The Next Step in Criminal Justice: The End of Prisons

It’s time to end the prison system. “Finland imprisons the smallest fraction of its population of any European country (52 prisoners per 100,000 people, compared with 702 in the United States). Yet its crime rate, far from exploding, has remained at a low level.” See Decarcerate?, Jim Holt, The New York Times Magazine, August 15, 2004, The “decarceration” movement, also known as the modern “abolitionist” movement, focuses on the science of crime and punishment to conclude that prisons don’t serve any rational function. They don’t reduce crime, deter crime, rehabilitate in any unique way, nor serve the interests of justice when avenging victims. They cost us huge sums of money, create an antagonistic society, harden criminals, and increase crime. This is generally known yet ignored.

Prisons were started only a few hundred years ago in an effort to more humanely deal with crime than torture and execution, which was the routine prior method. Statistics and science prove that low crime rates are the product of a fair and humane society that focuses on education, therapy, and a realistic understanding of the fact that we’re all wrong-doers on some level and at some time or another. (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter is a fantastic reminder of the alluring hypocrisy of punishment.)

This is one reason why we cower away from ending prisons though we understand that they don’t work. The other is a fear of taking the next step.

It’s time to move to the next phase of the discussion: moving beyond prisons. Finland is successfully leading the way. We must pay attention.


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