The concept of prisons

The concept of prisons as a form of punishment is, in the large scale, a fairly recent phenomena. This is due to the fact that in medieval Europe the function of prisons was merely for custodial purposes, only holding offenders until they could be disposed of either through execution, banishment, mutilation or any number of unsavoury medieval punishments. However, with the advancement of society and humanitarianism, barbaric forms of punishment were disposed of and replaced with more socially acceptable forms of dealing with offenders.

Prison is now perceived as the normal response to a wide range of behaviour considered to be anti-social or criminal. Irrespective of the value of alternatives its extensive use provides us with considerable information with which to evaluate and highlight significant internal problems within prisons, some of which include overcrowding and interrelated drug abuse, and may also offer various alternatives to prison. Before the aspects of prisons are put under scrutiny it is important to briefly indicate the aims of sentencing and imprisonment.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

A sentence can be aimed at a number of different aspects including the rehabilitation of an offender, the punishment of an offender or simply acting as a deterrent. Sentencing can also be aimed at marking the seriousness of the offence. The justification of sentencing can be to reduce levels of crime, prevent private vengeance or mark unacceptable behaviour. A sentence therefore incurs a form of punishment. Hart (1968) provides the following definition of punishment. Punishment; i. Must involve pain or other consequences normally considered unpleasant. ii.

It must be for an offence against legal rules. iii. It must be of an actual or supposed offender for his offence. iv. It must be intentionally administered by human beings other than the offender. v. It must be imposed and administered by an authority constituted by a legal system against which the offence is committed. When a punishment is administered it is aimed at achieving one or more sentencing aims, which include retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation, deterrence, denunciation and restitution. ” The first objective for all sentences is the denunciation of and the retribution for the crime.

Depending on the offence and the offender, the sentence may also aim to achieve public protection, reparation and reform of the offender, preferably in the community. This approach points to sentencing policies which are more firmly based on the seriousness of the offence. ” (Home Office 1990a: 6) The above quote seems to be leaning towards the justice model of punishment. There is no one single and comprehensive formulation of the justice model, however, its development was mainly attributed to a number of publications by American academics including Davies (1969), Fogel (1975), Frankel (1973) and Hirsch (1976).

The justice model promotes the argument that sentencing should be fair and not aimed at achieving anything other than punishing offenders in proportion to the crime they have committed. This approach is, therefore, incompatible with rehabilitation as a primary goal of punishment. The justice model is often linked to and is not logically incompatible with retributive theories. However, the justice model places emphasis on fairness, while retribution is often popularly distorted to support demands for vengeance and harsher sentences.

Thus, while the justice model stresses a need for punishment, the punishment is directly proportionate to the seriousness of the committed offence, as Hirsch (1976) described it, vengeance with fairness. This is one approach suggesting how offenders should be treated when imprisoned. Devon (1912), however, discovered that in general the public were not interested in prison conditions but were simply satisfied with the fact that convicted criminals were being punished and justice was being done.

However, Devon (1912) suggested, and somewhat before his time, that society should realise the importance of how criminals are treated in prison, he likened its importance to that of curing diseases in that if no attempts are made to rehabilitate offenders during their period of incarceration, then on their release they will continue with their criminal lifestyle if not becoming even worse than when they were initially convicted. In the preliminary years when imprisonment was sanctioned as the ultimate punishment there was a notion of lesser eligibility.

This is the concept that the conditions in prisons must be worse than the worst conditions in society. This was perhaps motivated by parsimony in relation to the criminal detainee and by a desire not to throw away good money by paying for facilities for societies delinquents. In October 1993, in a speech to the Conservative Party, the Home Secretary, Michael Howard. Stated, “Let us be clear. Prison works. It ensures that we are protected from murderers, muggers and rapists- and it makes many who are tempted to commit crime think twice” (for ref see Davis et al, 2005).

In general terms prisons have been considered as an institute for punishment, the punishment being loss of liberty. Prisons are also seen as a potential deterrent for the general public and they incapacitate dangerous and persistent offenders for the period of time in which they are incarcerated. However, in light of recent statistics it would indicate that prisons do not reduce levels of crime but rather incur recidivism. Thus, one could conclude that prisons offer an ineffective deterrent to criminal behaviour.

Many have argued that prisons are characterised as schools of crime. Moreover, prisons, by removing prisoners from the stabilising effects of family contact, reduce the chances of prisoners developing a stabilised personality and thus eradicate rehabilitating prospects. There is an attitude of centralisation and uniformity of both routine and treatment in all prisons, the beneficial properties of this homogeneity are questionable, a system that discourages independent thought is not likely to lead to rapid progress in rehabilitation but rather prevent it.

