The Problem with Prisons in a Teleological System

by I wonder what the character limit for usernames is on this s on June 10, 2015 - 11:01pm

What is prison meant to do? The obvious answer is that prison is meant to punish criminals, and to act as a deterrent to potential criminals. “Do the crime, do the time” means that if someone commits a crime, they have incurred a debt to society which can only be repaid by spending time in a prison. But what is the actual point? When a criminal is released from prison, they’re barred from a huge range of careers. No one wants to hire an ex-convict. So what happens to a person who needs to eat but can’t get a job, or more specifically, what would such a person do in order to feed themselves? They’ll re-offend and for over two thirds of the cases of criminals in the US, they’ll get arrested again and half go back to prison (Gudrais). In many cases, convicts with a normally low risk of reoffending will be influenced by higher risk convicts and become more likely to reoffend (Pritikin, 1054). Prison is practically a training ground to turn low-class criminals into repeat offenders, with Pritikin writing
“The more people there are behind bars, the more opportunities exist for criminal contact-making, the greater the number of people who are cut off from families and communities, and the greater the number of people who are internalizing prison’s antisocial norms.” (Pritikin, 1089)
.Pritikin estimates that “incarceration causes about 7 percent of total crime,” 2% of which is caused by prison-induced recidivism (Pritikin, 1082). Gudrais writes that incarceration doesn’t even reduce crime on its own, stating “Western has an even more compelling argument: locking up more Americans, he asserts, has not greatly reduced crime,” following that with “Western concludes that nine-tenths of this drop in crime would have occurred without any increase in the incarceration rate.” (Gudrais)
In a teleological system of morality, it follows that prison can be seen as immoral. If the net result of prison is to create career criminals via Pritikin’s “internalizing prison’s antisocial norms,” (Pritikin, 1089), then by the teleological method of looking at an action’s end, prison as a whole is negatively affecting the summum bonum. What would be the teleological solution to this? What could replace or improve prison to prevent this criminal training facility and its high recidivism rates?
One solution can be seen by looking at other countries’ with lower rates of recidivism and crime in general. One such country is Norway. It has a low crime rate compared to the US, according to the OSAC Norway Crime and Safety Report. Norway’s recidivism rate is only 20% (one of the lowest rates in the world), compared to the US’s rate of 52% (Deady, 2-3). What is the reason for this? Surprisingly, it’s because Norway doesn’t punish its criminals more severely than any other country. Instead, the focus is on “treating prisoners humanely [to improve] their chances of reintegrating in society.” (Deady, 3). To the North American viewpoint, the means of accomplishing this seem ridiculous and unjust. “[W]ith the exception of freedom of movement, prisoners retain all other rights and life in the prison should resemble life on the outside to the greatest extent possible” (Deady, 3), meaning that criminals aren’t locked in cells, don’t smash rocks for fun, and don’t worry about dropping soap in the shower. Essentially, they aren’t being punished. They are being rehabilitated. And the Norwegian system works, based on their crime and recidivism rates. So it seems that the ultimate solution to crime is to treat criminals like people.

Works cited
Gudrais, Elizabeth. "The Prison Problem." Harvard's Bruce Western Advocates New Prison, Rehabilitation Policies. Harvard Magazine Inc, Mar. 2013. Web. 8 June 2015.

Pritikin, Martin H. IS PRISON INCREASING CRIME? University of Wisconsin Law School. University of Wisconsin, 1 May 2009. Web. 8 June 2015.

"Norway 2014 Crime and Safety Report." Norway 2014 Crime and Safety Report. Overseas Security Advisory Council, 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 8 June 2015.

Dunec, Joanne L. "Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons from Abroad."Natural Resources & Environment 16.2 (2001): 129-30. Salve Regina University. Mar. 2014. Web. 8 June 2015.


This is a very interesting topic choice! Indeed today, there is a big debate on the treatment of inmates. I agree with your point of view that prisoners should not be severely punish but rather rehabilitated in order to give a chance to change and become better human beings once they return to the community. Many of the prisoners come from low income families and did not receive much care or attention from others. There is a strong link between low education and crime activity; more-educated people are less likely become criminals. According to Canada’s correctional service, 64% have not completed their high school diploma (Stevens). Moreover, I would argue, in a deontological perspective that society has a duty to educate people. Prisoners should be given the opportunity to be re-educated in becoming better citizen. Also through education, society is meant to set an example to the people. By inflicting harm, the prisoners become more and more violent. The contrast you made between the United States and Norway, demonstrates the reason for Scandinavia countries to be the world’s role models. Like Norway, Sweden policies on prisoner rehabilitation allows inmates to be “regarded as people with needs, to be assisted and helped” (James). As a result Sweden had “reoffending rates at about 40% – less than half of those in the UK and most other European countries” (James).

Stevens, Dennis J. “FORUM on Corrections Research”. Correctional Service Canada. N.d. Web. 19 June 2015.

James, Erwin. ‘Prison is not for punishment in Sweden. We get people into better shape’. The Guardian. 26 November 2014. Web. 19 June 2015