Why Prison Doesn’t Work

Executive summary

This paper argues out the case of the workability of prisons. Research findings reveal that there exist two distinct types of prisoners based on their individual personalities and age. The two types of prisoners: lifelong persistent prisoners and the adolescent-limited prisoners differ when it comes to their degree and likelyhood of commiting repetitive crime. However, , the prison system subjects both types of prisoners to the same treatment thus proving detrimental to the chances of one of the types of prisoners ever becoming successfully rehabilitated and integrated back into the society. The society’s defination of working prison appears to be inaccurate and obsolete thus leading to the writer’s conclusion that prisons do not “work”.

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There is often the saying that “prison works”. However, less of what constitutes the “working” of prison is discussed comprehensively. Conventionally, prisons are been perceived or established to serve several functions including the protection of the public, prisoner punishment and rehabilitation of the offender in the efforts of preventing them from committing other crimes. However, when scrutinized, the provided reasons appear to be of secondary importance or significance to society’s needs. The community must feel something is happening in the prisons to ensure the maintainance of law and order and practice of justice with nearly absolute disregard for the individuals finding themselves shut out of the society without any hope for redemption (Craig, 2011).

One of the main functions of the prison, which is to accord punishment to the prisoners, appears as being least forceful. The dubious civility of a society is set aside in the quest for revenge upon the society’s citizenry that sees it spend £30,000 each year on locking people in prisoner which when evaluated keenly becomes hard to tell whether the prisons are hurting the prisoners or the society (Espejo, 2012). Rehabilitation appears to be an overly more fruitful objective, yet it is chronically underfunded and ends up becoming insignificant and useless eventually in the prison system that is often described as the “University of Crime”. The term describes a situation whereby incoming offenders get to acquire new skills and tactics of crime from veteran criminals and prisoners and eventually end up escalating their offences once they are released from the prisons (Kanazawa, 2008). This leaves public protection as being the only remaining reason for the existence of prisons. While the imprisonment of criminals and individuals who threaten the safety of others is justifiable, it ought to be carried out with serious considerations of the prisoner’s human rights. This brings the question of whether the imprisonment of most prisoners is justifiable and whether the society ultimately benefits from locking them up.

Terrie Moffett, a psychologist, made a publication in 1993 in the Psychological Review arguing of the existence of two primary types of prisoners, which are the lifelong persistent prisoner, and the adolescent-limited prisoners (Espejo, 2012). Terrie describes the adolescent-limited prisoners as being primarily young men who commit a crime either by virtual of being gang affiliated, for fun it, to support themselves or for other reasons (Espejo, 2012). These kind of prisoners eventually get to a time where they mature and reform thus giving up on their criminal lifestyle (Espejo, 2012). The latter type of prisoners described as lifelong-persistent prisoners is characterised of individuals who are accustomed to casually committing crimes and moving through the criminal justice system often creating a perpetual cycle of committing the crime. As Espejo, (2012) asserts their cycle starts by being arrested-being convicted- being incarcerated- being releases- committing a crime. These type of prisoners rarely break out of the perpetual cycle. Various reasons exist for the incarceration of two kinds of prisoners. These factors include drug addiction, poor education, racism and mental health challenges most of which are rarely if at all, accorded the attention they command (Espejo, 2012).

The prison sentences that both types of prisoners are accorded in no way prevent them from committing more crime or give them a chance to reform. The adolescent-limited prisoners are more often than not young and inconsiderate of the consequences of their actions thus end up finding themselves as being placed at a permanent point of disadvantage for the best parts of their lives (Espejo, 2012). Once they are released from prison they tend to end up struggling to secure themselves meaningful jobs, acquire decent housings and successful integration into the society. For them, it only proves easier to embark on committing more crime to support self. Although some of the prisoners end up settling down, finding councils and employment thus obtaining second chances in life, their potential is already highly compromised by their prison sentences.  The prison sentences occur as a real hindrance to their life’s progress and as an additional marker to their Curriculum Vitae (Fletcher, 2010). Similarly, lifelong-persistent prisoners are also failed by society. Effectively addressing the issues of individuals recurringly joining prisons and correctional facilities requires effective mental-health treatments, drug and medical treatment programs, motivation and counselling, adult training and education and even housing programmes.  However, regarding the list, nothing much is effectively achievable in prison life.

The rhetoric nameplates of most countries consider the proposal of scrapping prisons as a mere form of “pampering criminals” (Fletcher, 2010). They are overly keen on administering punishments upon the people disapproved by society.  The truth is that if by the term “working” when it comes to prisons means reducing the number of crime rates, then the crime that is reduced is the one that the imprisoned individual is likely to have committed in the time that he or she finds himself or herself in jail. As earlier mentioned, the rate of recidivism for individuals re-entering prisons more than twice stands at nearly 72%; this only strongly indicates that prison is not “working” (Smart-justice, 2014). However, most advocators for prisons careless of the fact that they are interested in the pursuit of for justice as opposed to the actual reduction of crime rates and the reforming of criminals. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were in prison for ten years – while Jon Venables is successfully rehabilitated and on the course of building a changed life, Robert Thompson is back into prison having broken his parole (Fletcher, 2010). The press is keen on seeing both of them end up in prison regardless of the cost incurred by the taxpayer and regardless of their existing circumstances. Being as it may that the society also rallies in support with the press, is it to deduce that the community cares of the workability of prisons?


At the end, how society treats the prisoners only reflects on its humanity. As Dostoevsky asserts, “The extent of society’s civilization can only be evaluated or measured by the entrance into prisons.” Dostoevsky proceeds to state that a thriving and functional society is marked with the safety and security of its citizens from people who threaten or do harm them. Murderers, thieves, rapists, robbers and anti-social individuals all who cause individuals and communities harm ought to be dealt with.

There is a dire need for the implementation of evidence-based solutions to address the issue of crimes. The questions as to whether the prison system is effective at addressing the issue of crimes or dealing with matters of social breakdown, racism, poverty, senses of insecurity, patriarchy, drug abuse, entitlement or resentment only remain to be answered. Perhaps the society’s idea of “working” prison their sense of satisfaction of the action of incarceration and not the creation of an increasingly secure and safer society that effectively leads the rehabilitation of citizens who find themselves breaking the law. The society’s definition of “working” prison, therefore, is inappropriate and as such, it is inappropriate to conclude that the prison systems work.



Craig, Emile, (2011). “Flaws In Penal System”. The Prison Journal, vol 15, no. 3-4, 2014, pp. 178-178. SAGE Publications. doi:10.1177/00328855305.

Espejo, Roman. America’s Prisons. Greenhaven Press, 2012.

Fletcher, Del Roy, (2010). “How Do We Make Prisons Places Of Work And Learning?”. People, Place & Policy Online, vol 4, no. 2, pp. 62-68. Sheffield Hallam University, doi:10.3351/ppp.0004.0002.0003.

Kanazawa, Satishi, (2008).“When crime rates go down, recidivism rates go up”, Psychology Today. Accessed 4th May, 2019.

Smart-Justice, (2014). “The Racial Justice Gap: Race and the Prison Population Briefing”, pg 2.