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Punishment (a Judicial Issue)


Introduction

Throughout the ages, people have been punished for doing some wrong against someone, society or the government. For the earliest hunters and gatherers, there were probably only a few types of crimes and only a few types of punishments. The basic crimes might have been murdering someone in your group, steeling food or tools from another member of the group, and not doing your fair share of the work. The corresponding punishments might have been putting the murderer to death, taking food or tools from the thief, and banishing the freeloader from the group.

As society became more complex and groups grew into larger communities where people did not personally know everyone, more laws were needed to govern how people interacted. The list of crimes grew to include more types of theft, fraud, larceny, smuggling, destruction of property, and a long list of social crimes like gambling, prostitution and adultery. With more types of crimes, society added more types of punishments. Criminal acts became punishable by such things as stoning, whipping, being put on the rack, in blocks or in prison, being sold into slavery, and having body parts lopped off.

With advances in government, technology and globalization, the number of laws has ballooned. Although, I do not have a precise number, it is likely that between the local, state and federal governments there are tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of laws governing the actions of people, business and the government. With the advent of democracy and more humane treatment of criminals, the list of punishments has shifted more towards fines, community service, prison time, probation and some creative sentencing.

Prisons

Prisons are talked about in terms of having criminals repay their debt to society, and either reforming or punishing criminals. In general, none of this is an apt description of what happens. It takes money to keep prisoners locked up, so instead of repaying their debt to society, prisoners increase their debt. It is estimated that well over half of the people released from prison return to a life of crime, with many ending up back in prison. Although prison inmates often suffer violence from fellow inmates, they do get three square meals a day, medical care, and a wide range of activities to enjoy. In addition, the United States of America has one of the highest incarceration rates of any country in the world. All of this points to a need for change.

The current prison environment is a breeding ground for violence and crime. To survive, prison inmates must learn to defend themselves against violence, to lie, to steal, to make shivs, and to smuggle contraband. This usually means joining some prison gang where they may need to prove themselves by committing violent acts against members of rival prison gangs. In addition, fellow inmates are a vast store house of criminal knowledge from which an inmate can learn how to become a better criminal.

What we need to do is to alter the prison environment and inmate dynamics so that inmates will learn to act in more socially acceptable ways and to do more to repay their debts to society. To do this, we must make prison life seem more like a stripped down and restrictive version of an ideal outside world. In this way, inmates will learn how to make it on the outside without returning to crime and not learn how to survive in a violent gang controlled world.

A new prisoner would be issued a picture ID card that would serve as a debit card, which starts out with a zero balance. Then he or she would be assigned quarters, would go through orientation, and would be signed up for career and social counseling, and job training. At first, the prisoner would get only the basic necessities like room, board, clothing, counseling, and emergency medical care. Additional items like recreational activities, TV, exercise time, snacks, cigarettes, health care, and a larger or more private cell would all need to be purchased with money earned at a prison job.

Prisoner security and safety would be a high priority, so that prisoners would learn to exist without violence and be less likely to use violence when they get out. Therefore, prison inmate movement would be tightly controlled to limit interaction with other inmates, which would be strictly limited so that only small numbers of inmates would ever be together at any given time. This would be done by splitting all work, meals, and other activities into shifts and splitting the inmates in each shift into even smaller groups.

All common areas would be under video surveillance, so that any problems could be easily investigated and resolved. Inmates with known or reported problems could be split into different shifts. In addition, any inmate who resorts to violence would be required to attend counseling. A side benefit to limiting inmate interaction would be that inmates would have less time to learn more about being a criminal from fellow inmates.

Career counseling and job training would be used to help prisoners find an appropriate prison job, so that they will be able to learn marketable skills that they can use when they get out of prison. Inmates would be required to work an appropriate number of hours per week doing things that translate into real jobs on the outside. Each job would pay an appropriate amount based on what it would earn on the outside and how well the prisoner performed the job. Performance reviews would be used to give feedback to the inmate and to determine raises and promotions.

The earnings from these prison jobs would go into the inmates’ prison accounts from which amounts would be deducted for room and board, and any victim remuneration. Inmates could save part of their remaining balances for transitioning back into society and the rest they could use to buy discretionary items. In this way, prison inmates would learn job skills, work ethics, and money management.

Halfway Houses

Instead of dumping inmates directly back into society at the end of their sentences or when they are released on probation, they should all go through an interim period at a halfway house. There, they would use money saved from their prison jobs to pay for room, board, clothing, job hunting and other things to get them back into society.

In the halfway houses, they would need to check in at regular times and get approval to leave for shopping trips, job interviews, work and other permitted activities. To help with the return to work and society, the halfway houses would help with job placement and apartment searches. Once an ex-inmate has found a job and made it through an initial probation period, he or she would be able to move out of the halfway house and to return fully to society.

In addition to being used for ex-prison inmates returning to society, these halfway houses should be available to other individuals who need help. It would be better to give people the opportunity to get their acts together before they have to resort to crime then after.

Death Penalty

The death penalty stirs strong emotions on both side of the issue. There are people who believe that killing is a cruel and unusual punishment even for a murderer. Other people believe that the death penalty is a needed deterrent or that taking the murder’s life gives justice to the victim and to the victim’s friends and family.

Many people consider how a society uses the death penalty as a reflection on the character of the society, but it should be a reflection on the character of the murderer. Civilized people should abhor the killing of anyone except when truly necessary, but we must also respect the rights of people to live and to die based on their chosen lifestyle. In the case of premeditated murderers, they had decided that it was their right to kill someone. Therefore, if we are really going to respect their lifestyle choice, we have no choice but to impose the death penalty. The same should apply to those murderers whose acts were not premeditated, but who do not renounce and show remorse for what they did.

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Religious Issues - Introduction to the Religious Issues affecting Our Future Path.

Last Updated:
Sunday, November 26, 2017
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