Why does it seem like more people are going to prison but more prisons aren't being built?
This observation led me to question what the point of imprisoning someone is and does it actually work. Maybe we should let all criminals out and see what happens? Okay, no. That was a joke but, let’s not get it twisted, this is a serious matter.
Some of you will say that the point of locking people away and is to punish them for their crimes. This doesn't seem like a strange idea and for centuries this is how it’s been done. Crime = Punishment.
Being punished came in a variety of ways, particularly in the 1800s, where one could be tortured in public or executed. It was commonplace for you to be walking down the street, minding your own business and BOOM! You encounter someone being guillotined. Today we have more humane measures such as being imprisoned, community service or even fines.
Michel Foucalt, in Discipline and Punishment, proposes the idea that forms of punishment in our societies today have an element of power relations to them in that it is a way for the judiciary to exercise its power while also ensuring a sense of calm over the people that things are being handled by the state.
My issue is with how we deal with criminals.
Should we look to ensure that the victim is avenged by seeing the criminal endure the same pain felt the victim. This would see things such as the death penalty and tit-for-tat punishments being allowed.
Alternatively, should we dissuade members of society from partaking in an illegal activity by imposing strict punishments against perpetrators? Or should we look to remove criminals completely from society? Maybe by placing them on their own far distant island so they can do as they please?
There is also a school of thought proposed by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point called “the broken window” theory which argues that crime is a result of disorder in that things like broken windows, public urination and graffiti indicate that this area is not taken care of which leads to more serious things like muggings and assaults. Hmmm, inner city JHB perhaps?
If I was in charge, what would happen is that we would look to rehabilitate criminals as it is commonplace for criminals to become repeat offenders.
Rehabilitating them would involve the large-scale education of offenders by teaching them skills or measures to reintegrate them into society because many of them revert back to crime because of their inability to get employment and cannot make a living for themselves.
Statistics from 2010 study by Institute for Security Studies show that after ten years 45% of those in South African prisons will become repeat offenders. Just to scare you a bit more, 74% of violent criminals will become repeat offenders.
There needs to be a shift in the way we deal with criminals as some claim that crime is a result of socio-economic conditions and once you start dealing with those issues there may be a reduction in crime.
Perhaps I am just an idealist and criminals never really change. Things cannot continue in this vain and something needs to be done to help our fellow brothers and sisters.