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Fix the Prisons? Part I

Senator Jim Webb, an outspoken critic of America's prison system, has argued that we need to "fix our prisons" (Parade Magazine),

I would like to offer a different perspective and pose the following question: Do we really need to "fix" or "reform" the prison?

I ask this question for many different reasons, not the least of which is the obvious fact that despite the overwhelming evidence that prisons have not been a big factor in reducing crime (note that not only does the US have the highest incarceration rate, but it also has the highest crime rate, especially violence), they continue to exist despite repeated attempts to "reform" them. 

I have added quotation marks to the terms "fix" and "reform" for a reason.  The reason is two-fold.  First, the mere fact that the prison system endures means that someone, somewhere is benefiting from its existence.  In other words, prisons are "functional" for some segments of the population.  More on that in the second part of this blog.

Secondly, calling for this system to be "fixed" or "reformed" is kind of like asking that we "fix" or "reform" the prison at Guantanamo Bay, rather than eliminating it altogether.  A more extreme analogy would be to call for a "reform" of or to "fix" what's wrong with Auschwitz.  In both cases, we attempt to make the system more "humane" or eliminate the most extreme cases of outright nastiness.   (Believe it or not, some "reformers" of 19th century penal systems in Europe advocated a "whipping machine" in order to make the act of whipping prisoners more "efficient" and consistent (each blow exactly like the one before it).

Senator Webb spend a lot of space in his article on the drug war, which helps "feed" the prison system with the "nutrients" (human bodies) it needs to survive.  This indirectly suggests a solution (neither a "fix" nor a "reform" mind you).  This will be covered in the second part of this blog.

Keywords: adult corrections, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Correctional Institutions

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