Beccaria (1963) reinforces this point, the main thrust of his argument being that to prohibit human behaviour unnecessarily was to increase rather than decrease crime. Galsworthy (1910) and Shaw (1922) agreed with Beccaria and both abhorred solitary confinement. Furthermore Beccaria (1963) believed firmly that the aim of every good system of legislation was the prevention of crime, he reasoned that it was more desirable to prevent crimes rather than to punish those who commit them. This would suggest a rehabilitative approach to prison.

Buxton highlights this point by indicating that, “Punishments are inflicted, that crime may be prevented, and crime is prevented by the reformation of the criminal” (Buxton, 1818) The previous aim to make prison life so unpleasant that offenders would be discouraged from re-offending is clearly inadequate. Thus for practical and humanitarian reasons increased emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders is coming to the fore. Reform within began with Paterson’s (1927) appointment to the Prison Commission. He began work on the Borstal system and started the open Borstal camp.

Paterson (1927) applied his new ideas and a new minimum-security prison was introduced. Paterson (1927) shared the beliefs of Beccaria and held that the best way to imprisonment was to try and turnout the prisoner a better citizen than when they were convicted. Traditionally rehabilitation has been considered to be one of the main purposes of imprisonment. It has, however, often been assumed that incarceration itself could be rehabilitative. Isolation, relieved only by labour and prayer, proved to have disastrous consequences for the inmates of early nineteenth-century penitentiaries.

By using rehabilitation to describe the aim of imprisonment deviates one from the truth behind prisons, being that in reality imprisonment surpasses human deterioration and actually increases the ranks of criminals instead of reforming them. This distortion contributed to the crisis of rehabilitative policies in the 1970’s. A humanist notion of rehabilitation would be to reduce, if not abolish, any punitive effects of imprisonment. Rehabilitation must be carefully distinguished from specific deterrence, the technical term for the intimidating effect of punishment on convicted individuals.

At one point both concepts may have been blurred together, that is in historical notions of reformative punishment its apparent salutary effects were hardly distinguishable from its intimidative/deterrent value. A modern approach to rehabilitation, dissociated from the goals of punishment, extends beyond what a behavioural psychologist would call negative reinforcement (imprisonment acting as a deterrent from criminal behaviour). Rehabilitation now encompasses a broad spectrum of constructive interventions, positive human services and opportunities that are believed to reduce offender’s involvement in criminal activity.

Its relationship with imprisonment is only to counteract the latter’s harmful effects of finding ways to avoid it altogether. It could be argued that in some exceptional cases prison may actually act as a respite from inmate’s involvement in crime. Interrupting a criminal career has, however, little benefit without the creation of purposeful rehabilitative environments. Therefore rehabilitation now strives, not only, to transform the desocialising prison environment, but also to replace institutional confinement with non-custodial alternatives as far as possible.

Barlinnie prison marked a break through in rehabilitative practices within prison. They transformed a wing of the prison to resemble a student residency. The most violent offenders were placed in this wing. With daily discussion on how to run there wing ect. The prisoners rehabilitated themselves. Paterson (1927) indicates, however, that neither prisons nor staff were shaped to initiate these ideas, “If the institution is to train lads for freedom, it cannot train them in an atmosphere of captivity or repression”.

Paterson (1927) stressed that the average prison was built to accommodate 5,000 or more offenders, thus it would be impossible for staff to know them all and would therefore not be able to rehabilitate them. He therefore put forth the argument that if any move towards rehabilitation was to be made it was to reduce inmate size to a maximum of 500. This brings us onto the concept of prison overcrowding. Studies into the effects of overcrowding on inmates have also meant defining overcrowding and describing what the basic effects of overcrowding can be on humans.

Crowding research has concentrated mainly on the spatial density and the social density of crowding. Spatial density is defined as the amount of space (number of square feet) available per person in a particular housing unit. Social density is defined as the number of individuals sharing a housing unit and is considered the factor which contributes most to the adverse effects of crowding (Toch, 1977). However, it has been suggested that density alone does not explain the total effects of crowding.

Smith (1982) found other factors that might lesson or heighten the impact of density, such as personal control and the physical environment itself. Crowding is only indirectly related to mere numbers or density of people. It is possible to feel crowded in the presence of few people, or alternatively not feel crowded in the presence of many people. Toch (1977) indicates the significant element appears to be frustration in the achievement of some purposes because of the presence of others. The prison environment is characterised by factors which can have adverse effects on individual inmates.

