The Big Debate … How harsh is too harsh?

Letters from prisoners, Stateville Speaks submissions, prison reform laws, articles on prison conditions, …  The list of sources for debates about prison conditions and our justice system are endless.  And while I’ve enjoyed learning about these situations so far this semester, I can’t help but recognize a conflict within myself.

I have not personally dealt with prisons or the justice system very much.  The closest I’ve come to facing a night…or more… in prison are through others I know, which is enough for me!  But as I read these letters and articles and grow sad at the desperate pleas of those incarcerated, I can’t help but remind myself that almost all of them essentially asked to be there.  By saying this, I obviously don’t mean that they went to law enforcement and convinced them to send them to prison, but aside from the few innocent and those forced into crime, each and every person did something horrible that hurt others in the world.  We all know that prisoners must be held accountable in some way, but the ultimate question I keep facing is how much is necessary…and how much is too much?

While I wouldn’t wish harsh prison conditions on people I despise the most, I almost don’t feel bad for some of the criminals who knew well what they were doing to be put in there.  Prisons essentially have some element of rehabilitation, but isn’t punishment also a goal…if not, why do we take them out of society in the first place?  I’d love to hear other thoughts…has anyone else experience this conflict and what are your thoughts about how much is too much?


One Response

  1. Alright, well first I would like to say that I’m not 100% sure that as you state, “I can’t help but remind myself that almost all of them essentially asked to be there.” In many cases a majority of the people who go to prison come from places where poverty is prevalent and joining a gang is simply part of ones life because if’s just natural to be part of a gang. Or if you’re not part of a gang, you are working for them, selling drugs or doing other illegal activities just to make a living. In some parts of the city gangs run the entire area, and pervade in every facet of ones life. I have a lot of compassion for anyone who has to deal with this type of lifestyle.
    But with that said, committing a crime does deserve punishment. Although I will say that I do not believe in extremely harsh punishments, I mean isn’t it bad enough that one is locked away from society and has to deal with the prison system in general? I think that the prison system should be more about rehabilitation. The biggest mistake that the Illinois prison system made was back in 1978 when they got rid of a majority of their rehabilitation programs. There is no way for a prisoner to change his or her lifestyle if they are not educated on ways to turn their lives around, in other words a different way to lead life without crime. Whether this be through education or addiction classes. Simply punishing a prisoner only toughens their outlook on life, so when and if they are released they go right back to a life of crime.
    With that said I highly recommend reading Monster: Autobiography of an L.A. Gang member by Sanyika Shakur, it is an amazing book. Goes through his life in the gang starting at 11 years old, it gets pretty crazy at some parts, but definitely recommend it.

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