Prison is ineffective because most people come out worse than they went in

The Prison Population in Australia

According to recent assessments, the prisoner population in Australia is growing. By the end of June 2016, the number of adult prisoners has risen by 8% from 38,845 in 2015. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016). In all, 208 Australians were imprisoned for every 100,000 adults. The number of unsentenced prisoners has also increased. Victoria has eleven state prisons, one transition center, and two private prisons where offenders can acquire training, work, pregnancy and childcare, recreational activities, and other services (Victoria Government, 2017). Prisons are meant to act as corrective centres for criminals. In Victoria, they complement community corrections where offenders are managed and supervised within the community. However, it is possible to question the efficiency of prisons considering cases of recidivism, and the fact that some offenders display worse behavior once they leave the prison. This issue is discussed in the following sections while touching on the role of prisons, the possible effects of abolishing the prison system, and a comparison between imprisonment and other forms of punishment.

The Role of Prisons

Imprisonment is expected to have certain effects on the lives of prisoners, not only in Victoria but also in other states around the world. For instance, it is believed that prisons play a significant role in crime prevention. When offenders are incarcerated for crimes committed, there are chances that criminal activities reduce within their area of operation. This phenomenon is better understood through the deterrence theory, which concerns the prevention of criminal activities by instilling the fear of punishment (Vito & Maahs, 2017). This theory is based on the conception that humans are rational, are keen on avoiding pain, and that they seek pleasure. In this regard, people's criminal behavior is motivated by the pleasure it brings. Punishment brings pain hence is likely to deter crime. First, imprisonment helps the society realize that engaging in criminal activities is likely to result in substantial pain. Therefore, they refrain from criminal behavior for fear of experiencing the pain. Individual offenders are also unlikely to repeat their actions once they experience the pain of punishment. To achieve these outcomes, countries ensure that punishment is swift, severe, and certain (Vito & Maahs, 2017).

Moreover, imprisonment as a form of punishment is expected to restore the social balance and reaffirm. More precisely, incarceration is based on the concept of retribution, which implies that all offenders are deserving of punishment because they violate a legal system that is beneficial to all (Kaufman, 2013). Imprisonment is also expected to reaffirm social bonds by echoing the country's unwillingness to tolerate crime. Further, prisons are expected to serve as rehabilitation facilities. In Australia, significant resources have been invested in the creation of programs meant to rehabilitate moderate and high-risk offenders. So far, there is adequate evidence that rehabilitation helps reduce recidivism in the country (Haseltine, Sarre & Day, 2011). Narrowing down the states, Victoria has established offence-focused rehabilitation programs. Personnel from different professional backgrounds are involved in these programs. They include psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers (Haseltine, Sarre & Day, 2009).

In some instances, prisons fail to meet these expectations. Imprisonment may fail to deter other people from engaging in criminal acts. Criminals may also fail to reap the benefits of the rehabilitation programs put in place. This explains why some offenders may display worse behavior after imprisonment. However, this occurrence does not imply that prison is absolutely ineffective.

Comparing Prisons to Other Forms of Punishment

The Australian legal system provides various alternatives to incarceration, which are applicable throughout the country. One of the alternatives is probation where the convicted persons receive a community-based sentence instead of going to prison. Probation is beneficial to offenders as they get to keep their jobs, maintain their residence, and enjoy family life with minimal disruption. It is also cost effective for the state. The persons on probation are required to engage in community work with regular supervision (Government of Western Australia, 2017). Criminals may also be required to pay fines instead of serving a jail term. The fines are commensurate with the crime committed and in line with the relevant legislations. Other alternatives to incarceration are good behavior bonds, suspended sentences, and rehabilitation. Those who receive a good behavior bond promise to exhibit good behavior for the required period. Victoria also permits home detention amidst controversy (Edney & Bagaric, 2007). While these alternative methods may be beneficial to both the offender and the state, they have various disadvantages that make incarceration the better option.

Overall, the alternatives to imprisonment may not deter crime (Schmalleger, 2007). This is because they do not experience the pain associated with being a prisoner. In this regard, imprisonment is bound to be the most effective factor for deterrence. Additionally, the punishment methods mentioned above give criminals more opportunities to re-offend (Brassil & Brassil, 2007). They have access to the resources and environment they need to engage in crime. However, prison incapacitates the prisoners, leaving little room to re-offend. Criminals are kept away from the rest of the population for as long as their crime dictates.