In the prison setting, crowding is inevitable, individuals prone to anti-social behaviour are gathered together, there is an absence of personal control and idleness and boredom can be prevalent. Research has indicated that overcrowding has three major effects on the average prison inmate. Firstly, resources become limited, the same amount of supplies and the same amount of space has to be stretched even further than normal. The opportunities for inmates to participate in self-improvement and rehabilitative programs, such as academic, employment and vocational training are curtailed.

The lack of work and work opportunities lead to inmate idleness, through this idleness discontent and disruptive behaviour becomes more frequent (Cox et al, 1984). Johnson (1991) further indicates that the frustration or unpleasantness of being limited or denied basic resources coupled with the competition and conflict over these scarce resources often lead to aggression and violence. The second effect of overcrowding is linked intrinsically with the first effect and the individual’s behaviour. Overcrowding creates stress and this, in onjunction with other factors in a prison setting, can heighten the adverse effects of prison crowding. Idleness, fear, the inability to maintain personal identity, or to turn off unwanted interaction and stimuli, such as noise, all add to the stress of overcrowding. The adjustment for inmates to cope with excessive levels of stress varies; it could be withdrawal, aggression or depression. Inmates often elect drug abuse as a suitable and easy way to deal with these heightened levels of stress (this will be expanded upon later).

The impact on social relations and interaction has been considered one of the most important effects of prison overcrowding. Findings have indicated that in crowded situations there is heightened aggression and competition for resources, less cooperation and more social withdrawal. Social withdrawal in response to overcrowding manifests itself in various ways, this may take the form of adopting a defensive or guarded attitude, this, by its nature, decreases the quality of social interaction and therefore rehabilitation.

Johnson (1991) also highlighted that conversations in crowded settings tend to be less personal or self-relevant, even among well-acquainted people. The third effect involves a combination of the penal system’s inability to meet the increased demand for more space and the resulting harm to individual inmates. Cox et al (1984) noted that in an attempt to cope with limited space there has been a tendency to misclassify offenders, offenders would be classified on the basis of available space rather than by the offence they had committed or the programs that would be most suitable to that offender.

If the assignment of inmates is carried out solely on the basis of available space inmates are being manipulated to meet the requirements of the penal system rather than the environment and programs being modified to meet the requirements of the inmates. This hinders progress of the offenders, especially with respect to rehabilitation. Clements (1982) also indicated that through misclassification inmates may be labelled in a manner that further hinders their rehabilitative progress. The problem of overcrowding in Scottish prisons is clearly evident, particularly in Aberdeen Prison.

It was noted, in the prison’s annual report of 2004, that “Last year’s high has become this year’s average” (Scottish Executive, 2004). The prison’s average population for reporting year 2003-04 was 221, with a peak of 251, thus the average for the reporting year was 224, these figures are astonishing as the prison is designed to accommodate 154 prisoners (Scottish Executive, 2004). Aberdeen prison is contracted by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to hold 230 prisoners, therefore, it is contracted for 49% overcrowding (Scottish Executive, 2004).

As a consequence of this huge overcrowding problem hardly any prisoner has a single cell accommodation, prisoners serving two years or more are sharing a cell designed for one prisoner “with scarcely enough room to move about” (Scottish Executive, 2004). With this mass overcrowding not only will the problems outlined above be evident but also “The impossibility of even the best members of staff having time to deal properly with the needs of individual prisoners; the impossibility of the best safety assessments being carried out on those prisoners who might harm themselves; the impossibility of providing enough useful work, r programmes to address offending behaviour, or education to meet the needs of these very high prison numbers: it is not that these things are difficult: they are impossible” (Scottish Executive, 2004). This extent of overcrowding greatly reduces the chances of rehabilitation. Aberdeen, like most prisons, holds different categories of prisoners. The most interesting is the number of and living conditions of the prisoners on remand.

These prisoners are held in Hall A amounting to 154 of the prisons population (Scottish Executive, 2004) they have very little access to facilities or activities and thus spend the majority of their time locked in their cells. Conditions for protection prisoners is also of a poor standard, who will spend only one or two hours out of their cells per day. It is widely known that a high proportion of prisoners abuse drugs when in custody and although the majority of prisons provide drug treatment programs, severe overcrowding can undermine these attempts to rehabilitate drug users.

This is particularly true for the above mentioned prisoners who are on remand, and in such overcrowded conditions can actually increase the demand for drugs by prisoners who a struggling to cope with boredom and inactivity. Thus drug abuse becomes another by-product of the problem of overcrowding. It was also indicated that in Aberdeen drug misuse has risen significantly in the community in recent years, which in turn has contributed to the overcrowding of Aberdeen prison due to an increase in local crime as a result of the increase in drug abuse.