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A Case Against Hard Time (Imprisonment)

Updated on May 27, 2018
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Doing hard time

Incarceration | Source

Long term imprisonment

There are different types of punishment for different types of criminals based on their crimes. Hard time is one of such punishments and is usually given to those who have committed serious crimes in society. While criminals that serve hard time also stand a chance of being released following assessments, their punishment entails imprisonment for an extended period of time (years). Despite it being common form of punishment for various types of criminals, there are several reasons as to why hard time should cease being used as a form of punishment. These include

  • Hard time punishment has been associated with negative psychological effects on the individual
  • Hard time results in social death
  • Hard time is not effective in rehabilitation of the individual/criminal
  • It places an unnecessary burden on society despite the fact there are better alternatives that can be used with better outcomes.

Points raised in favor of hard time punishment

For proponents of hard time punishment, such imprisonment ensures that the criminal gets the punishment they deserve for their crime. For many, this also ensures that the levels of crime drops with the criminal being punished and others in society learn from such cases. For instance, according to Scheidegger and Rushford, the reduction of crime all across the nation between 1990 and 1998 was as a result of the policies laid in the 1970s such as the reinstatement of capital punishment and strict sentencing for habitual criminals . Here, in response to crime rates, the public supported such strategies as a means of tackling crime, which was shown to have positive outcomes. With strict sentences therefore, the positive outcomes identified were reduced crime rates, proving that hard time has the desired outcomes. For this reason, the cost of reducing crime through tough sentences is worth it.

According to another study, a good number of respondents (49 percent) felt that life sentences are acceptable as substitutes for the death penalty, which shows that this form of punishment is favored as more human and one that respects human life. As for Raphael and Stoll, imprisonment has been shown to reduce some of the serious crimes in society, which has allowed some members of society to view imprisonment of criminals as one way of keeping other members of society safe. For some in society therefore, hard time is a good form of punishment that keeps criminals away where they cannot hurt other innocent people.

Serving time


Why hard time should no longer be used as a form of punishment

Impacts of hard time on the mental health of the individual

While incarceration is intended to punish a criminal and even help them change (rehabilitate them) it has been shown to have a number of effects of prisoners. The first one is entry shock where the prisoners gets to experience a new culture and is expected to adapt to the new life as quickly as possible. In the process, this has been associated with such psychological effects as delusions, claustrophobia, depression and stress as well as various phobias with others ultimately developing suicidal tendencies. As the prisoner spends more time with the other criminals, they are also likely to start engaging in drug use among other criminal activities that are likely to result in more criminal behaviors. Here, statistics has also shown that a good number of those arrested are rearrested for other crimes within a few years. For instance, according to a survey that was published in 2014, it was shown that whereas 67 percent of criminals released in 2005 across 30 states were re-arrested for other crimes, 76.6 percent were rearrested within 5 years. Therefore, according to these findings, incarceration has a negative impact on a majority of prisoners and is likely to aggravate their circumstances. According to Stern, hard time, as well as life imprisonment, tends to have negative impacts on the psychological state of prisoners with the lack of freedom and limited human rights resulting in isolation, gradual loss of personal responsibility as well as identity crises. This, in turn tends to require treatment for patients with stress and depression in order to help them cope. Even when ultimately released, these issues make it difficult for the individual to cope with life as they had before imprisonment. Therefore, hard time is likely to have much negative impacts on an individual having been locked away for so long.

Hard time and social death

As Nuno defines it, social death is the process of exclusion where the identity of an individual is replaced by such labels as felon which is dehumanizing. once an individual has been sentenced years in prison for a crime, he/she is removed from society and locked away. Consequently, this image of them, as prisoners, becomes their new identity in the society they lived and rather than being looked at someone who was once a member of society like many others, they are now viewed as hardened criminals and felons to be feared, hated or avoided. This then creates a gap between the individual and the society in which they were once members. This can have additional negative impacts on the individual causing them to act in ways that can result in them being re-arrested and imprisoned again. As Králová explains, the deprivation of quality human interaction among prisoners can cause them to become unhinged. As a result of such mental impairment that may result from feelings of shame, guilt and having no value, the individual is likely to act up by engaging in more crimes for monetary gains etc. Here, then, it is also possible to see the impact of using hard time as a means of punishment. Having understood these impacts of imprisonment on prisoners, Tonry explains that many of the European countries worked to prevent the number of prisoners from rising between the 1960s and 1996. During the same period, the Finnish government also strived to keep this population down despite high crime rates and ultimately brought down the number to 60 percent (165 per 100,000 in 1965 to 60 per 100,000 in 1990) (140).

Hard time is ineffective in rehabilitating prisoners

Hard time is ineffective in rehabilitating prisoners. As the survey by Durose et al., (2014) already found, a good majority of prisoners released are often re-arrested for other crimes within a few years of initial release. This goes to prove that imprisonment for criminals does not do a lot to help them change. On the other hand, studies have also shown long term incarceration to result in prisoner's dependence on the institution, distrust of others, engaging in other criminal activities as well as suicidal tendencies associated with stress and depression. Here, such incarceration is seen to add to the issues affecting the prisoner rather than helping them. According to Tonry, in many European nations, it has become common knowledge that prisons tend to make people worse. For this reason, other alternatives are sought in place of building more prisons and arresting more people. This has led to fewer prisons in favor of other alternatives with better outcomes. While crimes will always exist, these instances prove that rather than allowing the majority of prisoners to change and become better people, incarceration results in other impacts of the prisoners (depression, stress, suicidal tendencies, social death etc) which add to their previous problems further aggravating their situation.

Burden to tax payers and alternatives

According to a report published by Kirchhoff in 2010, the correction system in the United States continues to expand with increasing prison population (holding 25 percent of all prisoners in the world). In 2008, it cost the Taxpayers well over $68 billion to fee, cloth and provide medical care for prisoners. This is large amount, some of which can be used in other more important projects in education and healthcare. According to a report that was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there is a need to think about other alternatives because imprisonment is expensive, affects human rights and other alternatives may prove much more effective (4-6). One of the alternatives suggested here is decriminalization. Essentially, this involves a change to some of the laws so that some of the conducts that may have been previously described as criminal would no longer be regarded as such. In doing so, some of the petty activities identified as crimes would no longer be criminal acts, which would go a long way in reducing the prison population with such crimes. This may involve such acts as the use of marijuana as well as various illicit brews that are allowed in various countries in Europe. Through decriminalization then; it becomes possible to significantly reduce the prison population. Through other alternatives such as diversion, focus is directed to more serious crimes, which ultimately helps deal with issues of high population growth that places a heavy burden on taxpayers in the country.

© 2018 Patrick


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