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What Is Prison For?

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AB Editor | 11:20 Mon 22nd Nov 2010 | News
16 Answers
In the news section we often hear opposing sides as to the purpose and usefulness of prisons. Often there are calls of "life should mean life" and "outsourcing" of prisons (and prisoners). This is the weathervane question of what the AB News team(s) think prison is for:

This poll is closed.

What is the principal purpose of prison in the UK, in your opinion?

  • Punishment - 13 votes
  • 52%
  • Protection Of "Normal" Society - 8 votes
  • 32%
  • Rehabilitation - 4 votes
  • 16%

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Stats until: 22:27 Tue 16th Apr 2024 (Refreshed every 5 minutes)


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D'you know Ed, I watch alot of these reality cops shows about traffic cops chasing car theives and using hi tech stuff to track them down, those about traffic cops stopping suspect vehicles for road traffic offenses, those about drug squads that make early morning raids, all that sort of stuff, i love these shows, but at the end of every one, the narrator will recap the show's arrests and let you know the sentencing outcome, nearly every result after the investigation, surveilance, capture and arrest, ends in charges being dropped or feeble fine. It's mind boggling, the police risk their lives arresting some people and then the whole thing goes nowhere and the person is back out to offend again.
Nearly every person they arrest is 'known' to them, I understand why now, they just keep arresting them but the courts let them go!
I don't see the 'holiday camp' option here; that will disappoint some people.
Yeah ed, I think you are making the leap of faith that the courts might actually send the offender to prison,
Well obviously Prison is a mixture of all three depending on the circumstances of the individual case.

Take some obvious cases

For extremely violent and dangerous offenders it's clearly for the protection of society. Those like Dennis Nielsen and Charles Bronson are simply too dangerous to be released - probably ever.

However take a wife who poisons her husband - probably no real risk to society at all but the notion of punishment demands some sort of retribution.

Rehabilitation - probably only really in a narrow band of circumstances.

You missed deterrant - the darling concept of the right wing - again probably only in a narrow band - offenders don't normally expect to be caught so the deterrant efect is limited
In order of importance

1 - Punishment.
2 - Deterent.
3 - Protection.
4 - Rehabilitation.
-- answer removed --
Find myself agreeing with Jake mostly but I have to agree with Re. Make prison horrible and it will be a dterrant to some (I agree not all either they think they eont be caught or just plain thick)
hahaa, too late Geezer, I said holiday camps first!
The fundamental point of prison is to contain people who are dangerous in some way shape or form.

Both rehabilitation and deterrence are flawed concepts when applied to prisons - prison is completely irrelevant as a deterrent if the offender believes they won't be caught, and amassing large groups of criminals together isn't particularly conducive to rehabilitation.

Even though I think they probably are in reality, I don't think prisons should be designed with a desire for vengeance (tactfully called 'Punishment' in the above poll). People need to think that it is or society won't function properly, but I don't think doing so in practice is particularly valuable or useful.
Go back to Victorian values for prisons.
The alternative is to have the law of the jungle where everyone takes what they can get. Early Britain was like that where we robbed and pillaged far away countries that had no means to protect themselves.
There are several huge problems with the perception of prison versus the reality and it runs roughly like ' oh it's a holiday camp' usually said by people who've never been near a prison never mind spent time inside it and the assumption that all prisons are the same. If you are incarcerated in an open prison there are probably far more useful things you could have been put to do within the community- if you are in maximum security NOTHING could be further from the popular holiday camp scenario.
As far as punishment is concerned it works because prison is an awful experience- as far as rehabilitaiton is concerned it doesn't- people leave knowing far more about what not to do then when they arrived and as for protection of the public only a small minority of the prison population are a true danger to the general public and they are imho the only ones who ought to be in there.
In regard to crime, there are many who would say :'Nothing works'. In some cases however prison works, if only because it disables inmates from further crime whilst inside. It certainly worked for Myra Hindley, and it's working nicely for Ian Brady too.
Prison is for the denial of liberty as a punishment.

Everything else - rehabilitation, hard labour (when it existed) etc is an add-on.
A. Punishment
Question Author
Thanks for your answers everyone!

Spare Ed

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