2003 Anne Horton Writing Award
"Prisons: Do They Reduce Crime?"
Robert W. Lynn Jr.
The question that has plagued America's people since the beginning of our prisonsystem is, do prisons reduce crime? Former assistant attorney general of the United Statesand a member of the Federal Prison Industries Corporation, Richard B. Abell, thinks that prisons do reduce crime. Abellbelieves that the number one goal of the criminal justice system is public safety" (45). Studies have shown, as incarceration rates decrease, crime rates go up, so building more prisons must be the solution to the crime epidemic. People, however, argue that it costs too much money to keep these individuals in prison for such a long period of time. The average cost of keeping a person in prison for a year is $20,000.00, but the average criminal can cost society as much as $100,000.00 a year in losses from the crimes they commit. Time after time criminals have shown us they can not be rehabilitated, being released from prison early only to commit other crimes. This should lead us to believe that these people must need to learn basic human values that most of us have learned growing up. Releasing only people who pose no threat and who can be handled by society should be the rule of thumb when releasing individuals from prison early.
On the other hand, a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology atNew Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Joseph W. Rogers, believes that prisons alone can not reduce crime. Rogers argues "since criminals have not been rehabilitated, they will return to society only to commit more crime, and the only way to reduce crime is to resolve economic and social problems that create crime" (52). Building more prisons is not the answer according to Rogers. The key is getting the community to share in someof the burden. Prisons and prisoners cost the taxpayer big money in a time when money is spread thin. With both of these views in mind, I believe that prisons do reduce crime.
First, I do not think prisons cost the taxpayers that much money when we weigh it against what crime could ultimately cost society. I want to feel safe as much as the next person. If being safe costs me an extra couple of bucks a year in taxes, I think it is worth it. What price can we put on someone's life? Every year thousands of people are murdered, robbed, and raped in the U.S. by people who have been let out of prison, because of overcrowding or they have served a certain percentage of a long sentence. If even a small number of crimes could be avoided by making a criminal do his entire sentence, it would he worth it.
Next, let us look at Willie Horton Jr., who was convicted of murder and rape and sentenced to life in prison. Under the Massachusetts law he was eligible for the furloughprogram and was periodically released. This is probably a law that the people who do notthink prisons reduce crime came up with. While the people that thought up this furloughlaw slept safely in their gated communities, Willie Horton Jr. struck again. In 1987 on his 101" furlough he fled to Maryland where he assaulted a man and raped his girlfriend. If only he had been kept behind bars, this could have been avoided. Murderers do not deserve a hall pass for any reason.
Finally, there are the likes of such criminals as Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Theodore Kaczynski. Would we want a person like that moving next door to us even if the law said he had been rehabilitated? Unfortunately, instead of putting these people in jail and throwing away the key, our society tends to glorify them and make celebrities outof them. We make movies about them glorifying their sad little story and then wonderwhere someone else might have gotten the idea to commit a similar crime. It is sick to saybut some people in our society worship these criminals and use them as role models. Would society ever consider letting these monsters out of prison if they thought they were rehabilitated? Some might. Can career criminals be rehabilitated and let back into society safely? I do not think so. I believe that keeping these criminals in prison does reduce crime because at least while they are in prison, they are not spreading their sick views on life to the rest of society and running amuck doing more crime.
Our prison system does, however, need reform and change to enter the 2l st century to keep up with the growing problems of crime. I strongly believe that mostpeople think that prisons do reduce crime. I know I sleep much better at night knowingthat monsters like the ones mentioned above are behind bars.