Small prison populations in a country may mean that the government is soft on crime since prisons were designed to hold the law breakers who have been convicted. On the other hand, it may mean that the government and the citizens of a country are doing enough on rehabilitation, training and control of the law breakers to avoid being found on the wrong side of the law (Foucault, 1977). Today, incarceration is considered to be the harshest sanction one can get for any criminal offence. Therefore, doing away with the shame and all the pain and suffering that one undergoes when imprisoned can be a better option to any government and its citizens. This paper focuses on how the small prison populations have been achieved in some countries, and answers the question of, why certain countries are considered soft on crime and others tough on crime.
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The countries like Sweden, which experience small prison population, have a humane way of sentencing law breakers. In in which the jail terms are always less than ten years. Even for the most serious law breakers, as opposed to other countries where the offenders of the law are given a jail term of not less than thirty to forty years behind bars. In real sense, this appears to be like life time imprisonment (Siegel, 2000). Taking into consideration, the life expectancies in various countries in the world. More so, the third world countries. Gendreau et al. (1999) states that the principle rationale for the compulsory minimums, creates a belief that, the duration of time spent in prison will always act as a deterrent to the future breaking of the law. The term spent in custody is believed to have effects in the victims behavioral characteristics such as suppressing criminals behavior due to unpleasantness in the life behind bars and negative social stigma associated with imprisonment this greatly reduce recidivism upon release. The time in prison is viewed as potential “psychological deep freezers”, in the sense that most of those caught on the wrong side of the law do enter the prison with a set of antisocial behaviors and attitudes which are never changed during their times behind the bars, this greatly prevents interaction between the inmates which may lead to sharing of the ideas in perfecting their skills as they learn of the new ways of conducting their crimes through the other inmates. Thus the humanity in such countries has greatly helped reduce the crowding in the prisons giving adequate space for the incoming prisoners to get rooms in various prisons available in the various parts of such countries thus decrease in the prisoners populations.
Studies that have been conducted from 1958, involving approximately 336 000 law breakers have shown that there exists a correlation between recidivism and the length of time in prisons, and also the life as under incarceration and receiving the community based sanctions. The conclusions that were derived from such studies were prisons ought not to be used with the expectation of rectifying the behaviors of those who break the law, instead of subjecting those who break the law community based sanctions have proved to be the best teacher of the accepted behavior and norms with those around the victims and the communities at large. The excessive use of imprisonment too proved to have various cost implications, since when under custody the prisoners do meet various personalities and characters who introduce them to very immoral behaviors like homosexuality and lesbianism, the innocent prisoners are always raped, beaten and harassed and even forced to dance nude before other inmates. Such behaviors calls upon the prison officials to put in place repeated, comprehensive assessment of the law breakers attitudes, values, morals and behaviors while still under custody. Thus the offenders with the higher risk nature should be given reasonable periods in prison and subjected to adequate retribution.
Such countries too allow those who are under life incarceration to appeal to the courts after a given period, usually after ten to fifteen years, of time to be given a fixed term under custody, the allowed time for any revised term always ranges between eighteen to twenty five years. The commuting of fixed terms do greatly reduce the number of those in custody, since most of those who do go for revision of their terms behind bars always succeed in overturning the previous rulings and emerge victorious in the sense of having a freedom one day after completing their terms behind bars. In United States of America, California State leads as the most propound with one of the toughest, broadest and most rigorously applied minimum policies, which are generally known as “the three strikes and out” law (D’Alession & Stolzenberg, 1997). The state has put in place a mandatory twenty five years to life for a third crime case and there is no distinction among the types of felonies at this stage (Bellisle, 1999).
Various countries have introduced the use of methods like electronic tagging, which is a cost effective, robust and reliable method of controlling monitoring and rectifying the behaviors of the law breakers. It has become one of the most effective means to resettle the custodians back into the society of the convicts and also using the community. Putting the tags provides a very effective way to keep on track the offender curfews, the equipment too consist of a monitoring unit which is based on radio frequency technology and its use is throughout the criminal system and as an important part of bail conditions too. The tag can be placed on the prisoner’s ankle and the monitoring unit situated in the home or other pace of curfew. The tag and the monitoring unit work together in which the tag acts as the transmitter which sends signals to the monitoring unit, which in turn sends signals to the control center. The tag and the monitoring unit are always under a twenty four hour monitor, thus an immediate response is always received for any kind of violation, bringing in time proof as one of its qualities thus maximum reliability. This technology when installed under a supervision requirement, greatly contribute to reduction in offending.
