the conditions are harsh enough. The third truth about imprisonment is that politicians are elected to office with a promise to reduce crime be legislating for harsher penalties. But that is simply bait for gullible voters.

Many criminals are born into criminal families and sending them to prison will only help them recruit and train new members to the cause. Many criminals have personality disorders that attract them to violence and dishonesty, or by process of trial and error, it is the only life open to them, and long periods of incarceration will only exacerbate their disorders and lead to further offending.

It is a fact that a majority of prison inmates have either a psychiatric disorder, or a limited education, and are in prison because they were unable to cope in normal society. Removing them from society for an extended period will not inexplicably cure their disorder, and on regaining their freedom they will be even less likely to cope than before.

Prisoners in prison where crime breeds crime
The knee-jerk punishment people love to cry out for fewer privileges for prisoners, wanting phones, televisions, computers, heating, and nutritional food banned. They say that it is not punishment when prisoners are allowed those things. But if prisoners are to cope on the outside they will have a better chance of doing that, if they emerge healthy in a transition that is seamless.  They will also have a better chance of gaining legitimate employment if they are familiar with modern technology and have normal communication and social skills.

In many ways prison life has not changed significantly since the Middle Ages, when prisoners starved if family or friends failed to provide them with food, clothing and medical care. At the end of their sentences, if they were still alive, they were often not released if they, or their family, couldn’t pay the imprisonment fees. The punishment industry is barely more enlightened now, even though the public perception of it may be higher.

Prison has never been a safe place because most criminals are violent, and prisons are violent places. Non-violent criminals, and those who are innocent in prison or awaiting trial (or wrongfully convicted), are caught up in the violence also. Many people who know that there is violence in prisons will approve of it. “Give them a taste of their own,” they will say. Unfortunately, some people with that attitude become prison officers, and that makes them no better than the people they are supposed to be reforming.

Prison reformers have been trying for centuries to persuade the public and politicians. But the public, most of whom have no idea of what it is like inside a prison, will not allow the politicians to get on with the job of introducing meaningful reforms that could reduce crime to levels not seen ever before. The public, and the victims and their families, will cry, “What about the victims?” This writer believes that most prison reformers are also concerned about the victims of crime, but they also understand that with less imprisonment, there will be fewer victims, inside and out.

The state of Pennsylvania in 1786 was one of the first places in the world to introduce public works employment for prisoners in the form of hard labour. It was thought that the hard labour would reform them, and the state would benefit from the free labour. Conditions included access only to religious literature, and a requirement live in complete silence. But crime didn’t reduce in Pennsylvania and concerned citizens who witnessed the abuse of forced-labour convicts helped change the Pennsylvania System.

In England, in the 1700s, crime had reached such epidemic proportions that the people demanded execution for more than 200 different crimes and excessive prison terms for lesser crimes, including the sentence ‘For the term of his or her natural life.’ The politicians complied.  But even with such an extreme regime the crime rate accelerated and the country faced a crises in prisoner accommodation.
So England shipped its over-crowded population to America where they served their hard labour sentences. After the American War of Independence, the USA refused to take any more convicts and for several years surplus prisoners were locked up aboard floating hulks around the coast. But still the crime rate was out of control. The British Government then looked to Australia and the first 700 convicts landed at Sydney Cove in 1788 to establish British rule in a convict colony. Convicts continued to arrive by the thousands for the next 80 years.

But the British convict colony experiment, other than creating a new nation, was a spectacular disaster in crime prevention. If the experiment had been successful then the United Kingdom, the USA and Australia would now be outstanding as having an almost zero crime rate, which they have not, by a long country mile.

On tiny Norfolk Island some hundreds of kilometres east of Australia, the most hardened criminals were held in appalling conditions until an enlightened prison commandant, Alexander Maconochie, took over in the 1830s from Commandant Morisset, the most extreme of all Britain’s punishment enforcers. Maconochie found the prisoners reduced to wrecks in body and spirit, many dead or dying from starvation and torture. Norfolk Island became known as Hell in Paradise. He freed them from confinement, fed them better food, treated them as equals and became their friend. The results were spectacular with some later returning to Sydney and others choosing to remain on Norfolk as free men. For these freed men the rate of recidivism was zero. But the enlightened Maconochie was replaced because he was too lenient.
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Incarceration has a huge negative impact on society. It creates broken families, terminates employment, causes bankruptcy and generates further crime, victims and suffering. The moment a family breadwinner goes to prison, his children’s futures are also most likely condemned to a life of alternating between prison and struggling to survive on the outside.  The crime cycle can only be broken by removing the prison cycle and the prison industry.

With GPS monitoring there is no need for prisons in the conventional sense. Most prisoners, with few exceptions, will be reformed and rehabilitated without going anywhere near a prison. Community based sentences make much more sense. But if criminals must be confined for security or public safety reasons, they would benefit from a boutique family confinement system where the criminal’s family would live with the family of a corrections officer. The supervising families would have to be carefully selected and trained for the role as well as suitably remunerated. It wouldn’t be a job for prison officers as we know them now. These people would be examples of good family living and an example and guiding light to their customer families. They would be charged not just with turning around the life of an offender, but the whole family.

In 2012 America’s prison population reached 2.3 million for the first time and the prison cost was estimated at $75 billion. But the prison cost is only a fraction of the total cost of crime to society. Prison is not working as a deterrent, as a punishment, or as a means of rehabilitation. The system is over 3,000 years out of date, and it is a sheer waste of time and money.

Only a radical new approach to this problem can succeed. At the very least criminals need to be placed with people who will befriend them and set them an example that will turn their lives around. Putting them with other criminals is totally and absolutely counter-productive. History proves it.