Putting people in cages does not solve any of the problems that lead to harm, such as drug abuse, poverty, violence or mental illness. 47% of adult prisoners, and 73% of prisoners under 18, are re-convicted within 1 year of their release. Most incarcerated people will find themselves back in the same situation they were in before upon their release, perhaps still struggling with poverty or addiction, having experienced the violence of incarceration and been away from their community. It is not surprising that so many people return to the behaviour that saw them imprisoned in the first place.
Given the obvious failure of prisons to solve problems, individual or societal, we need to let go of the idea that prisons promise rehabilitation, and start exploring other means of redressing harms and helping people live the way they want to.
We need more prisons
Our prison population is not growing because crime is increasing. It is growing because the government is changing our laws, and making more and more actions into criminal offenses. More than 3,200 new offenses have been created in the last 15 years, putting people in contact with the police, courts and prisons who previously could have gone on living their lives.
The solution to our growing prison population is not building more prisons to hold more people. The solution is decriminalisation – removing criminal offenses from our laws, and drastically reducing the control the police, courts and prisons exercise over people’s lives, so that people can remain in their communities.
Mega prisons will be more cost efficient
No prison is ‘cost efficient’. Prisons cost a lot, and drain vital resources from health care, education, housing and social programs which better address root causes of crime. Defunding the prison sector, and ensuring that everyone has a good living environment and does not lack the resources they need to take care of themselves, would vastly reduce crime and be an efficient and humane use of money.
New prisons will create economic growth for areas that need it
First of all, we need to refuse the idea that building and filling prisons is an acceptable price to pay for economic growth. This devalues the lives of incarcerated people, who are not simply a resource that can be used to solve economic problems.
Secondly, prisons do not tend to economically benefit the areas in which they are built. Studies of American ‘prison towns’ have found that hosting a prison does not increase a town’s per capita income or reduce unemployment. See a report on this here.
Prisons generally do not have good links to the local economy, as prison services such as food are not provided by local businesses but by large national entities. They may create jobs, but working as a prison guard, monitoring and controlling people all day long, is not good work and can have a very negative effect on the individual doing it; and many of the jobs are filled by people living outside the prison’s immediate area.