Prison should be a place of reform. All people make mistakes and injure others, but to varying degrees. Some mistakes are minor and without long lasting consequences, other mistakes are severe and never forgotten. Mistakes that violate laws are classified as crimes and invoke a response from society. That response is typically to take the offender out of society and lock them away. Even though everyone makes mistakes, it seems that there is a very unforgiving attitude towards people convicted of criminal behavior. Society as a whole needs to determine what the purpose of prison is, along with what is the best route to take to accomplish that purpose.
If prison is solely for the purpose of punishment then convicted criminals ought to be locked up and left to serve their sentence separated from society. The punishment is the removal of their liberties and freedom. However, prison can also be for the purpose of reform. All people make mistakes and reform themselves daily. Due to the nature of some crimes, the offenders need to be separated from society to a degree and punished. These actions are in the hopes that society can be protected and future deviant behavior might be avoided. While separated from society it is ideal that convicts receive treatment and help to overcome detrimental thoughts and behaviors. Doing good things is one of the best antidotes to doing bad things. A person can’t do both at the same time.
Work can do wonders for a person. It teaches responsibility and self-reliance. In many instances, deviance results when a person doesn’t know how to accept or handle responsibility, such as paying debts or holding a job. Deviance also results from an inability to provide necessities of life in a lawful manner. When a person is unable to provide food or shelter for themselves they sometimes turn to an easier way, such as stealing. Given the task to provide their own food and shelter, convicts will either sink or swim. Either they will step up to the need and put forth the efforts necessary to grow food and build a shelter, or they will continue in their deviant ways, attempting to take from others. A program of reform including inmate responsibility for these tasks will quickly sift out those who are not willing to be reformed.
One obvious drawback of a program where inmates would be established in an isolated community and charged with providing their own food and shelter is cost. As is a major issue in all facets of criminal corrections, cost would limit the scope of a prison colony. Training, tools and basic materials would need to be provided for the inmates. Constant supervision, and more of it (when compared to cell block style prisons), would be required to keep those inmates unwilling to work from wreaking havoc among those who do want to. If a system could be established to extract inmates who would be successful participants in the program then after an initial learning curve, less supervision would be required. When people are working to satisfy their own needs they are better behaved.
Society wants to see people obey the law and maintain a status quo. When people violate these desires, society wants to get rid of them. Maybe the violating actions should be eliminated from society, rather than the people committing them? A reform program in prison would help to eliminate the behaviors and add another contributing member to society. It is hard to expect that a person can be taken entirely out of a functioning society and then learn to behave appropriately in the society they were taken from. By living and working in a community based on work, responsibility and self-reliance, the inmates would learn to reintegrate into society at large.
Though there would be many supplemental costs of food, building materials, tools and training, in the long run perhaps this type of prison colony set up could save money. After their own needs are met, any surplus might be farmed out and bring in additional money to help pay back the individual inmate’s debt to society.
The best hope for reform is to provide an environment as close to the one desired for them to fit in to down the road. People deviate from the norms for various reasons. They can’t learn how to align themselves with those norms if they are not able to see them practiced and practice them on their own from day to day.