Why incarceration is not honouring its intention: have we reached the point of no return?

Eddie – Year 12 Student

“Incarceration”, a scary yet supposedly necessary process for the function of society; this article will explore the effectiveness of the judicial system alongside the mental health of prisoners. It goes without saying that crime deserves a just, proportionate sanction and as such, prison sentences are standard in issuing punishments. Ideally, we would reduce crime from happening altogether, but this is unrealistic and as such we have settled with imprisonment for major crimes. However, the problem of incarceration is the underlying, unintended effect on the mental health of those being imprisoned.

Put simply, prisons have four main purposes; retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Throughout history, the conflict between whether the primary focus of prisons should be on retribution or rehabilitation has been prominent. Rehabilitation is of course more effective in reducing recidivism whilst the notion of retribution is pushed in an attempt to increase the deterrence of crime. However, should the deterioration of the mental health of prisoners as a direct result of their treatment in prison be a part of their punishment?

[T]he problem of incarceration is the underlying, unintended effect on the mental health of those being imprisoned.

Some may argue that such unintended destruction of prisoners’ well-being is an equitable sanction and in the law there is no objection to this sort of treatment of prisoners. The real question is although not intentional, should we be protecting people who have, themselves, caused destruction to society? From a certain point of view, inmates shouldn’t be treated with any common decency. People worry about our tax money being put towards prisoners’ food and shelter; it is suggested that they are living sufficiently well by receiving free, healthy food and adequate healthcare within the prisons’ medical wards. Granted, the adjective “adequate” should be taken with in context, as this term may be slightly generous in reference to prison facilities. Regardless, the point still stands that prisoners are living “healthy” lives, seemingly at the cost of the taxpayer. Clearly, this seems unfair for those living below the poverty line struggling to put meals on the table day to day. However, whilst one may take such a stance, this is a rather shallow view of this system as there is far more beneath the surface than just “free meals and healthcare” when it comes to being incarcerated.

Shockingly, as of 2017, self-inflicted deaths are 8.6 times more likely in prison than in the general population. Furthermore, the PPO (Prisons and Probation Ombudsman) found that no mental health referral was made when it should have been in the case of 29% of suicides where mental health needs had already been identified. Often when prisoners act out, rather than dealing with the mental disorder directly causing it, they are further ostracised in solitary confinement, only amplifying the extent of their mental deterioration. These statistics alone show how detrimental prison life is to the mental health of prisoners. Whilst it goes without saying that those in incarceration can’t expect a lavish lifestyle; the fact of the matter is that imprisonment does not take away basic human rights – something which is forgotten when dealing with these individuals. Prisoners nowadays are not punished physically or tortured like they were in ancient times, implying they have a basic level of human rights, yet clearly, they are treated inhumanely when it comes to mental issues. With a whole host of reasons including the horrific environment they are placed in, the remorse and guilt they may feel for their crime or even the lack of real, human interactions they have with one another, it is only natural that prisons become a hub for mental health problems to fester and worsen over the years of prisoners’ punishments.

Almost one in ten prisoners go on to commit more crime in little more than two weeks after their release.

Andy Slaughter – Shadow Justice Minister

Having said all of this, is incarceration ultimately fulfilling its goal? The short answer is no. Recidivism is still high and there is undoubtedly crime happening within the correctional facilities themselves. “Almost one in ten prisoners go on to commit more crime in little more than two weeks after their release” –  says Andy Slaughter, the Shadow Justice Minister. This sole figure suggests that in the long-term, imprisonment is essentially redundant. A prison sentence can merely be seen as a ticking time bomb for when the inmate is released only to re-commit a crime ten percent of the time. Whether we remove these people from general society for a period of time, chances are that many years down the line they will continue to cause harm to society. Not only recidivism rates, but as the main focus of this article has been trying to get at, the current treatment of prisoners essentially brings their life to a close once they are convicted as their mental health is simply neglected and one cannot function sufficiently in these conditions which they are placed in.

In an ideal world, there would be no recidivism nor any crime whatsoever. This article clearly outlines the major flaws in the current judicial system, yet clearly nobody can think of an alternative as all 196 countries follow a vague skeleton of the system. Arguably, one may suggest sending all criminals to rehabilitation, but this is incredibly unrealistic and requires far more resources and tax monies than as of current. Although you nor I may be able to change the punishment system as a whole, I urge you to consider whether the judicial system is truly justified in the way in which it deals with the criminals in our society.






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