By Scott Hughes
Millions of people in the world currently rot in jails or prisons. People think of jails and prisons as an essential part of society, but do we really need them? Do prisons really protect people from violence and victimization, or do prisons just make matters worse? Let’s look at the different types of criminals that governments throw in prison.
Non-violent non-victimizers – Governments have a tendency to criminalize behaviors that do not hurt anyone. The governments create victimless crimes by creating authoritarian laws. When people break these laws, they have not hurt anyone in any major way. These laws can include any laws outlawing victimless behaviors, such as drug possession, prostitution, peacefully practicing a religion, and so on and so forth. For example, the United States currently has over 1 million people behind bars for victimless crimes, which only limits freedom and does not protect others. Instead of putting these non-violent people in jail or prison, we can just let them go and legalize all victimless behaviors. It makes more sense to let people have freedom than to waste resources enforcing authoritarian laws.
Incidental Criminals – Some people may commit an illegal act of violence or victimization due to external conditions. We can refer to these people as incidental criminals. These ‘incidental criminals’ do not have any more of a tendency to hurt others than the average person. For example, consider someone who has to steal to feed his family one day. Almost anyone would do that, so it does not mean we need to throw the person in jail or prison. If we can change the conditions that cause a normal person to a commit a crime, then we can do that rather than brutally lock a person in a cell. We have no need to throw a person in jail or prison if they pose no more danger than the average person but committed a one-time crime due to external circumstances.
Mentally Sick People – Finally, we have sick people. These people have some sort of mental defect that makes them a danger to other people. If we do not restrain these people, they will victimize other people. So we must restrain them. But why put them in jail or prison? They need treatment, and prison will not cure them; it will just torture them. If we put them in jail or prison, then we can never let them out because jail or prison will not cure them. If we put them into a treatment facility, then we may successfully treat or cure some of them, at which point we can safely release those ones back into society. We will protect more people by putting mentally sick people into treatment centers (including insane asylums), then by throwing them in jail or prison. These people need professional care in a medical establishment, not the punishment of prison.
I think most people feel like me in that I would prefer to protect people and to do it in as least brutal a way as possible. I have no interest in using the force of government to pointlessly get vengeance or inflict punishment using prisons. Thus, I see no need for prisons. We can release people who have no psychological defect that makes them dangerous, and we can put the ones with psychological defects in treatment. Let’s base our policies on sympathy, understanding, and a desire to protect people. Let’s not base policy on a wasteful indulgence in state-sanctioned vengeance.
Scott Hughes manages the [http://onlinephilosophyclub.com/forums/]Philosophy Forums, which contain a [http://onlinephilosophyclub.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=5 ]Philosophy of Politics Forum. You can use the forums to discuss topics such as this and more.
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