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Alternatives To Prisons Essay, Research Paper

Alternatives to prisonsToday, more than ever before in the history of our penal system, our people are being sent to prisons all across the United States for such offenses as drug possession, trafficviolations and other minor scrapes with the law. Apparently the American public has decidedby popular vote that incarceration is the cure all for our countries complex crime problems. However, now we are facing prison overcrowding like never before in the history of TheUnited States. I believe we need to look at these problems closer and analyze them in amore rational sense. I do not believe that incarceration is the answer to all our problemswhen it comes the criminals in our society. We are wasting billions of dollars on newprisons all across the nation. Is it time we look to alternatives to the “lock em up andthrow away the key” attitude that plagues middle class America? I sincerely believe so. No one really knows the true reasons why crime occurs. The oldest theory, based on theology and ethics, is that people who commit to crimes are perverse, and do it deliberately, or because the devil made them do it. Although that idea has long since been discarded by modern criminologists, it persists among uninformed people and provides the rational for the harsh punishments and laws that are being adopted by the people all across the nation. As the eighteenth century rolled around we began to look at scientific reasons why crime was committed. At the end of the eighteenth century German physician Franz Joseph Gall had advanced that skull structure had a profound effect on the likelihood of criminality1 His theory was very popular until the nineteenth century when it was discarded as absurd. There have been several different theories on what makes a man not conform to public laws since that time. Lombroso, an Italian criminologist, asserted that there is a correlation between criminals and Mongoloids, which showed some validity until the 20th century when Charles Goring, a British criminologist, did a study on incarcerated and unincarcerated and found no correlation at all thus disproving Lombroso’s theory2. Lombroso’s theory also could have been attributed to the fact that people with socially unappealing looks tend to be looked down upon from the general public, thus having less opportunities in the community. Although many brilliant men have conceived a vast array of different theories on why people deviate from societies norms, we must pay attention to the elements that have been around since crime itself, which is mental illness and poverty. There are a great many people in society that don’t hold the tools necessary to decipher between right and wrong. There are sociopaths psychopaths, and people that just are not very intelligent for a variety of different reasons. We also have a great many people that are at a disadvantage in our ultra high tech and extremely competitive society. These people, I believe, aresometimes forced in to a life of crime because of what I call “A will to survive.” They arenot inherently evil like middle class America tends to think, they are simply lacking thesocial structure, education and guidance needed by all human beings. And these are theAmericans that are filling up our prisons as you read this. Now that we have a betterunderstanding of why people commit to crimes, I think it only proper we compare how we havedealt with these people we refer to as “vermin” throughout U.S. history. It is commonknowledge that virtually every crime in early history was punishable by death, but sincethat time our punishment ideals have evolved. In America, the idea of prisons was spurredby the deep religious beliefs of English Quaker, William Penn.3 Penn abolished the penaltyof death for most crimes in the 1600’s, substituting imprisonment as a punishment. Then in1718 the British Government compelled the colonists to reinstate the penalty of death,however, shortly after independence, the Pennsylvania Legislature replaced capitolpunishment with imprisonment as the primary punishment for vermin, or criminals. The WalnutStreet Gaol was the first prison ever built in America. By the middle of the nineteenthcentury, all most all the states had built them. Eventually there were two types of prisons. One type used at a New York prison called The Auburn State Prison allowed prisoners to worktogether all day long , but in absolute silence. At night they were confined to their cellwith nothing but a bible. If caught communicating in any way, they were punished severely. The other type of prison held it’s inmates in absolute solitary confinement. This prison wascalled Cherry Hill. There were massive debates erupting between the proponents of the twotypes of prisons. Those who favored the Cherry Hill model of complete isolation thought thatbeing locked down in a room with nothing to do would somehow reform a criminal, but inreality, it did nothing but drive most inmates mad. The Auburn State prison was criticizedas being virtual slavery, because the criminals incarcerated were put to work for privatebusiness owners who had contracted with the state for labor, thus bringing in enormousprofits for the state and the private business owners.4 Marx would have loved that huh?Talk about class conflict! As you can see, the primary concern for these institutions was

