Evaluate the claim that the use of imprisonment should be reduced or abolished. Imprisonment is the harshest sanction that can be used by the courts when deemed necessary in punishing those who partake in criminal offences in this present day. When imprisonment first developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth century it was initially a place where people were held before trail or before punishment, imprisonment itself was not used as a form of punishment. At this period of time prisons were very badly maintained, death was the sentence for many offences. Howard League 2011) The eighteenth century saw hard labour as the most suitable punishment for petty offenders using prison hulks, which were ships of offenders who were sent to do hard labour and then chained up at night. (Howard League) After the introduction of various Acts such as the Prison Act 1898 and the Criminal Justice Act 1948 prisons are now a very different more humane place by abolishing hard labour as a punishment, it also brought forward a comprehensive system for punishment and the fair treatment of prisoners.
In 1933 the prison service became an agency of government (Howard League 2011) Currently there one hundred and thirty-nine prisons in the UK (Howard league2011) containing 88,070 prisoners with a useable operational capacity for said prison population of merely 89,413 (justice. gov) The Prison system itself is in a state of crisis, firstly because the prison system is not fulfilling all of its aims, which are to hold prisoners securely, provide safe well-ordered establishments in which prisoners are humanely, decently, lawfully and finally to prevent the risk of reoffending. Cavadino and Dignan 2007) However figures published by the Home office in 2006 show that after being released from prison 65. 8% of prisoners are re-convicted after two years of release and for young men aged eighteen too thirty the figure is at 74. 8% (Cavadino and Dignan 2007) This clearly shows that the prison service is not fulfilling one of its aims if the reconviction rate of offenders can be so high. This suggests imprisonment is potentially the most important and the most problematic attribute of the UKs penal system (Cavadino and Dignan 2007) as the prison system does not work in reforming its offenders it cannot be justified. Cavadino and Dignan 2007) This is because it continuously and spectacularly fails to achieve one of its avowed aims. (Cavadino and Dignan 2007) Secondly with the prison population steadily rising aspects of the entire legitimacy of the penal system come into question, this brings people to claim that as the prison system clearly seems not to be working, the use of imprisonment should be reduced or even abolished, this issue is what will be evaluated in the main content of the essay.
Alternatives to prison can be seen in the work of Sir Anthony Bottoms who believed that use of non-custodial sentences such as the community sentence “attempt to distinguish from serious and dangerous offenders who should be imprisoned and lesser criminals who should be dealt with through dischargers, financial penalties and community’s sentences” (Bottoms 1977) Therefore they should be used as alternatives to imprisonment for less serious offenders as it would reduce the amount of people being sentenced to prison unnecessarily saving valuable space and costs.
Although prison was once a dominant discourse the ideal of reform became discredited through a development known as the “collapse of the rehabilitative ideal (Bottoms 1980) He formed this ideal through research result’s that suggested that the measures that were intended to reform offenders by the prison system were no more effective than punitive measures. Cavadino and Dignan 2007) Bottoms devoted his life to research on the penal crisis and stated that use of the community sentence would not only divert convicted offenders from custody but it would also create what he called “Widening the net” in which the community sentence would draw in those that would normally escape with a discharge or a fine. (Bottoms et al 2004) This use of community sentences as an alternative to prison can be seen in government policies such as the Criminal Justice Act 2003, in which, if an offender has committed offences which are deemed punishable but not by incarceration or fine.
