Often in films and TV programmes all the emphasis is on police investigations (will they be able to find who committed the crime or enough evidence to charge someone) or the court case (will the defendant be found guilty or innocent). What often gets missed (maybe it’s too boring?) is what the guilty person is sentenced with: a custodial or non-custodial sentence.
In GCSE Religious Studies we look at the pros of custodial sentences:
- Prison is an immediate, easily understood punishment. Following the sentence, the convicted criminal is immediately escorted out of the courtroom, placed in the prison van and to be taken behind the high walls of the prison. No other sentence is seen to have this immediacy.
- Prison is the only way of ensuring that criminals are taken out of circulation. Alternatives to prison, by their very nature, are riskier.
- Prison is a deeply unpleasant place. Being in prison is a badge of shame, and society needs to feel that those who break the rules have been shamed.
- Prison is the most serious punishment that society can inflict and is therefore often seen as a kind of barometer of how seriously society – and the government – takes crime.
- Prison deters others from committing a similar crime
As well as the cons:
- Prison costs, according to the latest estimates, £37,500 per year to lock someone in prison. (Or £42,000 for a young offender). Costs of community sentences vary, but the most frequently used orders cost between £2,000 and £4,000. The basic fact is that prison is about twelve times more expensive than a community sentence.
- Alternatives can require offenders to pay back for their crimes through reparation and community service and help them learn better ways to live. They can be challenging and don’t confirm anti-social behaviour the way prison does
- Putting an offender into jail will bring them into contact with a large number of other criminals, many of them with much more experience.
- Prisons take offenders far away from their homes, families and friends. Two thirds of those in prison lose their jobs, around a third also lose their homes. 40 per cent of prisoners lose contact with their families. All of these factors significantly increase the likelihood of reoffending.
An article in The Guardian this weekend describes how community rehabilitation in Manchester is tougher than a custodial sentence (i.e. prison). Would you rather criminals go to prison or have non-custodial sentences to ‘punish’ them for their crimes/ rehabilitate them? I wonder whether there is a difference of opinion across the world…