Giving reassurance to the society that the behavior of the law breakers are on check.
Life behind bars without the hope of parole gives no chance for fulfillment outside the walls of prison, no chance to reconcile with the society, no hope (American Society Of Criminology, 1970). Maturity, at times do lead to the considered reflection which is the foundation of remorse, rehabilitation and renewal. Teenagers living their lives knowing that they have no chance of leaving prison until death, has very minimal incentive of becoming a responsible person. A country like The United States of America imposed sentence of life without a parole on the youths, the was achieved in the U.S by slowly and steadily doing away with the founding principles of the justice of the juvenile systems. Thus this day, a record number of various citizens in the U.S are living their youth, juvenile life without parole (JLWOP), without the fear of being sentenced for crimes committed before being eighteen years of age (Nellis, 2012). Increasing the age of those who can be sentenced to life imprisonment to a reasonable age, for example eighteen to twenty one years, gives one the experience of life, making one more wiser and sound in both his or her reasoning and thinking capacities. This makes sure that as few childish law breakers as possible end up behind bars.
Post prison support, where the government take the initiative of teaching, guiding and supervising those on probation. This is done through free treatment programs, forums and organizing rallies to campaign against breaking the law, where the culprits are made to be fully involved after making vows never to be part of law breakers ever again. These services are always assisted by volunteers who are citizens of these countries, the volunteers always find ways to befriend the victims thus enabling them to become closer to these people making it much easier for them to interact while share ideas and opinions about where the victims do go wrong bringing some sense into the victims on probation. Mostly, the offenders are always jailed for either violence or on issues related to drugs, in such situations people who were once addicted but have found a way out of the bondage are used to help create a mentality that nothing is impossible and the victims too can also change and make something better out of their lives rather than being caught on the wrong side of the law (Hall, 1982).
In most countries, the small prison population can be due to the prison break, which is the act of a prisoner escaping or leaving the prison through unaccepted ways. Escaping prison is regarded as a criminal offence in most countries. Therefore, when an escape occurs, efforts are always made by those in charge of the prison to recapture and bring them back. Such an offence, is always punished by additional jail terms and increased security. Other factors which include whether or not violence was involved during the escape. This is always done to discourage the other inmates from attempting to escape too. However, not all those who escape from prison are always recaptured. This too is a factor which have contributed to the reduction in population in most prisons. Example of such attempts which succeeded include, the 17th century escape of the Dutch author, Hugo Grotius, who escaped from Loevestein where he was being held captive. He managed to go through the security checks by getting into a book coffin and was then smuggled outside. In 1915 the German Naval Air Service Kapitanleutnant, known as Gunther Pluschow, escaped broke from Downingtown Hall prisoner of War camp (Sutherland & Cressey, 1974). From Texas Death Row in 1998, Martin Gurule escaped and he was found dead few days after (Siegel, 2000). Such incidents have greatly contributed to the small prison population in various countries across the world.
In some countries, prisoners are treated like other normal persons, with responsibility and trust. Instead of making them to spend time behind bars, they are given duties within the prisons and mandates to explore their talents and areas of profession. Such prisoners, though under custody becomes very important elements in the society. They always involve themselves in productivity of the nation. They learn new skills which do help them once they are out of prison. Once such skills are acquired, some of the prisoner always involve themselves too much into the new skills they acquire. Such serious involvements help the detainees to rehabilitate and start acting in manners which are always accepted in the community. This too gives the government and other volunteers who are always willing to help those on probation, easy time when dealing with such people when they finally come out of jail. They become good ambassadors, some of them join the volunteers as activists against being found on the wrong side of the law. Some, with their newly acquired skills always involved themselves in activities which are productive in the society such as the non-formal education e.g. tailoring, shop keeping etc., skill building programs which involves the motivational talks and subjection to training and control. Such like activities, which they do learn when behind bars while interacting with their fellow inmates. They turn up to be very important parts of the society. And also they are always accepted by most people, because of the important contributions that they make towards the well-being of those around them and the country. Through such activities, other members of the society who in one way or the other, may be found on the wrong side of the law do try as much as they can to try as much to live like those on probation whom they interact with in their day today life (Conclin, 1981).