Further, alternative punishment methods such as the good behavior bond and home detention make supervision difficult (Brassil & Brassil, 2007). The supervisor may not stay with the offender long enough to identify continued misbehavior. It is also possible for the offenders to mask their criminal tendencies when in the presence of the supervisor or when they suspect being monitored. This implies that the convicted persons may not necessary achieve the desired transformation. Therefore, prison provides supervisory advantage. The prisoners are keenly monitored to deter them from committing more crimes and encourage a change of behavior. This makes it easier to produce fully rehabilitated individuals after the completion of their jail term.

Possible Consequences of Abolishing the Prison System

Challenges encountered in the prison system such as high costs, failed rehabilitation attempts, and mental health conditions may cause some states to consider the abolishment of incarceration. In regards to these issues, there have been arguments that prisons are not the ultimate solution to the reduction of crime and that the alternative methods discussed above may be more effective. While commenting on the rising imprisonment rates in Australia, Segrave, Eriksson and Russell (2015) view Victoria as one of the retrogressive states. Initially, the state had low imprisonment rates but later experienced a 40.5% increase in imprisonment rates between 2009 and 2014 (Segrave et al., 2015). However, abolishing the prison system is bound to have both positive and negative effects.

In the positive light, the abolishment of the prison system would give way to the use of the alternative methods of punishment discussed in the previous section. This way, the state can reap the benefits of these methods. Of most effect is the cost-effective nature of these alternative techniques. The available evidence shows that Victoria and Australia in general spent a lot of money on prisons, which can be redirected to other developmental causes. For instance, Victoria's 2017/18 budget includes $145.2 million to finance the expanded prison system (Australian Government, 2017). Moreover, abolishing the prison system can help protect individuals and families from the harm caused by incarceration. This includes the disruption of family life, loss of income, loneliness, mental illnesses including stress, depression, higher risk of self-harm, and illiteracy.

On the other hand, abolishing incarceration may cause more harm to Victoria. For example, the lack of prisons gives dangerous criminals the freedom to interact with law-abiding citizens. Unless they undergo rehabilitation, these people pose great danger to the community. Besides, the other lenient methods of punishment may not be able to cause a change of behavior among notorious criminals. In addition, crime rates are likely to increase if the fear of imprisonment is eliminated. More people may commit crime when the forms of punishment available cause little or no pain. Further, with the total abolishment of prisons, it may be difficult to reduce the associated costs as more supervisors, police, and other relevant personnel would be needed to offer the necessary services to all offenders. Supervision may also become a nightmare for the personnel involved, counteracting rehabilitation efforts.


From the discussion above, it is evident that prisons provide immense benefits to both offenders and the state. At the same time, there are chances that some offenders may fail to benefit from the rehabilitation services provided, causing them to display worse behavior after completion of their jail term. This may arise due to personal reasons, lack of resources in prisons, or negligence by prison staff. Nevertheless, prisons remain of great importance hence should not be abolished. Instead, the government can focus on reforming correctional facilities to ensure that the desired behavior change is achieved.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). Prisoners in Australia. Retrieved from[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/4517.0~2016~Main%20Features~Key%20findings~1

Australian Government. (2017). Victorian budget 2017/18. Retrieved from

Brassil, B., & Brassil, D. (2007). Excel HSC legal studies. Glebe, N.S.W: Pascal Press.

Edney, R., & Bagaric, M. (2007). Australian sentencing: Principles and practice. Port Melbourne, Vic: Cambridge University Press.

Government of Western Australia. (2017). Adult community corrections- Probation. Retrieved from

Haseltine, K., Sarre, R. & Day, A. (2009). Prison-based correctional offender rehabilitation programs: The 2009 national picture in Australia. AIC Reports: Research and Public Policy Series, 112: 1-85.

Haseltine, K., Sarre, R. & Day, A. (2011). Prison-based correctional rehabilitation: An overview of intensive interventions for moderate to high-risk offenders. Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 412: 1-5.

Kaufman, W. R. P. (2013). Honor and revenge: A theory of punishment. Dordrecht: Springer.

Schmalleger, F. (2007). Criminal justice today: An introductory text for the twenty-first century. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall.

Segrave, M., Eriksson, A. & Russell, E. (2015). State of imprisonment: Victoria is leading the nation backwards. Retrieved from

Victoria Government. (2017). Corrections, Prisons and Parole. Retrieved from

Vito, G. F., & Maahs, J. R. (2017). Criminology: Theory, research, and policy. Burlington, Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

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