Punishment and deterrence: don’t expect prisons to reduce crime
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The belief is thoroughly entrenched that prisons fulfil the triple function of punishing offenders, making society safer by removing dangerous individuals, and deterring potential offenders from committing crime. The fact that hundreds of years of evidence suggests that prisons do none of these terribly well has not had any effect on our belief in the utility of this institution. In this article the author suggests that we hold on to these beliefs because they serve the interests of politicians, who can appease their electorate with the clear and simple solution prisons purport to provide; and the private sector, as prisons support their commercial interests in a number of ways. What is needed, the author argues, is deeper discussion and clearer thinking about the value and function of prison.