UchihaSasuke wrote: ↑
January 14th, 2019, 5:53 am
Scott wrote: ↑
February 28th, 2008, 4:09 am
[The following topic is featured as a leadup to the May philosophy book of the month discussion of Holding Fire.]
Does Society Need Prisons?
by Scott Hughes
Millions of people in the world currently rot in jails or prisons. People think of jails and prisons as an essential part of society, but do we really need them? Do prisons really protect people from violence and victimization, or do prisons just make matters worse? Let's look at the different types of criminals that governments throw in prison.
- Governments have a tendency to criminalize behaviors that do not hurt anyone. The governments create victimless crimes by creating authoritarian laws. When people break these laws, they have not hurt anyone in any major way. These laws can include any laws outlawing victimless behaviors, such as drug possession, prostitution, peacefully practicing a religion, and so on and so forth. For example, the United States currently has over 1 million people behind bars for victimless crimes, which only limits freedom and does not protect others. Instead of putting these non-violent people in jail or prison, we can just let them go and legalize all victimless behaviors. It makes more sense to let people have freedom than to waste resources enforcing authoritarian laws.
– Some people may commit an illegal act of violence or victimization due to external conditions. We can refer to these people as incidental criminals. These 'incidental criminals' do not have any more of a tendency to hurt others than the average person. For example, consider someone who has to steal to feed his family one day. Almost anyone would do that, so it does not mean we need to throw the person in jail or prison. If we can change the conditions that cause a normal person to commit a crime, then we can do that rather than brutally lock a person in a cell. We have no need to throw a person in jail or prison if they pose no more danger than the average person but committed a one-time crime due to external circumstances.
Mentally Sick People
- Finally, we have sick people. These people have some sort of mental defect that makes them a danger to other people. If we do not restrain these people, they will victimize other people. So we must restrain them. But why put them in jail or prison? They need treatment, and prison will not cure them; it will just torture them. If we put them in jail or prison, then we can never let them out because jail or prison will not cure them. If we put them into a treatment facility, then we may successfully treat or cure some of them, at which point we can safely release those ones back into society. We will protect more people by putting mentally sick people into treatment centers (including insane asylums), then by throwing them in jail or prison. These people need professional care in a medical establishment, not the punishment of prison.
I think most people feel like me in that I would prefer to protect people and to do it in as least brutal a way as possible. I have no interest in using the force of government to pointlessly get vengeance or inflict punishment using prisons. Thus, I see no need for prisons. We can release people who have no psychological defect that makes them dangerous, and we can put the ones with psychological defects in treatment. Let's base our policies on sympathy, understanding, and a desire to protect people. Let's not base policy on a wasteful indulgence in state-sanctioned vengeance.
About the author: Scott Hughes manages the Philosophy Forums
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What do you think? Do you think society needs prisons? Why or why not?
1. What do you suggest for the criminals who do not belong to any of the categories discussed?
e.g. Hidan is a sane man who kills people regularly for sacrifices to the Lord Jashin of the Jashin religion he follows.
He definitely is not a non-violent non-victimizer type.
He can't be an incidental criminal because his crimes are not infrequent and are not instigated by any external factors but his own religious beliefs.
He doesn't have any kind of psychiatric disorder or psychological problem that modifies his behaviour. He just has a perspective that is radically different from the common people in the most fundamental aspects. The difference in views is no mental defect.
And even if he is put in a compassionate treatment facility, then what would be the purpose of the treatment he gets? Would it be to change his religious beliefs or something?
2. We are well aware that human acts are often driven by motivation. An integral factor of motivation is fear. Mostly, crimes are temptations that people fall into. Be it a temptation to reach earlier by overspeeding, a temptation to earn quick money by scamming etc. But still most of the people are not criminals, i.e., they do not fall into the temptations being driven by a fear of prison. If there are no prisons, it ends the fear of consequences from minds. Plus, if committing a crime means going to a place where one will be treated with compassion and professional care, it could even have the reverse motivational effects as not many people have the things that you could get in a medical facility.
Scot asks some very thought provoking questions at times and this one although simplistic (perhaps for the benefit of our simplistic minds) is one. So with that in mind let's go ahead and resurrect this thread then.
Anytime you have 3 or more people together you are going to need government and politics.
And where there is government and politics there further needs to be laws.
Since any of the two individuals in our hypothetical example can overpower the third, their actions must be somehow restrained by a Constitution and a Code.
To enforce laws there needs to be justice and punishments.
What the punishments are depends on the choices that at least 2 of the 3 of them agree on.
A prison system is simply a manner of confinement. The confinement becomes the punishment.
So to cut to the chase, as British fox hunters would say, your punishment system can be whatever you agree on, whether prisons or some other form of punishment.
A cage system for these 3 isolated people with deprivation to the extent it can be borne sounds fair to me.
Banishment is the ultimate punishment. That is what the ancient Greeks and the pre-modern British used to use. That works too.