Somewhere in all the tough-on-crime rhetoric we seem to have missed out the step where we talk about what prisons are actually for. Do we have prisons to keep us safe, to rehabilitate, to deter, or to punish?
In theory we have them to keep us safe, no more no less. In practice some victims of crime and some onlookers want vengeance. I believe they have no right to vengeance, they have a right to have things put as right as possible (recognising that many things cannot be put right), and they have a right to be safe; but there is no right to punish, no right to inflict pain for that selfish purpose.
So why should prisons be any different? They should serve the purpose only of protecting us and only as a last resort because simply by incarcerating someone we do huge damage to them and those around them.
If we used prisons only when absolutely necessary to to keep us safe
- Far fewer people would be locked up â€“ only those that we had no other way of keeping us safe from.
- There would be minimal restrictions on those people â€“ if the community will be safe if the person has a TV, they should be able to have a TV, if the community will be safe if they see their children in a friendly inviting environment with toys three afternoons a week, then they should be able to do that. The restrictions we place should be only those that are needed to keep us safe.
Yet we have many prisons full to bursting with people who would do no damage is set free, or who we could be kept safe from in other ways. The people in those prisons (and their families) suffer restrictions which are totally unnecessary.
We have a prison system based on vengeance and punishment, is that who we want to be?
[I have struggled with this post and rewritten it several times, the word “prison” bothers me. I believe that what we should have, for the handful of people who we can’t be safe from without some kind of restraint, is so unlike our current prisons that I don’t know what to call them.Â
I thoroughly recommend Maia’s posts about prisons at Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty, she says it so much better than me. All I know how to say is that we have no right to seek revenge]