Prisons as often been indicated, are total institutions. They are total in the sense that much of the aspects of an individuals life is out of his or her control. Within prisons, the human life as we know it is subjected to numerous constraints which include spatial confinement impacting on the freedom of movement. It has often been stated that prisons adversely affect the normal development and growth of individuals as the aging process is normally accelerated. Prisons take physical toll on an individual’s body as it has been estimated that an inmate doing any amount of time will look ten years older than their actual age (Cordilia, 1983).
However, one certain fact is that prisoners are “doing time”. This is a phrase normally used to refer to the human suffering characteristic of individuals and their life within the confines of the prison. Statistical evidence show that correctional officers suffer from all types of conditions related with stress due to their conditions and state within the prisons. Such include serious alcohol abuse, depression, heart attacks, hypertension and ulcers. According to Silverman and Vega (1996), an individual’s life expectancy is reduced by more than eighty percent when serving any amount of years in the prison.
This points towards prisons being “hard” places where human life as we understand it is reduced to something indescribable. As much as prisons are meant to deter crimes, more often that not, they emerge as schools of crime. An individual after serving his or her sentences emerges into the society with a new set of skills which ultimately threatens the society even more. Most individuals found guilty of various crimes go in as petty and sometimes as non-violent offenders only to come out as different individuals exhibiting violence and serious tendencies.
It has been noticed that serious and violent crimes are committed a specific group of individuals known as seven seventy theory where seventy percent of crimes are committed by seven percent of offenders (Wolfgang et. al. 1792). Within three years of their release, two thirds of individuals released from prison will be back. Could it be that the prisons may not be doing enough to model prisoners so they may be integrated in the society or are the prisons better places to be for some people? The latter is unlikely since the conditions within prisons are deplorable.
How then do the prisons serve their purpose and how can they be reformed? In order to answer the question, it is imperative to look at what it means to serve a sentence in prison. Within the prison system, there are sets of codes that govern life within the prisons. There are the official general administrative rules and regulation, codes which govern convicts, the color line and rules set by gangs which are often referred to as gang membership rules (Hackett, et. al. 1986). The official rules are the acceptable codes within the prisons. That is, they are the dos and the don’ts.
The convict codes on the other hand are the perceived description of what or how a good or perfect convict should be. Color line seems invisible but one is bound to notice it especially when specific races dominate various turf areas. Gang codes are underground outlines for enterprises run by criminals. All these tend to shape the prison system and any attempt at reforms must focus on these codes and how they affect individuals who have been incarcerated. It cannot be denied that the condition of prisoners is affected by these codes which govern the relationship among the subjects within the confines of prison.
As such, various aspects like health, violence, death and infections can be attributed to how the system handles the outbreak of such things as stated in the prison laws (Johnson, 1996). For instance, there are some administrative laws which may negatively impact on the wellbeing of prisoners, or there may be policies which may impact negatively on correctional officers. Beyond these internal factors, there are some measures which may result in prisons being overcrowded. Coupled with the rules which exist within the prisons, overcrowding may facilitate the spread of diseases within the prison.
Of all the problems which characterize prison life, diseases and violence are the most dreaded (Sykes, 1958). However, the structure of the prisons may determine how such occurrences are treated so that they do not result in catastrophes. The existence of codes within the prison system which seem to govern the conduct of both inmates and correctional officers should be one of the major focus of reforms. For instance, convict codes do not actually prohibit violence, rape or killing other inmates.
The ultimate tool of control within the prisons being segregation where an inmate is confined for a given period of time, an individual may be exposed to various dangers which may result in harm (Toch, 1977). As much as inmates are considered to be social outcasts, there still exist some inalienable rights which they possess. Such includes the right to life. For prisons to effectively perform their functions, there is need for serious reforms. An individual’s inalienable rights are affected when they are exposed to conditions which make them vulnerable to diseases, violence and a general stare of disorder.
