Criminal Justice Paper on The Role of Prisons in Today’s Society

The Role of Prisons in Today’s Society


Prisons have emerged as critical components of the criminal justice system in the modern society. According to Rosen & Brienen (2015), prisons have traditionally been considered as the most severe punishment for the wrongdoers in the society. When a person commits a crime, people believe that something must be done and prisons are the first thing that comes to their mind. Prisons have particularly been effective in dealing with potential miscarriages of justice where other sanctions fail. Human Right organizations have also influenced the society to consider prisons as the most effective punishment compared to capital punishment which has failed in deterring crimes in the future. Empirically, prisons serve as the default punishment, and other correctional sanctions only serve as alternatives. This essay will examine the various aims of prisons as advanced by several authors. It will outline the justifications for the existence of prisons in the contemporary world as advocated by various criminal justice experts and authors.

Literature Review

As Bosworth & Sage Publications (2005) were able to prove, deterrence is one of the fundamental purposes of prisons and the main justification for sentencing criminals. Deterrence aims at reducing and preventing crimes by directing threats of sanctions to potential offenders in the society. According to the deterrence theory, people weigh the benefits and costs of a certain course of action before they make a decision. The deterrence theory is based on the premise that the offenders are aware of the threats of criminal sanctions and so they make a rational decision whether or not to commit a crime based on that information. Studies on the effectiveness of deterrence as a justification for the existence of prisons suggest that increasing the severity of punishment like increasing the imprisonment term generates a greater deterrence effect. Empirically, prisons discourage potential criminals from committing crimes as well as dissuading the inmates from reoffending. Prisons strike fear in criminal’s minds and prevent them from breaking the law. Although counter-arguments suggest that imprisonment has little or no effect on reoffending, it remains a major purpose of prisons.

Incapacitation is another justification for the existence of prisons. Stern (2014) defines incapacitation as the restriction of the offenders’ liberty and freedom which they normally would have enjoyed in the society. It is the immediate response in the criminal justice system used when an individual has committed a criminal offense. Incapacitation prevents the convicted criminal from committing subsequent crimes in the future because they are kept away from the society. Incapacitation is considered as one of the fundamental objectives of imprisonment. In some jurisdictions, incapacitation also involves capital punishment or dismemberment. Some jurisdictions especially the ones governed by Islamic law consider theft as a grave criminal act which is punished through cutting the offender’s right hand. In other jurisdictions, adultery in women is punished by stoning to death. Stern (2014) notes that the Western jurisdictions particularly US and UK do not apply these barbaric acts. In some cases, however, the courts may allow chemical castration for some offenses such as rape.

Rehabilitation is a significant reason for the existence of prisons today because it prevents future crimes by transforming the behavior of offenders. Marchuk (2013) reveals that providing counseling, educational programs, vocational training, and treatment center placements are the modern examples of rehabilitation roles of prisons today. The purpose of rehabilitation is to bring the transition to the offenders by training them how to function in the modern society. When the offenders are set free, they need to redeem and rebuild themselves which is not easy without prior training. If inmates are not trained how to function, they are likely to pose a greater risk to the society once they have been released. In most jurisdictions, the court may combine rehabilitation with probation or imprisonment. In some jurisdictions, the minor offenders are taken through rehabilitation or probation instead of incarceration. Rehabilitating the offenders of minor crimes lightens the burden of prisons and lowers reoffending.

As Bryans, Martin & Walker (2002) demonstrated, the importance of Retribution in preventing future crimes by preventing the desire for revenge in the form of criminal homicide, assault, or public battery against the offender cannot be underestimated. When the society establish that the offender has been fully punished for the crime they committed, they acquire some sense of satisfaction. Retribution also distracts the minds of both the offenders and the victims by keeping the offender away from the society for some time. It gives the victim the opportunity to heal while the offenders get a chance to repent for causing damages to the victim. The criminal justice system’s ability to deprive the offenders of their liberty and freedom of movement is the severest way to make them pay for the crimes against the society. It gives the society the assurance that the criminal justice in their country is working. The society also gains confidence in the law enforcement and the government at large.

In conclusion, this essay has demonstrated that prisons are of great importance to the society. Rehabilitation, retribution, incapacitation, and deterrence are the identifiable justifications for the existence of prisons today. Although counter-arguments suggest that prisons have become too expensive and ineffective, it is clear from the above discussion that the role of prisons particularly in the modern society cannot be undervalued.



Bosworth, M., & Sage Publications. (2005). Encyclopedia of prisons & correctional facilities. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.

Bryans, S., Martin, C., & Walker, R. (2002). Prisons and the voluntary sector: A bridge into the community. Winchester [England: Waterside Press.

Marchuk, S. (2013). The role of education in reducing inmate recidivism: Strategies and guidance. New York: Nova Science.

Rosen, J. D., & Brienen, M. W. (2015). Prisons in the Americas in the twenty-first century: A human dumping ground. Lanham: Lexington Books Press.

Stern, K. (2014). Voices from American prisons: Faith, education, and healing. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.