“Does prison work?” is a question whose answer depends, to some extent, on the context in which it’s framed. In the UK, for example, the rationale for imprisonment has centred around four main ideas:
Each of these dimensions frames the question in the sense that “prison works” if it’s objective is punishment (retributive justice) but doesn’t seem to work if the objective is rehabilitation; rates of reoffending (recidivism) are notoriously high.
An important argument, however, is that the rehabilitative function of prison has been overwhelmed in recent years by its retributive function; rehabilitation has been a very low priority for politicians, media and public alike. This is partly explained by:
Recent ERSC-funded research, however, has thrown an interesting light on the idea of offender rehabilitation and uses a range of sociological and psychological insights to suggest news ways of transforming rehabilitation to cut reoffending.
If you’re interested in looking at these questions in another way, the Crime and Deviance Channel features a short video in which Professor Carol Hedderman examines some key questions about the use of imprisonment in our society to control crime.