Punishment doesn’t equal a better person
Prison is essentially a building where criminals are kept as a punishment for the crimes they have committed and then released back into society. However, many advocates of prison believe the prison system works based upon two major purposes: rehabilitation and retribution. Rehabilitation is the way in which prisoners are designed to change their morality to become law-abiding participants of society such learning new skills to get a job. Retribution on the other hand is paying for the crimes they committed against society. This is the prisoners being forcibly restricted and denied freedoms by the state. These two factors presented by supporters contradict each other as how can prisoners rehabilitate themselves if they are paying for their crimes sitting inside a prison instead of becoming functional members of society. Therefore, prison does not work.
For an offender to be rehabilitated, they must be able to return to a normal life after being in prison. One way a prison does that is by reforming an offender through prison labour. Prison labours can be a job in a workshop prison facility or work placements such as call centres. However, this is exploitation not rehabilitation.
Supporters of the prison system argue that free rooms, travel, and meals are given to prisoners nonetheless prisoners need to purchase things we see as basic needs such as hygiene products, phone credit, and even religious items. According to the hm inspectorate of prisons, any remaining money is given to prisoners when they are released. (Life in prison: Earning and spending money, 2016) But most people in prison are characterised as already being un-employed and not having a stable home environment, (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 90) so how are prisoners meant to buy all their necessities and then be released with insufficient wages and be expected to function in a normal society?
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In 2002 the minimum rate of pay was set for prisoners in England and Wales by the Prison Service Order 4460 of £4 a day. (The Open University, 2020) According to the LPC (Low Pay Commission) the national living wage for someone who is not in prison was £4.10 in 2002. (20 years of the National Minimum Wage, 2019) however as of 2020 the national living wage is £8.21. £8.21 is a 100.24% increase of £4.10. According to the 4460 document which was last updated 21/01/2020, prisoners are still paid £4 a day. (Paying prisoners for work and other activities: PSO 4460, 2020) The level of pay is inadequate for prisoners and exploits them because prisoners still haven’t had a wage rise in 19 years yet are still expected to go to work placements and do the jobs a non-offender would do for nearly half their wages and still come out of prison with basically nothing but a criminal record which isn’t rehabilitation.
The other major factor prison advocates express is that the offender is paying retribution. A prisoner will forever be paying retribution mentally, not just by sitting inside a prison for many months or years. In the UK we don't teach that killing is wrong by killing people through the death penalty. So why should prisoners be held captive mentally by spending every day in prison instead of being shown and taught how to behave in society? Paying retribution doesn't help an offender get back into society and behave normally.
Sociologists Stanley Cohen and Laurie Taylor taught at the maximum-security wing of Durham Prison and found that the prisoner's relationship with other prisoners and staff is hierarchical and doesn't include normal social interactions. They call it 'prison society'. (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 93) This is also confirmed in an extract of Trevor Hercules’s autobiography where he says, “tedious to the point where seeing the same faces day after day drove me to hide in my cell.” (Scott, D. and Sim, J., 2018) This shows the deprivation in prison and the daily struggles prisoners face. This isn’t retribution for the crime they committed instead it forces prisoners to adapt a survival instinct attitude instead of learning how to function again in society. This is true because from Inquest in 2018 they stated that 2075 of 4640 deaths in prison were self-inflicted. This shows that retribution is only a form of moral justification for the victim and advocates don’t think of the prisoners who are trying to rehabilitate themselves instead thinking an ‘eye for an eye’ is a better solution instead of showing prisoners how to forgive themselves and start a new life in society.
Overall, Prison does not work because they can’t be seen as a place for rehabilitation because when they leave prison, they will have no money, no new sense of morality and no better chance of getting a job. The main justification for prison is retribution. The prison system is based upon retribution and so the prisoners won’t learn how to function in a normal society unless they don’t conform to the ‘prison society’. The punishment of prisons does not help a person change for the better.
Justiceinspectorates.gov.uk. (2016). Life in prison: Earning and spending money. [online] Available at:
Drake, D. H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘Contesting prison’, in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 75–100.
The Open University. (2020) Work in prison: experience or exploitation? [Online] DD105 Introduction to criminology. Available at:
GOV.UK. (2019). 20 years of the National Minimum Wage. [online] Available at:
GOV.UK. (2020). Paying prisoners for work and other activities: PSO 4460. [online] Available at:
Scott, D. and Sim, J. (2018) Prisons: dangerous for whom?, Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation and Social Exclusion, 20 September [Blog] Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1673435§ion=6.1 [Accessed 13 March 2021]
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