Protection of society

Criminal actions are punished with a prison sentence, this is the primary rule in the country i live in. Prison makes sense, if you have to protect society against dangerous persons, who would do harm otherwise. In addition, others are kept in prison, so they won't interfere with the investigation. I agree that those are legit reasons to keep people under supervision and out of contact with the population.


Many decades ago, prison was the only means to have control over people which they cannot escape. Nowadays, the social network as well as the financial dependencies are binding people firmly to their places. If protection of society is not necessary, punishment is the only aspect left. Some countries dish out fines, which have to be paid or spent in prisons based on a day rate.

Tough politicians determining lengths of punishments

Is there really a politician, who makes wise decisions based on facts and consequence analysis? Some politicians have personal experiences, like the dutch politicians after WWII. They knew what it meant to be incarcerated and therefore Netherlands still has one of the shortest prison sentences today.

Politicians are one source for size of penalties, those judging are the other ones. That is why many countries employ juries with ordinary people. They should reflect the peoples opinion about the proper amount.

None of those have proper knowledge of what it means to go to prison.

It is not a swift reaction

My impression is that only cases which require the protection of the public are pursued with the required speed. Reading the news articles reveal that many cases take years before they are handled by the court. What happened in the meantime is of no interest to the court, they might just ease a bit of the sentence.
But the meantime has a big impact on the deliquent. The message from society is clear: We don't forget an action that happened years ago. Punishing an action years after also means that society is unforgiving. How can criminals regret their actions, when society does not forgive them and does not allow them to return to their life with a lesson learned?

Regret gone unnoticed

There is one thing on the mind of criminals after the interrogation by the police: to get it over with as soon as possible. This is particularly true for those who admit their crimes in the interrogation. The period from the initial interrogation to the court day is hard especially when the crime carries a social stigma. Suicides are not uncommon. Some offenders are by default put on suicide watch. It is a stress that is difficult to endure. Even when the perpetrators regret their actions, there is nothing they can do. The police is handling the case at their own pace and asking for forgiveness is not possible. This is a waiting period that can last for years.

Disappointing court day

There is really no one getting satisfaction from the court proceedings. It is a day for lawyers to do their work, everybody else is just a witness. There is no peacemaking, and no conciliation. There is no talk about the prevention of future crimes, it is just following some written law rules and previous rulings. At the end, there will be a decision how much damage will be done to the life of the accused.

Prison derails life

A prison stay literally rips the convicted out of their life on a short notice. This already has a big impact on their lives. Children are especially suffering when one of their parent spents time in prison. The convicted looses his/her job and has a very difficult time coming back into work. Among even qualified applicants, they are the last one chosen.

Some countries recognize the this and the hard time during time up to court, so they suspend all shorter prison sentences. The lesson is learned and time inside a prison is not necessary. Slowly, there is a discussion about alternative to prison sentences. Countries recognize that it is important to rebuild the life of prisoners. They understand that inmates need a life to return to. This is at the end a very effective means to prevent future crimes.

Norway does not have the death penalty, it was one of the first countries in the world to do so. However, long term prisoners are likely to kill themselves after release. This amount to a de-facto death penalty.

What they are leaving behind counts

There are some documentations about the life in prison. The often show the situation in US prisons and for a balance show the more human conditions in some Scandinavian countries. Do they really life in hotels? It looks like it, but the major difference is invisible. Those inmates have vanished of the surface of earth.

They left behind their families, jobs, and social networks. This is the hardest part of a prison sentence, not being able to partake any longer. The outside world is forced to go on without the inmate, he/she becomes superfluous. If he had a work at a company, the company is forced to replace him. What is the point of returning to them, if they have moved on?

Ironically, the probation/rehabilitation office has to undo the damage done by the prison stay. Alternative punishment like community service focus on that part. Those who are integrated in society, will respect societies norms. Strangely, people expect prisoners to use the time in order to become better citizens. This kind of logic is difficult to understand. It does not work.

Prison as punishment is outdated

The damage done to inmates is real. According to some reports, over 60% of the prisoners require mental health care. One can as if those had mental issues before their crimes, or did they suffer under the investigation and imprisonment? If one considers the big social change due to the imprisonment, then it should be clear that imprisonment causes mental suffering. Is that intended? If yes, mental health care should be denied to prisoners. However, the existence of mental health care to prisoners says otherwise.

It is the disruption of the personal life and the damage done to the mental health, that should be good reasons to discuss the punishment by prison sentences. If the goal is rehabilitation and the acceptance of social norms, one should aim at the integration of the convicted into society.

Is this a world, where we find no other means for punishment? 

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