Here's Our Real Prison Problem

Nobody knows what jails are supposed to do
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2010 3:27 PM CDT
Here's Our Real Prison Problem
The aims of prison are contradictory and not well-articulated, Andrew Price writes on Good.   (Shutterstock)

America is incarcerating more people than ever, and more states are turning to private prisons to lock them up. Trying to figure out whether these private facilities are worth it raises a more fundamental question for Andrew Price: "What is the service that prisons are supposed to deliver?" he wonders at Good. Is it merely incarceration to keep offenders away from the public, or is it more about rehabilitation, or is it pure punishment?

"Most people probably have a vague mix of ideas swimming in their head about what prisons should deliver," Price writes, and those ideas are often contradictory. "The result is that as a society we have no clear mandate for our prisons: we expect next to nothing, and they deliver." This "total lack of clarity ... combined with the twisted economic incentives of guards' unions and the opportunistic fearmongering of politicians, has created a system of punishment that's totally divorced from the public interest. It's a problem for public and private prisons alike." (More prison stories.)

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