The decision of a community sentence is based upon; the seriousness of the crime, if you have a previous criminal record or offence and if the court beliefs that serving a community sentence will benefit the offender more than going to prison. (Direct gov 2011) Community sentences are often enforced for crimes such as damaging property, threatening behaviour and vehicle theft. (direct gov 2011) Once the use of a community sentence is justified, offenders can be sentenced to one or requirements such as unpaid work, drug rehabilitation, or curfew and more. Criminal justice Act 2003) These requirements will have an effect on restricting the offender’s liberty, as well as provide punishment in the community, rehabilitate or ensure the offender engages in reparative activities for the benefit of the community (sentencing guideline council 2004) This shows that the use of non -custodial sentence’s where appropriate such as community sentences can be seen as a positive alternative, because they can benefit society through unpaid work, and they are much more cost effective as they are cheaper to implement than prisons which are costly and ineffective. Cohen 1985) Furthermore in times of overcrowding community sanctions could ease the pressure on the prison service. (Cohen 1985) With reform being so ineffective due to a two thirds reconviction rate for offenders, it is clear that prison clearly does not work for re-offenders and prison spaces should be saved for serious and dangerous offenders in order for public protection, the rest of offenders could be given community sentences so they can amend their debts to society and their victims for the harm done in their crime. Smartt 2009) Coinciding with this the work of Scull 1977 agrees with the claim, as he believes that decarceration or the closing down of all prisons, asylums and reformatories should be enforced for the more community based elements of punishment, he argues that the transformation underlying the governments focus on mass imprisonment can be more plausibly tied to the growth of the capitalist market system, its economic policies and forms of social control. Scull 1977 cited in Barnes) Furthermore he argues that expanded social welfare services and welfare programmes should also be used as an alternative. (Barnes 1977) This is because institutionalised forms of control lead to repression have a dehumanising nature as these facilities keep people under constant control. (Barnes 1977) Therefore the use of prison alternatives should be viewed as a positive as they are less harsh forms of control and they are beneficial to society.
It does seem that community sentences do play a part in reducing the amount of offenders that recieve a prison sentence as in recent years the frequency of re-offending has fallen by 13% meaning fewer people are returning to crime therefore the costs can now be managed more effectively (Ministry of Justice 2008) Furthermore over 200,000 offenders have completed un-paid work representing over ? 210 million pounds worth of unpaid work (Ministry of Justice 2008) This shows that lternatives to prison are defiantly having a positive effect on a proportion of offenders and the community. Unfortunately despite using community sentence’s as an alternative to prisons positive attributes prison levels are still steadily rising, for example in 2011 alone prison population rates have risen from 82,991 in January to 84,812 in April alone, (Ministry of Justice 2011) even though the level of community sentence’s that have been enforced has increased each year from 55,900 sentences in 1975 to 187,100 by 2002. crimeandjustice. org. uk 2004) it seems they are not having much of an affect. Therefore this alternative to imprison is implausible and for prison levels to be effectively reduced an alternative must be created which has a much more radical reappraisal containing a host of new developments of social and economic provisions such as poverty reduction, education and social restricting because the roots of crime are indeed in social and economic in nature these provisions are necessary to prevent it.
Additionally there are theorists, who believe that the use of the prison system itself should be abolished, they believe that a whole new development of alternative strategies and institutions are necessary that will ultimately amount to the complete removal of the prison system from both the ideological and social aspects of our society. Jewkes 2007) This radical new alternative to the prison system would include “revitalisation of education at all levels, a health care system that provides free physical and mental care for all citizens and finally a justice system based on reconciliation rather than one based upon retribution and vengeance. (Davis 2003:107 cited in Jewkes 2007) An example of an alternative to prison would be directing more welfare to the “deserving poor” instead of simply punishing them, this is because many of those who come often come into the penal system are not there because they are criminals but because they were victims of unbridled market and economic forces and are therefore more in need of social support rather than punishment (jewkes 2007).
