As a student, I find I spend a lot of my time procrastinating, and lamenting about my poor use of time. One of the ways I spend the days, that I should be using to study, is watching TV. I watch a lot of TV. If you detect slight pride in that sentence, you should. I know I ought to be ashamed but I’m so not. You name it, I watch it. OK, I’m rambling, but the reason I brought this up is because it was just the other day that I started watching Orange is the New Black (I caught up in 5 days, not even embarrassed) and in the very first episode the warden (I think, some authoritative figure at least) says,
“You know, I’ve been here for twenty-two years and I still can’t figure out how the system works… I got a crack dealer who’s doing nine months, and then I have a lady who accidentally backed into a mail man who’s doing 4 years. I mean, the guy broke his collar bone, but c’mon. I just don’t get it.”
Although I am well aware that the program is fictitious, this statement comes from a very real place.
I’ve had a problem with the way in which society deals with crime and the justice and prison systems itself for some time now. Crime is bad. Criminals are bad. You break the law, you go to prison. It seems pretty straightforward, but it is so much more complex than that.
Life, as I’m sure I’ve said before, is my most favourite thing. There are so many great things about life, but I won’t get into them. For the purpose of this post though, I turn your attention to one of the reasons as to why I think it is that life is so precious: because it is irreplaceable. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. You do, only live once.
A life spent in prison, is a life wasted. So, it should be the priority of the state to protect life. One of the ways it does this is prisons. The big, bad, scary criminals are locked away to protect the lovely, perfect, law abiding citizens. But what about the criminals? Are their lives being taken into consideration? Locked away until when? Until their time is up and it’s time to commit crimes again, just this time, let’s try not to get caught…? Re-offender statistics scream failure. Clearly, prisons aren’t working and my belief is that its failure is rooted in their lack of clear purpose.
Let’s define justice: “Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness” (The Free Dictionary). Justice and fairness are, or at least are intended to be, synonymous. Based on this very basic definition, justice, it would seem, is a very integral part of society. It is without a doubt, essential that in order for society to function properly, and in order to ensure that laws are adhered to; prison and justice systems need to be in place. And they are.
My concern, however, lies in the motives. What exactly are prisons meant to do? Punish? Rehabilitate? Deter? All? Other? To me, there doesn’t seem to be any clear objective. And there can’t be, not really. Crime comes in many and various forms, it is nothing short of daft to have one system that is meant to successfully accommodate and address all crime. Some may argue that it would be impossible to rehabilitate a murderer/paedophile/rapist, thus, the purpose prison would serve for them would be punishment. And to protect the law abiding citizens that remain in society. Perhaps then, those who have committed crimes that haven’t necessarily hurt anyone, at least not physically, like fraud, could be rehabilitated? But they’d also need to be punished right? But what about undetected crime? Corporate crime? And what about those who were born into crime?
I hate how we, society as a whole, have been conditioned to perceive crime as clear cut when it really isn’t at all. The justice and prison systems fail to acknowledge just how complex it is. People are socialised into crime. This is a thing. It’s not an excuse, it is reality. You just have to take one glance at prison stats to know that this is the case. Too much focus, time and energy is spent on ways to deal with criminals, and not enough on how to get people to not commit crimes to begin with. It pains me, like, causes me actual physical pain and angst that here and now, in 2013, this is the case. But as a society we are (and to some degree at least, choose to be) blind to this, and magnify our ignorance instead of addressing the situation, “some people still manage not to commit crimes” yeah well, some people can eat ice cream in the winter and not get sick, doesn’t mean I can.
I hold the belief that it is the role of the state to look after its citizens. Law abiding or not, essentially, we are the responsibility of the sate (to some extent, of course). In some cases, I feel like it is the failure of the state that has led some to commit crimes. Thus, in these cases, prisons would need to be rehabilitative in their nature in that it is the duty of the state to recognise where it has failed… right? But then we are faced with the question of whether or not prisons can be rehabilitative. Personally, I do not think they can. Not totally at least. There certainly needs to be a stepping stone between prison and freedom, and no, low security prisons don’t count.
Then comes the issue of proportionality. “The punishment must fit the crime”, right? How exactly are prison sentences decided? Do we even question this as much as we should? It’s like, it’s just accepted. It seems society is more concerned about Miley Cyrus’ sanity. You genuinely have cases like the above quote, in real life. One quick google search of “unfair prison sentences” and you’ll find innumerable numbers of cases. But no solution? No pushes for reforms? Like, these are people. And their lives. Justice is failing to be served. This in itself is a massive failure to society that so desperately needs to be addressed.
Then we have death penalty. Deterrent? Ha. I can’t see how it serves any purpose apart from vengeance. But vengeance at the cost of life? What?! And then what happens if it turns out that the person was innocent? Do their family get a “whoops, we fucked up, sorry” card? I cannot get my head around how anyone can be in support of the death penalty. I’ve often heard people say stuff like “I’m against the death penalty unless it’s for pedophiles.” I mean… come on. I could talk about this all day but I have TV to watch (I mean, studying to do…).
I love justice in what it means and stands for in its very definition; I hate justice and prison systems for their lack of clear motive and inability to even acknowledge the complex nature of crime.