The Evolution of Corrections Philosophy
According to the surroundings existing at any time, society could be drained by war, peace, famine or times of plenty. These conditions influenced the public views associated with both crimes and their related punishments. However, as with any human endeavor fostered in a sea of hope and extraction of justice, we witness a slow transformation from that consisting of personal vengeance to our current orderly procession of rules and standards of justice.
We enter the European history timeline at a stage when all acts of personal justice has been left behind and society has created a subculture behind bars to handle those elements within our society who fail to follow the prescribed format identifying right from wrong. No longer could an offender escape justice by fleeing to their family stronghold for united protection as was frequently done in those olden days. Retaliation by ones family was no longer an accepted form of justice.
The public offender in medieval Europe endured extremely harsh punishments ranging from torture to death. I will not at this time discern this article with such issues as the Iron maiden or other torturous instruments frequently justified to extract a measure of justice in those days. From the dark ages our justice of system slowly progresses forward with minor improvements.
During the 17th Century the available injunction reserved for criminal behavior was to stage various events in open view of the public. These measures were an effort to not merely shame the offender but to discourage others from repeating similar crimes. Such procedures included the use of the pillory, public whipping of the offender, branding and the employment of the stocks. Often many offenses even minor infractions brought about the death penalty.
The early prison in Europe were merely a series of holding rooms where an offender could be placed while they awaiting their trial or to receive their just punishment. Rarely if ever were the prisons utilized as a form of punishment only. The prisons of the time lacked proper maintenance and were frequently filthy and served as a breeding ground for an assortment of disgusting diseases. Many an inmate died as a result of contacting illnesses while being held in these prison environments. A giant leap was established when the first house of correction was established. These facilities held the nations petty offenders, the disorderly or the vagrants found from the city.
As the 18th Century arrived in Europe there was a growing trend to outlaw the death penalty for all crimes but the most serious. Although imprisonment with hard labor made its appearance during the middle of the 18th century the major downfall of the death sentence was the practice of deporting convicts to America or Australia. Since this method of dealing with criminal elements hastily came to a halt during the final years of the 18th century, other resources had to be discovered. These innovations included the return to the philosophy of hard labor and occupancy within the house of corrections. John Howard in 1777 set in motion a movement to end the barbaric conditions he witnessed within the walls of the English prisons. He actively supported transformations with the use of paid staff instead of the usual volunteers, scheduled inspections from an outside agency and the establishment of decent diets complimented with proper meals.
With the arrival of the 19th century we discover that capital punishment has now been repelled for all but a select few hideous crimes. Shaming sanctions were wholly disregarded and forbidden for use, while imprisonment was now replacing the past practice of capital punishment.
We finally approach the 20th century and we find reforms advocating that youthful offenders be separated from their adult counterparts. The 1948 Criminal Justice Act abolished the process of penal servitude which included unlimited hard labor and it abolishment the custom of flogging. The legislation outlined comprehensive instructions to control the punishment as well as the treatment requirements for the offenders. In some European nations the prisons began being managed by private concerns and they no longer fell under the control of the central government involved.
Similarities in punishment techniques between those European nations and America’s colonial upstarts resulted in physical branding, public flogging, individual maiming and the widespread use of pillories. An eye for an eye was common practice in both geographical areas to punish offenders. It was not unusual to find that the death penalty was frequently used for various types of criminal activity even those offenses of a minor nature.
Europe and America began developing very strict legislation on prison system operations. These rules of operation outlined the amount of time an individual could be incarcerated in prison for a crime as well as the designated limitations on the severity of the punishments involved.
One major difference in the American system and that of some European nations involved the concept of parole. In our judicial proceedings, we can designate that an individual can not be eligible for parole under any circumstances. This is simply not so in some of the European penal codes which guaranteed that every prisoner has the right of parole. In short, the European system appears to be more lenient with ensuring human rights to the prisoners more so than our own system.
It is the general consensus that America prisons are more brutal than their counterparts in Europe and thus our prison processes upholds a more stringent modus operandi. But we have to remember several factors which contribute to this misunderstanding. Working at US prisons can be a stressful employment position. When we merge an already overcrowded prison condition with the stress involved we find that the guards are frequently at odds with the inmates and vise versa. Considerable racism is readily noticed in these facilities among the prisoners resulting in an abundance of assaults and killings. In the European prisons the inmates appear not to persistently prey upon each other nor do they harass the guards. When we see such differences we need to step back a moment and consider why this is so. I believe that this difference exists mainly as a result of our laws. As a nation we have some extremely harsh drug laws and related punishments in support of those laws. This result is that more men and women are being placed in overcrowded conditions.
In support of our current system I must admit that prison life is simply not intended to be a country club atmosphere. I personally feel our systems are an improvement as to many of the other penal complexes around the globe. When we compare our prisons with those of Mexico, Columbia, Canada or Italy we see that human rights are not as prevalent as some may initially think. The guards in these prisons can use brute force on the inmates at their discretion with no consequences to themselves what-so-ever. Often only cold meals are served several times per day and the food is of low quality. Perhaps we should pay a passing glance to the Saudi Arabian system where you are likely to lose fingers and hand for merely stealing a loaf of bread.
I personally have visited a Turkish prison and believe me they are no country club in any stretch of the imagination. Inmates in many of them have done nothing wrong other than perhaps they did not have the money to pay their debts. In some ways they are more acceptable than ours but generally not too desirable. If you want and need personal items including clothing your family will need to provide you with the necessary funds. The same applies to your meals which are meager at best. If you are a smoker you would need family support to purchase the needed cigarettes. The prisons are frequently made with a large wall around them but the inside resembles a small city. You find individual row houses and armed guards patrol the area continuously twenty-four hours per day. The most immoral practice which I became aware of was that if a man owed another person money the debtors wife and daughters could be forced to enter this city prison and perform sex acts to pay off the debt. I visited the prison around the end of the 60s, so I would hope that by now the Turkish government had eliminated such practices but it is unlikely.
American prison inmates frequently do not accept counseling and feel no need to make use of the free education programs offered. Many inmates are released against their will resulting in them committing new crimes in order to return to the prison environment. Our prisons although not intended to be as such have spoiled the inmates with offers of professional counseling, no cost legal aid, classes educating the criminals as to what can and can not be done to them by the establishment and substance abuse treatment. Free college is at their disposal if they care to accept it along with job training. They receive high quality food regularly with choices of several different culinary dishes.
As we can see our correctional system has made great strives since its inception however it still has some improvements to be made.
Copyright @2012 Joseph Parish