The other factor which have greatly contributed to small population in prisons, is corruption. Research has shown that the corruption in most prisons, are more widespread and deeply rooted as ever before. The Transparency International United Kingdom (TI-UK) even the conclusions made, do underestimate the true extent of corruption in prisons. This is because they omit three major factors. These factors include, the risks of the officers who are not in the prison staff being widely involved in corruption. The other factor is, the impact that the organized crime within the prison population has and the symbiosis relationship between the management performance and the corruption. The research shows that the main problem within the services offered in various prisons is smuggling of the illegal materials within the prison walls, these include, drugs and mobile phones. Siegel (2000) states that, the act smuggling not only involve the non-prison staffs but also the prison officers. The prison officers even involve themselves in unwanted relationships with those who have been incarcerated. This close relationship makes it easier for the prisoners to manipulate the officers’ mind and find ways to escape. Escape of prisoners who are in a relationship is always easier because they can be given the uniforms by the officers. Through this the populations are greatly reduced in such prisons. Such corrupt officers do accept bribes from the prisoners so as to help them escape out of the prison.
In countries like the United States of America where there is the highest number of prisoners, approximately 1.7 million. Research show that early 1990s, when the imprisonment rate was half of the present figures. A federal court order was released to reduce overcrowding. This left various states with only two choices, the first one was to put fewer law breakers in custody and secondly, to construct more prisons. In the State of Louisiana, they managed to achieve only the first option which was to lock up fewer people, this was due to lack of funds. But, they were determined to put every law breaker behind bars. The sheriffs had to find ways of footing the funds for construction of the new prisons. And after a few years, there were prisons in most parts of the state. To the sheriffs having people behind bars is like a business with opportunity to develop his law enforcement arm. The sheriffs do buy new squad cars, guns and laptops. These improvements in the arms made by the sheriffs, help improve and monitor the arms with ease. This help ensuring that there is very minimum crime cases in the arms headed by any sheriffs. Due to the increased rooms and bed spaces, with arms too for sheriffs to take charge, there is always competition among the sheriffs. This creates a healthy completion where no sheriff will want to be left out.
The high prison population, can also be due to high number of laws set by the government to individuals to tame those with unwanted behaviors in the society. The many laws that are always put in place are there to guide, train and control the citizens to act according to the countries orders. Those found on the wrong side are always put under the police custody for some period of time before being tried to court to be found guilty or not. This is done for every slightest mistake, because when left unpunished, such people always turns out to be criminals charged with very massive offences. To prevent these the government always resolve for the best option of holding the law breakers captives until they are fully rehabilitated. This has proved to be best method to tame the unruly citizens. Since, some of the citizens who always break the law are always afraid to be imprisoned. However, other unruly citizens in these countries which experience high number of population in their prisons do get into trouble because of the kind of treatment then get when locked under bars (Grapes, 2000). Not all citizens of a country lives a good state at their homes. Some are dwelling in absolute poverty. To avoid the stress of thinking what to wear and food to eat, they always resolve to get into trouble. Such people when under the custody of the police, they always sure that at the end of the day they’ll be having the basic needs that are unaffordable when they are at their homes (Sutherland & Cressey, 1974). This is due to the good treatment in most of the prisons in the developed countries, where the prisoners’ rooms are always fitted with luxurious equipment like television, internet enabled computers, washrooms etc. For the street urchins who are tired of sleeping in the cold, they always resolve to committing crimes which do land them in such luxurious prisons to eliminate the problems that they do have in life.
The evidence is overwhelming: small prison population does not mean that a country is soft on crime. Through rehabilitation, even the most stubborn criminal can turn out to be the best activist against crime. The life behind bars too can transform any person no matter how rotten the morals of the person is. Increase of the age for those who can be sentenced for life to a reasonable age too is an important contributing factor for the small prison population in these countries. These countries too may be acting soft on criminals in that in most cases the criminals who are kept in custody always find ways to escape. Corruption is also found to be one of the factors that majorly contribute to both low and high prison population in these prisons. On the other hand, those countries with a high prison population is found to have many laws. These laws are found to be the greatest contributor to the large numbers behind bars.
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