Term Paper: Crimes in the Prison

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Crimes in Prison

The modern prison system exists for the intended purpose of preventing criminals from continuing to perform evil or destructive acts. The penal system is meant to bring justice by reducing crime, and ideally ending it all together. Those criminals who are a menace to society are to be removed from the population and put into an environment where they cannot continue to do any harm. Then, because the criminals have been removed from society, prison also prevents new crimes from taking place because of two wonderful side effects. For one, because the criminals have been removed from society, these negative influences have been taken out of the lives of impressionable youths and feeble-minded adults who might have otherwise been swayed to join in the wrongdoing ways of the previously free-roaming criminal. Secondly, an example will have been made of this criminal that crime does not pay, and the fear of punishment should be sufficient to prevent others from walking the dark path of the criminal. In the ideal prison system, punishment would be reserved for those who had earned it, and all decisions would be based on the overall best interests of all innocent parties. Ideally, prison would be a way to show criminals the error of their ways while protecting the rights of all parties involved.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal society. The smooth theories behind the structure of the penal system turn out, on closer inspection, to be quite flawed. One must examine the origins of the flaws in order to have hope of improving the system. One may first look at the motivations of the criminals for whom the prisons are built to contain. Every action is taken with the purpose (conscious or subconscious) of either receiving some sort of pleasure or gain, or of avoiding some kind of pain or loss. Crimes which are committed in order to experience pleasure, such as rape, are called Expressive Crimes. Those which are done in order to achieve gain, such as robbery, are known as Instrumental Crimes. (Haag 1994) Both of these types of crime are weighed, in the criminal's mind, against the risks involved -- the so-called cost of crime is the risk of punishment involved. The risks of being caught and sent to prison deter some, but most criminals know that the chances of being caught, convicted, and sentences heavily are actually very low per crime incident, and therefore continue with their illegal ways.

Perhaps it is the arrogance of the criminal-minded that keeps the prison system from being successful in iradicating undesirable behavior from society? Or perhaps it is the failure of the system for not catching enough of the criminals and keeping the price of crime low? Perhaps it is the luxury conditions of prisons which are seen flaunted disapprovingly throughout the media on a regular basis that actually make prison an attractive alternative to bothering with staying legal? Alternately, perhaps the problem is far more disturbing and frightening than any of these suggestions. Perhaps it is not the fault of the incarcerated individual that the vicious crime cycle continues.

The prison system itself may be the root cause of the continued cycle of delinquent behavior and out of control crime rates that plague America, or at least a perpetrator of this condition. The prison system is designed to dehumanize and demoralize the individuals who are within it, whether that be in the role of carrying billy clubs or being behind bars. Corruption is almost inevitable, it seems, based on the vast amounts of research and data collection that exist on this subject. Rather than curbing crime, it is suggested by many people that prisons are actually encouraging it. "Corrections officers and inmates alike have found themselves victimized by a system intent on housing criminals in huge, military style facilities, where incidents of rape, assault and battery, intimidation, and abuse of the mentally ill have become accepted daily occurrences." (Foley 2000) Theoretically, the prison system as it currently stands will never succeed in iradicating crime on the outside of the prison walls because it fosters crimes to continue within them.

In the prison system, according to many reports, inmates are trained to be criminals, not to become model citizens. Criminals are thrown into the penal system with the hope that time away from society will reform them, or at least keep them out of trouble. The reality is far from fulfilling this hope, however, and may be doing quite the opposite. The prison system appears to be training criminals and encouraging criminal behavior while in prison, as well as once released into society. Relatively minor offenses will get even the first-time offender sent into a hostile environment with hardened, serious criminals. Additionally, the dehumanizing way in which prisoners are treated by prison employees becomes a form of conditioning that encourages criminal-like responses and behavior patterns among those who might otherwise have learned from their mistakes and not returned to any sort of undesirable behavior. It is difficult to be the "model prisoner" many members of the population hope to create by sending delinquents into the prison system when all odds are stacked against the survival of a morally pure survival.

One concerned report of the California penal system reads, "We have thousands and thousands of prisoners who should be socializing, working jobs, going to school, and being rehabilitated. Instead, these people are spending months in isolation, and violence has been accepted as the common fare." (Foley 2000) the prison system is not taking steps to rehabilitate prisoners, only to punish them. Some would say this is quite fair, that once a person has committed a crime he has waived his right to be hand-fed assistance in the areas he falls short on his own, such as moral reformation. However, the system is not simply failing to provide rehabilitative services. The blame here is not due to simple inaction. Instead, action is specifically taken that corrupts prisoners. "Beating, raping, intimidating, enslaving and infantilizing people produces not caring, non-violent people, but angry, hostile, often violence-prone ones." (Brigade, 1990) This is the reality for inmates in the prison system

One of the first ways in which the corruption and failings of the penal system as a whole can be observed is through the crimes committed by inmates while serving time behind bars. Far from providing a crime-free zone where inmates can recover from the exposure to drugs, violence, and crime on the street, exposure to crimes within prison walls is a long-lived historical tradition, and in the direction the correctional system is headed, there is no sign of ending this tradition. Looking back to the nineteenth century prison system, one can see that problems among inmates that are rampant today are, in general, not new issues. "Charlestown prisoners labored assiduously at tasks of their own devising, tasks which, though illegitimate, nonetheless required both labor and skill. Such tasks often carried more attractive material incentives than the ones imposed in the prison workshops. They included the practice of purely criminal trades, similar to those for which they had been imprisoned, as well as legitimate trades, in some cases the very same trades they were meant to practice in the workshops, but done clandestinely and for their own private gain." (Goldsmith 1997) However, even in these early reports it can be seen that perhaps the prison system is being unfair in many ways to the prisoners. The "crimes" which the prisoners are accused of committing while imprisoned include activities that may be better described as altruistic than immoral. Shared self-teaching and education was rampant among the prisoners. Some of the reported education was in illegal trades, such as "counterfeiting bills and coin; teaching the art of picking pockets, and actually picking the pockets of strangers; preparing false keys and other instruments for breaking houses and stores." (Goldsmith 1997) Even these crimes may not have been unjustified, though, as the victims of these inmates were generally tourists who paid a fee to gawk at the menagerie behind bars. Punishment for committing crimes while in prison included loss of food rations, solitary confinement, bondage, and the use of a clog and chain. Yet, looking again at the crimes being committed by the inmates, one has to wonder what the underlying cause of the misbehavior might be. Food, blankets, shoes, clothing and other contraband items (which are necessary to fulfill one's most basic needs) were taken for personal use or distribution among other prisoners. Further evidence that the prisoners themselves cannot be historically blamed completely for such behavior behind bars is the well-known assistance of prison employees in criminal affairs within the prison. "In the acquisition of liquor more than any other activity, prisoners were aided by alliances with lower-ranking prison staff, and outsiders, particularly delivery men, whose business brought them into the prison....More serious, and more numerous, were the cases in which prison officers themselves supplied the prisoners with liquor." (Goldsmith 1997) Although these historical reports… [END OF PREVIEW]

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