Such are the prison conditions. With overcrowding, there is bound to be numerous problems which culminate into what can be termed as human rights abuse both by fellow inmates and prison officers. Overcrowding also means that diseases can easily spread which has a consequence of endangering the lives of the inmates. Hard criminals are also bound to take advantage of newly imprisoned individuals. As such, prison reforms must address how such groups are differentiated so as to avoid such eventualities as rapes and murders.
As much as prison reforms may be focused on the inmates, the work of correctional officers should not be overlooked. There are instances when inmates attack correctional officers leading to serious situations hence making their jobs to be difficult. With this regard, prison reforms should also look at ensuring ways of guaranteeing the safety of the correctional officers since they are bound to be harmed by hardcore criminals and gangs. Since an inmate cannot be tried twice, there is an element of immunity to the judicial system which may lead them to hurt correctional officers with impunity.
Active measures must be taken to ensure that correctional officers are ascertained safety within the scope of their practice since they are the people solely responsible for ensuring that criminals remain where they belong. Much of prison reforms have focused in improving the condition of prisoners by introducing in one way or another some form of entertainment. As much as these may be necessary, the main focus of reforms should be to ensure that released convicts do not pose any threat to the society after completing their term.
Contrary to most reforms, prisons should not be turned into holiday camps for prisoners as this is bound to have an effect on the rate of crime. Any serious prison reform instead should focus on the condition of prisoners in terms of basic facilities like beds and adequate meals so that the inmates’ lives may not be threatened by diseases resulting from overcrowding and poor sanitary. As such, prison reforms must be far fetched so as to encompass the prison environment in totality.
A way through which inmates and correctional officers can better cooperate so that the prison conditions can be improved should also be the focus of reforms. However, there is often a struggle which exists between the inmates and the correctional officers (Braswell et. al, 1994). As such, there are often some elements of animosity between the convicts and the inmates. This animosity at times become so severe that is expressed violently. This makes it virtually impossible for meaningful reforms to be achieved since, beside those reforms that need adjusting facilities, enforcing rules become a tragedy.
Since it is possible that convicts can come out of prisons and still be productive members of the society, there is need to equip them with knowledge which will guarantee their survival when their terms end. Such knowledge should guide them in dropping the criminal mindset that they have developed so as not to end up in prisons again. This may not be as easy but with good cooperation between the education sector and the prisons department, some inmates may further their academic dreams while still serving their sentences.
This is however not easily achievable because the society is often suspicious of individuals who have a history of crime. Even with exceptional skills, the society is bound to distrust released convicts. However, there are those convicts whose desire is to once again integrate into the society and join their family members while performing productive duties. The government together with the prison’s department should collaborate to ensure that such individuals do not waste their lives in prison perfecting the art of crime.
Every convict who has completed his or her time should be guided through active reforms within the prisons that ensure that they do not find themselves resorting to crime as a means of sustenance especially for those criminals involved with robbery, burglary and theft. Educational programs have been successful in curbing the tendency of released inmates to commit crimes. Inmates who successfully completed a high school diploma or GED are less likely to commit crimes after release than those who have not attained similar education.
As such, education for the inmates should also be the focus of serious reforms. A major setback for such education programs is that few inmates can access them. Only five percent of the inmate population can access these educative and rehabilitation programs which is a very small percentage as compared to those that these programs are meant. The main challenge for any reforms targeting prisons is not only how to guarantee the wellbeing of prisoners when they are inside the prisons but also how to integrate them in the society after their terms are over without posing any threat to the society.
Any meaningful prison reforms should focus on prisons as a means of achieving an end and not as an end in itself (Goldstein et. al. 1989). For example, prisons should focus on how to ensure that once a person has been declared unfit to live with others within the society, they should be modeled to acquire the skills of avoiding to engage in criminal acts and thus extend the good virtues which the society seek to further as criminality is just a state of mind which can also be altered just like other states of mind.