to confine inmates for the duration of their prison term. Thus, the facilities were justmassive institutions filled with men and women, sane and insane, young and old. They werehuman warehouses. By mid-nineteenth century, penologists began to argue that the prisonerscould and should be rehabilitated while incarcerated. In 1870, The American CorrectionalAssociation met for the first time in Cincinnati, Ohio and persuaded congress to adopt aset of principals for the corrections institutions based on goals of rehabilitation ratherthan punishment. Shortly after those principals were set, we started to see work camps,prison industry, and things of that nature. The inmates were busy all the time in differentareas of work provided by the prisons. They learned new trades and skills that would helpthem cope with society when they were released from prison. Prison was a big industry, andthe money earned from the labor went to pay for the facilities in which they lived. Prisonofficials set up programs that allowed family visitation to keep the prisoners in close tieswith there family and as a result, the madness that inflicted so many inmates all butdisappeared. Prison operations were going along great until the Hawes-Cooper Act in 1929,which put a fast halt to prison made goods and services. Thus, the prisoners were onceagain left with idle time. Now we shall have a glance at the current prison situation. Beginning with the Reagan era and his “war on crime” the state and federal prisons haveliterally been packed beyond capacity with convicted men and women. The crimes committed bythese people are sometimes ruthless and violent as well as petty and small. None the less,our prisons are full. And with legislature making new criminal laws each session, there isno apparent end in sight. According to the Department of Justice, as of June 30th, 1995,there were an estimated 1,550,000 adults incarcerated for one thing or another, which is a300% increase over the amount incarcerated in 1980. Of that amount, there were 25%incarcerated for violation of drug laws which equals to over 388,000 people. Whether peoplerealize it or not, there are ripple effects from the massive incarcerations that are goingon. Let us think about the children of all those prisoners. It’s been proved that being inprison has a detrimental effect on the prisoners ability to earn money. If the prisoner isleft with no means to earn money for his family, then who will end up footing the bill forthe children’s medical expenses, food, clothing, and home? My guess is that the localwelfare department will have a helping hand ready. The countries state prisons have seen atremendous 1055% increase in drug inmates as apposed to a small 55% increase in violentoffenders. We currently have an approximated 2.7% of America’s men and women either injail or under some type of penal supervision as I write this. The federal prisons now holdover 96,000 people, of that there are over 60% incarcerated for drug violations. The billfor these men and women to be incarcerated is coming in at over 9 billion dollars a year. Asa result of all these people being locked up, most people agree that it is no harder to finddrugs now than it was in the early 80’s when the Federal and local governments started thecrusade against drugs. It just doesn’t make sense to keep housing all these men and womenfor a petty little thing like drugs. The street level drug dealer can be easily replaced bythe next guy that loses his job. It would be much more beneficial to put a stop to all thenew prisons construction and used the funds to pay out military forces to stop the flow ofdrugs into the United States. God knows that cocaine is not produced in America, it isproduced in Bolivia, Peru, and Central America. We have people like Juan Garcia Abrego,who smuggle thousands of tins of cocaine into the U.S. every year, yet we still punish ourown people for possessing or selling small amounts. I believe the Government should be heldresponsible. We elect these great men and women to oversee the safety of our United States,and they can’t even keep the drugs out. It’s important to try and see these circumstances ina different light. If our Government is so concerned with the well being of the people,then the first order of business should be to keep or children safe from the terribleeffects of drugs in our society. Instead, they make laws to punish our own people. Inconclusion, I will never believe that with all the technology we possess, we are unable tostop the flow. Think about it, we can stop an incoming missile flying hundreds of miles anhour high above, but we can’t stop the drugs. Meanwhile, the middle class citizen keepsafter the Government for some kind of control and they decide to people of the UnitedStates. Not the Bolivians or Central Americans. I hate drugs and what they are doing to ourchildren. We can try to teach our children that drugs are bad, and we can keep throwinganyone that has contact with drugs in prison, but what is going to happen in the end?1 Erickson, Tortsen. The Reformers; An Historical Survey of Pioneer Experiments in TheTreatment of criminals Elsivier 1976 2 3 McElvey, Blake. American Prisons; A History ofGood Intentions. Patterson, Smith,2nd ed., 19774 Mitford, Jessica. Kind and Usual Punishment; The Prison Business. Knopf, 1973. Vintage,1974 8

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