However this view was not incredibly popular among parliament as many saw offenders as the “undeserving” which reaffirmed that the centrality in prison is based upon discipline and reforming the poor and the powerless. (Ryan 1883 cited in Jewkes 2007) Another example of an alternative is known as alternative realities, such as education which is often provided by those at the receiving end of the prison system itself, by theoretically offering other prisoners a road back to a non-deviant reality. Jewkes 2007) The reason that many abolitionists believe that prison should be abolished is down to the entire legitimacy of the prison system now coming into question, this is again due to the fact the prison system is weakly justifying its said aims and objectives, furthermore it appears inadequate when fulfilling said goals and intentions, this creates a legitimacy deficit. (Scott 2008) This is because prisons are not doing what they are set out to do, they are not preventing people from reoffending, therefore they are not deterring criminals from crime therefore and does not protect the public as less than 0. % of crimes are punished by prison (Leedsmet Powerpoint 2011) These aspects of high re-conviction rates and poor rate of crimes that are punished stressed the illegitimacy of the penal system. One aspect of penal illegitimacy is the entire bases of the prison system are upon discipline and reforming the poor and the powerless. (Ryan 1883 cited in Jewkes 2007) This could be because under capitalism much crime is generated by poverty as the wealthy thrive and the poor struggle as for the poor crime can sometimes is necessary for survival. Lilly, Cullen and Balll 2011). Additionally the evidence suggests that prisoners are more likely to be socially deprived rather than dangerous to society, this is shown as 83% of male prisoners are from the working class in which 72% were in the receipt of benefits immediately before their entry to prison (Social exclusion unit 2002) plus an estimated 80% of the prison population have writing skills at or below the level of a eleven year old.
This contests the legitimacy of the penal system as it suggests that majority of the penal system is consistently against lower class offenders in which the purpose of imprisonment serves a class based legal system where social harms are caused as the lower class are singled out for punishment. (Fitzgerald and Sim 1982) This also shows that we have a criminal justice system whose commitment towards the rehabilitation and welfare to be an ideological sham, in which contains a punitive system of discipline regulation that contributes towards the unequal distribution of power in a completely divided social order. Jewkes 2007) This again brings the whole legitimacy of the prison system into question as it gives the impression that our entire penal system is biased and unjust in not doing what it claims to do, in this sense the penal system is politically illegitimate (Sim cited in Scott 2008) Other aspects of the illegitimacy of the prison system in recent years is overcrowding in prisons, this is becoming a major problem as prisons house a greater number than they are designed for (politics. co. k 2011) This can cause serious harm as offenders now often share cells that are originally designed for one person, this accounts for 24% or the prison population, and statistics show a further eighty of all UK prisons are overcrowded. (PrisonReform Trust2011) This can be seen as illegitimate, as it is inhumane, as they have inadequate living conditions (Scott 2008) also it brings prisoners to fear for their safety which is not the objective of a prison, prisoners fearing for their own wellbeing. Prison reform Trust 2011) Furthermore statistics show that private prisons have held a higher percentage of overcrowded prison numbers than public sector prisons for the past ten years with an average overcrowding rate of 35. 4% in 2010. (Prison reform Trust 2011) This could be seen as immoral as people are profiting off the poor living conditions of offenders, therefore this again supports the claim that prison should be abolished because of these poor conditions for prisoners.
Also drug problems inside prison walls also contest the legitimacy of our penal system as a home office study found that a quarter of all prisoners admit to using drugs in the past month and 16% in the past week. (Prison Reform Trust 2011) A further 19% of prisoners from a study containing 3,489 prisoners admit to using heroin in prison which 8% of all users started using drugs once they were in custody. Prison Reform Trust 2011) This clearly supports the claim that prisons should be reduced or abolished as many of this prisoners might not have started using drugs if they received an alternative sentence, furthermore it contests the legitimacy of the prison service as it is not in its objectives for prisoners to cause harm to themselves through addiction when in the confinement of a prison, they are supposed to be monitored and kept away from such things.
Additionally the work of John Moore 2006 shares this belief of no more prison, he suggests that an end should be called to the building of more jails, and in fact the time has come to do away with the whole penal system and think of a new radical way of dealing with offenders. (The Gaurdian 2007) This is because again prison is failing to prevent offenders form re-offending, furthermore he claims that the prison system has become a dumping ground for the mentally ill, this is because studies have shown that more than 70% of male offenders suffer from a menal isorder. (The Guardian 2007) Also then penal system cost the tax payers 2 billion a year, therefore this supports the claim that prisons should be abolished as it seems that they are wasting our money and not doing what they are supposed to do as they are not preventing re-offending, it suggest that the money could be spend to better care for the mentally challenged.
