Imprisonment and its effectiveness has been under great debate in the recent years. Prisons were relied upon as a means of social control and this has further increased in the 20 years in the United Kingdom and especially in the United states. We rely on imprisonment by remaining blind to the falseness of our assumptions about its role and effectiveness. As garland (1990) argued, restricted to its technical functions, imprisonment does not work, there are other institutions far better placed to deliver goods such as ‘repair’, ‘Inclusion’ or ‘correction’. Yet public consent to the increasing use of imprisonment based at least in large part on these narrow, technicist and unproven grounds (Useem et al 2003).
Thus, we have to think as to how much does a prison help in rehabilitation of offender and their successful resocialization into society and take necessary steps to prevent recidivism. We must also consider alternatives such as restorative justice which has been effective in dealing with minor offences and creating amicable relations between the offender and victim through a sense of mutual understanding. This of course, cannot be applied to serious offences such as murder, sexual offences etc. This plays a vital role in the rehabilitation and reform of the offender by making him understand the effect he had on the victim and the gravity of his offence.
There is no denying of the fact that states are less likely to let go of prisons so the main focus must be on how to improve the prison system by making some reforms in the prison system of the state by understanding what works and what must be weeded out. Such as the sentence of imprisonment must be given only in those cases where it is a necessary for the rehabilitation and reform of the offender.
Why does the state imprison its offenders?
First, we have to understand the concept of punishment and the reasoning behind it. For many philosophers and most ordinary people, the justification resides simply in the view that penalty is seen as deserved for the offence in which case it is called as retributive punishment. For others, it relies on the practical or instrumental benefit that is intended to deter its repetition or to incapacitate the offender which means to prevent them from repeating the act either by locking them or removing their means to do it. While others suggest that we punish mainly in order to express social disapproval or ‘denunciation’.
In the present scenario the focus is on the offender to do good or rehabilitate them through participation in a programme of counselling, education or training. Yet, even in the mildest form of rehabilitation the offenders will be placed under a degree of compulsion which may be of inconvenience or something they would not do voluntarily. Thus, punishment generally equates to some form of deprivation whether liberty, time or money and even social standing at times.
The psychological Impacts of imprisonment
Imprisonment has a huge impact on the individual especially psychologically. In a landmark study of prison environment, Gresham Sykes(1958) identified five main pains of imprisonment. They were,
- Loss of liberty.
- Deprivation of social goods and services (choice, amenities and material possessions).
- Frustration of sexual desire.
- Deprivation of autonomy (Regime routine, work, activities, trivial and apparently meaningless restrictions).
- Deprivation of security (enforced association with other unpredictable prisoners, causing fear and anxiety).
Sykes (1958) argued that imprisonment cannot be viewed as loss of personal liberty alone, but considerable hurts lie in the deprivation and frustration which attend the withdrawal of freedom such as isolation from the community, lack of sexual relations etc. He also said that the attack on ego and self-worth had serious psychological impacts on a prisoner. For Goffman (1961), these were the micro-humiliations and assaults on the self that were imposed by the ‘total institution’; for Cohen and Taylor (1972), they were the existential anxieties about identity, survival and change that were provoked by long-term detention. In such accounts, the prison stood almost as a metaphor for deprivation and domination. Cohen and Taylor used narratives of extreme survival to draw parallels with the experiences of their research participants. Goffman classified the prison with the mental asylum and the military institution as places designed to mortify the self. Sykes himself noted the similarities between the maximum-security prison, the concentration camp and the Soviet labour colony, describing the former as ‘the new leviathan’, ‘a social system in which an attempt is made to create and maintain total or almost total social control’ (1958).
