Believe it or not, the worst prison you could ever live in does not have walls. The worst prison, as far as human potential and human development is concerned, are limitations you choose for yourself.
These don’t have walls. These don’t have prison guards. These don’t have barbed wire fences. They definitely don’t have electric fences and spotlights. However, believe it or not, they are more effective than physical prisons.
I raise this important fact because there seems to be a failure of imagination as far as punishment is concerned. The whole point of a penal or correctional system is to punish people. When somebody commits a crime, there are two signals that are being sent.
If there is no consequence to the actual lawbreaker, then there is a good chance that person will continue to do the act again and again and again. There’s no disincentive. They already did it before, and there is no punishment. So, at that level, there has to be sort of punishment.
Well, the problem with this is that a lot of crimes are situational. A lot of crimes are engaged in by people because they feel that they really have no choice. They are pushed by situations into committing that crime. I know, I know. This sounds like an excuse. I know that the person is basically just trying to excuse himself, but this is the reality for a lot of people.
I’m not giving them a way out, but you have to understand that it can happen to you. You may be having just a bad day, and these bad decisions pile on top of each other and, soon enough, you find yourself on the wrong side of the law. It can happen to any of us. It can happen to the best of us, and this willingness to impose prison is a problem because if you think about it, a lot of it contextual.
Let’s put this way. If two sets of kids, they look exactly alike except for one thing. One set of kids come from money; the other set of kids are middle class or poor. The kids that come from money break open into a car. They spray paint the car, and they do all sorts of damage to the car. They get reported, and they get a high-priced attorney and soon enough, the whole thing was dismissed as a prank.
The other set of kids don’t get attorneys, and it happened in a different part of town. They get the book thrown at them, and they end up in jail. In jail, they hang out with people who are murderers, rapists, you name it. Do you think they will pick up great values there? Do you think they would learn the errors of their ways? No.
More likely than not, they would pick up contacts that would enable them to get deeper in a life of crime. You might come in for petty vandalism, but don’t be surprised when the next time you come in, you come in for a drugs charge.
That’s the reality of the prison system, and it completely ignores these contexts. It’s a harsh selective punishment, and the solution to this is to use psychological pressure and social pressure that keeps people out of jail.
Believe it or not, those pranksters who happen to be rich don’t commit those crimes to the extent that they end up in jail. Somehow some way the fear of losing the family name’s reputation or making other people look bad or better yet, the fear that their continued stupidity would haunt their educational careers which can lead to long-term damage to their professional careers is enough to stop them.
This is a question of values so maybe that’s the point or golden opportunity where society can step in and come up with a workable set of punishment alternatives. Throwing people in jail and also throwing away the key should be a relic of the past because it creates more problems than it solves.
However, there’s also another level involved. There is also a symbolic nature to the punishment. When people see that this person committed an act and there was a consequence involving that person being locked away for a long time, people, it is hoped, would learn from the experience. People, at some level or other would say that they don’t want to be like that guy. Well, at least, that’s the hope.