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?