Certainly not the kind of 'lock them up and throw away key' type of prison.
We have prisons to make us feel safe. We have them because we believe that imprisonment is a deterrent and that before we commit a crime we will say to ourselves. "I can't to that I will go to prison, rather than I will not get caught, I am drunk I don't care." .
The other reason we have prisons is to punish people for doing things that are an inconvenience, threaten our property or person or break a law or rule of our society.
But in reality we imprison people who commit crimes when under the influence of drugs and alcohol (about 80% of those in prison), have killed in a state of mental illness usually a close relative or friend. We also have an ability to put in prison people who have intellectual disability and are suffering from a mental illness. We also imprison for crimes committed using or misusing cars.
Once in prison we do not provide drug or alcohol rehabilitation courses, (prison population nearly 9000, courses for about 400).
We don't treat the prisoners with mental illness. We just take away liberty and put people in inhumane environments, with people who are unlikely to provide the needs for rehabilitation, or to encourage positive reintegration into society. We do provide a few course to teach people to read and write, and for a very few provide for health needs.
I do agree that some people do need to be kept away from society and locked away, but the prison is not the place. We closed the Psychiatric Institutions, we stopped having publically funded places for residential drug and alcohol treatment and we have placed almost all those who have intellectual disability in the community.
So what should we do? Well first search for the reasons for offending and then look at those who are rehabilitated successfully and see what works. We should give those who offend a way to find themselves, stop being addicted, find out how to cope with life, find a way to get a job or more often find a legal way to get an income. Also how to express themselves both creatively and by learning to read and communicate.
When the big institutions were being closed we talked about providing:
- positive employment of time
- shelter and food
- friendships and a place to go and feel accepted.
Alternatives to prison are always cheaper, society must have a mind change and not demand prisons. They don't work as rehabilitation and they don't work as a deterrent.