Alternatively there are those who believe that use of prison works, this can be seen in the work of Charles Murray’s prison works thesis, which had wide significance by introducing a cost benefit calculation into penal discourse and in essence introducing a risk assessment scheme for the use of prison as a crime control (Murray 1997 cited in Kemshall 2003).
Murray suggested that the UK should look towards the US for its evidence that expanding the prison system can contain crime rates, he explains that in 1974 in America there were 218,205 prisoners but the crime rate was out of control, however he argues that the massive increase in prison population to 2 million prisoners held in custody by the year 2000 kept the crime rate in check. (Murray 1974 cited in Scott 2008) He goes on to argue that the UK must expand our prison system to over a quarter million, and keep prison rates high, he claims this will control crime rates.
Furthermore he maintains a clear link between crime rates and imprisonment rates, in which he states that when used efficiently prison works on the grounds of deterrence and incapacitation. This is clearly against the view that the use of prison abolished as it explains that increasing the prison population is the only way to effectively tackle crime rates therefore abolishing the prison population would dramatically increase crime levels as prison rates have been increasing for years.
Unfortunately he also makes the point that this will not singularly reduce crime rates as he claims that the real cause of crime is welfare dependency (Scott 2008) Additionally the work of Michael Howard the former Home Secretary argued that prison works as a response to crime demanded by victims in the interest of retribution, it incapacitates offenders and deters people from committing crime, furthermore the prison system ensures that general society are protected from serious criminals such as murders and rapists. (Flynn 1998) .
He stated that “we shall no longer judge the success of our system by a fall in prison population” (Howard 1993) meaning that controlling crime levels will result in higher prison levels, therefore the need for prison expansion is necessary. This argues the claim that prison should be reduced or abolished as it states that our levels of crime will be controlled as the prison system increases in numbers, additionally it deters away from the abolishment of the prison system as it stresses that the use of prisons are for public protection against those who are deemed unsafe to be allowed into our society.
In conclusion the evidence suggest that the use of the custody sentences in the penal system should in deed be reduced for less serious criminal offences, this is because if you look at the statistics re-offending levels for alternatives to imprisonment have lowered in the case of things like community sentence. Therefore it clearly seems to be deterring some offenders away from re-offending; furthermore these types of sentences are beneficial for the rest of society.
However even though we have seen the illegitimacy of the prison service clearly needs to be improved as overcrowding and poor prison conditions come into effect, for the total abolishment of the prison system to have any positive effects it would take years and a total reform or drastic changes within our society for that to happen. Furthermore it seems there will always be the necessity for prisons as despite its failing in objectives the prison system does protect society from the serious offenders such as murderers, rapists and paedophiles.
References Bottoms, (2004 ) cited in Cavadino and Dignan, (2007), The Penal System: An Introduction. 4th ed. London,Sage. Bottoms, (1977) cited in Scott, (2008), penology. London, Sage Ball, Cullen and Lilly, (2011). ,Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. 5th ed. London, Sage. Barnes, University of Cansas, [internet], Available from:< http://kuscholarworks. ku. edu/dspace/bitstream/1808/4805/1/MARSV2N2BR3. df> [accessed 12/12/11] Legislation. gov, (2003),Criminal Justice Act 2003. [internet] legislation. gov. Available from: < http://www. legislation. gov. uk/ukpga/2003/44/introduction> [accessed 12/12/11] Cohen (1985), cited in Scott, (2008), penology. London, Sage Cavadino and Dignan, (2007), The Penal System: An Introduction. 4th ed. London,Sage. Direct. gov. (2011), Understanding Community Sentences. [internet] Directgov, Available from: <