In the present context, Prisons have become less difficult than they were in the past. prisoners are treated more softly and humanely but the prisons have become more difficult on the prisoners in other ways. Movements are more restricted, security has been tightened and risk has become the trump-card of the system. Prisons are materially more comfortable, but they remain psychologically damaging. For long-term prisoners, once conditions reach a certain standard, they cause less consternation than the difficulties of progressing through the system. The carceral experience is less directly oppressive, but more gripping – lighter but tighter. Instead of brutalizing, destroying and denying the self, it grips, harnesses and appropriates it for its own project. It turns the self into a vehicle of power rather than a place of last refuge. (Ben Crewe,2011)
Another factor that has an impact on the prisoner is the lack of personal security and the feeling of vulnerability. Living with other offenders who have been convicted with murder, theft and other serious crimes creates a sense of constant fear and insecurity in the mind of the prisoner. It is said that young prisoners are more likely to be victimised than other inmates in a prison. In a prison, acts of aggression towards others is thought of as a way of establishing one’s authority or dominance. There is constant power struggle among gangs and groups which often leads to conflict. The life in prison is a difficult one and every day is thought of as a struggle. Invariably, people join groups to seek ‘protection’ and companionship but are eventually influenced by the ideologies of the group and engage in criminogenic activities.
Another recognised problem in prison is the consumption of drugs which defeats the purpose of rehabilitation and causes relapse in those who were imprisoned for drug related offences.
We can see that life in prison has a serious impact on the prisoner more so psychologically than physically. This makes it difficult for the prisoner to live a normal life after what they have experienced. Another concern then becomes how society sees these ex-prisoners upon their release. They find it difficult to find a job, a place to stay and to some extent they are even ostracised by the society, labelling them as a criminal. Due to this they become disconnected and often try to escape from reality or resort to turning back to crime.
A Tale of two prison systems
To understand the methodologies of rehabilitation of offenders and what might be the most suitable way to bring reform in an offender we have to take the example of two states which could be called as stark opposites of each other in its methodologies for rehabilitation and how they apply it in the real world namely, the United States of America’s prison system and the Norwegian prison system. These prison systems have been selected only due to the stark contrast beliefs of both the countries in relation to rehabilitation of offenders and the difference in their approach towards it. Norway tries to solve a social problem rather than to harm the offender which is a far cry from the United States which sees incarceration as part of the price for committing a crime. These two ideologies are deeply interesting as to how a common goal but with two different ways to achieve it are undertaken by these states and which one is more effective in reaching that goal.
The United States of America’s prison system
Since the 1990s, there has been a movement in the US government to be more tough on crimes and have strict punishments for crimes. Due to this the rate of imprisonment in the US increased dramatically due to which the prisons were filling to their maximum capacity. The trend even continues in the present scenario.
In the US, the prisons tend to be more regulated and the movements of the prisoners are more restricted. There is crime within the prison walls, drug use is prevalent and the conflict between gangs is quite common. The prison guards are said to be more distant towards the prisoners and are not expected to socialise with the prisoners. It has also been said that the prison guards don’t treat the prisoners with respect and often tend to intimidate or oppress the prisoners. The prisoners have limited time for recreation and exercise and have very few amenities within their prison cells to live with. The prisoners have very little to no privacy as there are regular checks of their belongings for contraband. They have limited access to education and entertainment. Things build up, as the prisoners are isolated and are often in a state where they are not able to connect with anyone or live under constant fear of danger due to which they have a lot of psychological issues that are not properly addressed by the system. There is often discontent among prisoners towards the prison guards. To keep a check on the abuse of power of prison guards, security cameras have been installed in various prisons which has increased the safety of the prisoners and their rights.
The prison system in US focuses on the front end of justice which is to imprison them but does not take effort to deal with the rear end of the system which is to decrease the likely hood of them reoffending or recidivism as well as their welfare post release from prison. Statistics on prisoner recidivism show that an estimated 68% of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years(Bureau of Justice Statistics,2018). After release from prison, it becomes very difficult for ex-prisoners to find a place to stay, work and live a normal life, given their record. To some extent they are labelled by the society as criminals.
As of 2016 there were a total number of 2,162,400 people incarcerated in the united states prison system, the highest in the world. The US government also spends a lot of money in the prison system of the country at about $71 billion per year which has been criticised by the public quite a lot due to the lack of results in proper rehabilitation and reform of the prisoner and to make them a better member of society.
