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A rhetorical question

This one could've gone in the sports and crime categories.

Anyway, what is the purpose of prison?

Think hard. Seems simple, I know.

But I heard a fascinating debate about this earlier this evening on ESPN's E:60 show, where I learned that former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been playing football on his prison team.

The tidbit on E:60 led to a brief debate on prison? Punishment, rehab, both? Other? Or is the answer on a sliding scale?

I have an opinion. But before I share it I want your thoughts on it. And whatever answer you give, include an explanation, a "why," if you will.


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Prison is supposed to be punishment where you are rehabilitated before you are returned when it is safe for you to live with the rest of the population.


I think the answer can vary.

For lifers just punishment. Why rehabilitate them if they are never going to get out?

For lesser sentences I think there can be aspects of both rehabilitation and punishment.

Before you condemn the idea of a prison football team, Vick can help with the rehabilitation of other prisoners by teaching them teamwork skills. Football can be used as a teaching and rehabilitation tool. Why not utilize someone who has been at it's highest levels?

In Canada education opportunities in the prison system abound. It's a bitter pill for some of the struggling people to swallow though I admit. Why should the criminals reap rewards the common man can't afford?

Dostoevsky wrote, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

I'm a less forgiving person than your typical philosopher though. I'm all for parole and forgiveness and rehabilitation for first offenses, but I think that your idea of a sliding scale should start going into affect at the point of 2nd and 3rd convictions.

At a 3rd conviction a box and a cot and 3 meals a day. Maybe throw a tv on or give books so the prisoner doesn't find abusing the guards as a diversion from the boredom.

James B.

Monty, thanks. I'll weigh in after a few more comments. I'm starting to suspect though that what I have to say will be no great revelation.

Wavemancali, relax, my friend! I haven't condemned anything. All I did was post a rhetorical question.


prison should be punishment, and it should also be rehabilitation, but i suspect there is too little of both, so prisoners are neither punished sufficiently nor rehabilitated enough by the time they are released, which serves as an encouragement to continue in a criminal vein.


Prison - it's there to keep those judged to be 'offenders' off the streets & out of circulation for a while.

It's also, all to often, the place where first offenders are educated further in their means of offence & meet 'better' criminals.

Which is cynical, I realise, but there we are.

Less cynically - punishment, yes. Rehab - certainly, only who is really prepared to commit the money & other resources?

& without the death penalty - you have to do something for lifers. Or you're denying your own humanity, as well as building up trouble Inside.

Final thing - it was in the News last week that many prisoners in the UK are so comfortable Inside that they ignore opportunities to escape. Which kinda makes me wonder about how & where they were living Outside. & what provision is made for people generally in the way of promoting good social behaviour, & preventing anti-social stuff? Besides nowhere near enough.

Say It

Here in the US, I'm pretty sure it is rooted in our puritanical humane way to punish and rehabilitate. Which was a bit revolutionary as in Europe at the time jail was not intended to rehab anyone. It was a holding place until actual punishment was ordered. I believe I read a long time ago that the original jails in the US held people in solitary with only a bible to read for months in order to rehabilitate them. When it turned out it actually drove some people mad/crazy, they changed the system but still kept jails going as it made the general public feel safer.

As to WHY we currently have jails? People don't know what else to do with alledged criminals and bad people while still making the general public feel safer.


Seems like there are a variety of answers, the most visceral of which would be to make convicted criminals pay for their crimes. Still, it seems hardly worth housing and feeding a convicted criminal if there is no hope of releasing them in a rehabilitated state. So I suppose the primary purpose of prison is punishment accompanied by some kind of redemptive measure that will enable prisoners - once they are released - to become productive members of society.

Then again, for those criminals whose crimes, track record, or attitudes have indicated they are impervious to rehabilitation I suppose that prison serves the simple purpose of containment so that they can no longer hurt innocent people.

James B.

Well, this one's anti-climactic. Seriously, I have to start taking vitamins, 'cause I can't remember the point I thought was so clever when I wrote this post last night.

I was gonna spring it on you guys today. But now, I'm drawing a blank. Should've written it down.

So I'll just say, Wavemancali, even though I know you think I'm too right of center sometimes, I agree with you on the breakdown of various prison purposes and why.


Lol, no way man, usually I think you're too liberal :)

James B.

Wavemancali, no way! Really? Not that I'm bothered or anything. I don't get bowled over by the whole liberal/conservative thing. I'm more of a Commonsensesican, where political themes are concerned. But I usually get ribbed for not leaning left enough. Funny thing is I've totally misinterpreted your politics then too!


Like you I consider myself commonsensican, but the word I found myself drawn towards was libertarian when actually giving myself a mainstream label.

I'm tainted by my Canadian upbringing though. I do believe in socialized medicine. The fact that it has saved my life numerous times may have something to do with it.


you go to prison *as* punishment, not *for* punishment. no matter how clean and safe it is, no matter how good the food or workout facilities are, it's prison because you can't show up when you want and leave when you want. did anybody (sincerely) deny that Martha Steward was being punished when she spent 6 months in camp cupcake?
the essence of prison is involuntary confinement and sequestration from society.

James B.

Wavemancali, you're forgiven for being Canadian. Kidding, kidding. I don't even laugh at those South Park episodes. But I'm not mad at you for being Libertarian. In terms of the mainstream it seems like the closest thing to logical nowadays.

Jam, good argument. I guess even camp cupcake could be considered punishment if at the end of the night you couldn't choose to leave.

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