Do Prisons Reform Criminals – No

In 1955, in Holloway Prison in the United Kingdom, Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be put to death [by hanging]. 14 years later, the abolition of the Death Penalty came to pass. But, during all those years when the Death Penalty existed, was any criminal ‘reformed’? One has to say no. For although people obviously knew that the crime for murder was death, crimes were still committed. One only has to look at those countries who still have the Death Penalty – has there been any decrease in crime because of it? No.

So one then can only conclude that being put to death for the crime of murder, is no deterrent. Therefore another, deeper question arises, what is the point of the Death Penalty? If you knew that you were going to be put to death for the crime of murder, would you still commit that murder? Many people would say no, but there are many out there that would still go through with the crime, even knowing that they could be captured.

So then the question has to be asked…where does the deterrent come in? People would say that there has to be some form of punishment equal to the crime that has been committed. That is all well and good, but the fact remains that murders still occur and the thought of being put to death does not seem to deter the murderer, or potential murderer, from committing the crime.

Which then leads us back to two questions: is prison and the Death Penalty a deterrent and, do ‘criminals’ become ‘reformed’? Indeed, there are many cases in which prisoners take up educational programmes whilst in prison, joining in with the services that many prisons offer now.

There are also many prisoners who have plenty of time to think about their lives, and the situation they are in at that moment. When one is imprisoned, there is all the time in the world to think about the life they have led, and where it has gone. It could be said that in those moments of quietude many prisoners may regret the way their life has gone and wish to change from that moment. Indeed, there are many prisoners who ‘find God’ whilst they are imprisoned. Many find that turning to the Word of God, succours them and gives them strength for the days and weeks ahead, and what is to come.

Yet despite all of this, still the crime rates – for murder especially – are too high. The vast majority of prisoners do not reform, and may come out of prison worse then when they entered. They may pick up from other prisoners new ways to break in to homes and properties. They may find new ways to cheat society and they may pick up new ‘bad habits’ from their fellow inmates.

One cannot underestimate the influence of fellow prisoners. Indeed, many young criminals are influenced greatly by older inmates. This is either through intimidation, or through sheer admiration of older inmates on the younger prisoners. Either way, although prison can indeed reform in many cases, it does not do it in a way that will change society.

At the end of the day, the question will still be asked, ‘do prisons reform? Although with some inmates the answer is yes, the overwhelming answer – in the vast majority of cases – has to be no.

There is a catch 22 here that needs to be looked at. On the one hand the vast majority of people would say that prison is meant to ‘punish’.  No one would really dispute that fact, but the fact remains that the ‘punishment’ is not working. There are other groups of people that would say that alongside punishment, prisons should be a place for ‘reform’. That educational courses should be offered, that social skills should be stressed upon.

However, there are many others who simply do not believe that prisons should be places where such courses are offered. There are many who are of the opinion that ‘you do the crime, you pay the time’. But when there have been cases of even prison officers being ‘corrupted’ by the system they are supposed to uphold, is it any wonder that prisons are simply not working?

There are many who wish to go back to the 18 and 19th centuries, in which inmates were treated as lower than animals, and looked upon as sub-human. But has not society progressed since then? This is a fine balancing act between punishment for doing the crime, and also reform.

Reform too much, and people would say that the prisoners are being ‘rewarded’. However, go too far down the punishment route, and we are back in the 18th and 19th centuries again. As much as society may not like it, prisons do NOT reform, in the vast majority of cases.