The Norwegian prison system
In Norwegian prisons in the 1980’s and the early 1990’s there was little cooperation between the prisoners. The prisoners took part in drug use and other antisocial behaviour and did not respond well to rehabilitation programs. Their incarceration model heightened psychiatric problems in prisoners and increase in likelihood of recidivism was about 60-70%. This was a cause for concern and since the early 1990’s the Norwegian prison system has gone through a significant transformation.
Since then, “The punishment is the restriction of liberty.” is said to be the main principle guiding the Norwegian prison system. In Norway, deprivation of liberty itself is seen as a serious punishment but still the prison system seeks to provide the most liberty possible to its offenders. Instead of seeking retribution, the state of Norway sees crime as a social problem and looks to repair the harm caused by crime rather than punish those responsible which is also known as restorative justice.
Bastoy and Halden prisons are vying for the title of best in the world. Bastoy prison was called as “The nicest prison in the world.” by CNN They use a graduation system from high security to lower security, then to a halfway house after which they will be reintegrated into society.
In Bastoy prison, the main focus is on rehabilitation over punishment. There are no bars in the windows, the kitchens are well equipped even with sharp knives to cook. Situated on an island, the prison has no walls or fences and the inmates have the keys to their own room with proper furniture, they can undertake the work of their choice, eat what they want and can freely move throughout the facility. The inmates have access to higher educational programs such as masters and even doctoral programs. This education is focused in being useful upon re-entry into society. The prisoners can seek help from mental health professionals, attend anger management programs and even learn how to cook. The goal of the system is to rehabilitate the offender while imposing as little restriction as possible. The relationship between the prisoners and the prison guards is that of trust and friendship they. Only a handful of guards are left on the island at the end of the day and prisoners sometimes keep their jobs while serving time.
The justice system not only cares for its prisoners during their sentence, they also help the prisoner to reintegrate in the society by working alongside other agencies to ensure that the former prisoners have a place to stay, work and have access to a support system. In Norway the maximum prison sentence that can be given to a prisoner is 21 years, that can be extended by the judge for 5 up to years at a time. There is no death penalty as it was abolished by 1979. The sentence of 21 years imprisonment was given to the Norway mass killer Anders Behring Breivik. Even in an offence of such gravity, there was no discontent among the people of Norway there was no demand for a harsher punishment by the public or a call to bring changes. to the prison system. This symbolises trust the people have in the system and the belief that the system works.
It is not hard to notice that the Norwegian prison system is more expensive than that of USA but the
Studying the two systems we can understand how different methodologies of rehabilitation can impact on the offender one system tries to punish crime with a harsher sentence and another that treats crime as a social issue and deals with it in a more humane approach and focuses on the rehabilitation and reform of the offender.
We must face the facts that prisons are expensive to maintain, the states must use the sentence of imprisonment only when it deems necessary given the circumstances and focus on the alternatives such as restorative justice (which aims to repair the harm caused by crime rather than punish people) which has yielded some promissory results. An effort must be made to build proper support system for ex-offenders to better reintegrate them into the society in such a way that they can become less likely to commit an offence.
In the present scenario, the prison system will exist but what matters for now is how we can make the prison system better than they are today in terms of better methodology of rehabilitation and reform in the offender to prevent recidivism once the prisoner goes back to the society. Thus, we must take learn “what works” in the prison system of other countries and try to adopt the same. The essay intends to convey that although it may not be financially viable for a big country like the United States to try an adopt the reforms across the nation but starting to understand where the system fails and trying to act towards the same will be a huge step in crime rather than. It cannot be denied that The negative effects of imprisonment on the individual outweigh any possible benefits for society in the present scenario but the key is to make the prison system such that it does become beneficial to the society by rehabilitating the offenders to prevent them from reoffending as crime is a social phenomenon and is bound to happen in any society. Thus the need arises to make imprisonment more effective through reforms such as those made by Norway. Although it can be argued that the rate of imprisonment has increased in Norway which cannot be denied but the peoples support and the believe in the core values of the system is what makes it effective.