Prisons are an integral part of our justice system, and because the system must stretch nation-wide, there are many social and political issues to discuss in an essay.
You can explore these issues in an expository essay to raise awareness of problems or statistics, or choose a topic such as medical care or the funding of educational programs, and write a persuasive essay for or against reform in that area.
Looking at any of these topics from a historical perspective would also make a good essay.
Overcrowding, violence, disease, poor nutrition, and poor medical care are all well-documented problems. In addition there may be laws, such as a Three Strikes Law, which contribute to them.
Cruel and unusual punishment, solitary confinement, and abuse from officers are only some of the ways in which prisoners’ rights are violated. Consider examining cases of these problems, or look into what rights prisoners have to retaliate. For example: can they sue the prison?
Government-maintained correctional facilities are funded by tax dollars, which is a hot political topic.
You might consider questions like: how much of a nation’s tax dollars go to prisons? Is it enough? What about cuts in funding and their effect on the prisons? If taxes are not enough, is it ethical or effective to lend prisoners out to private companies?
Some prisons allow inmates to benefit from educational programs to get their high school diplomas or receive vocational training. Problems with funding, starting such a program, or the percentage of success might be good places to start an good discussion or essay.
What is the true aim of our prison system? Many would argue that it is to punish those who have committed wrongs. Yet this should be a secondary function of these institutions. Their most important function must be to rehabilitate and reintegrate criminals into society so prisons can have a positive effect on inmates.
Using punishment to rehabilitate a criminal is analogous to using an ice pack to fix a broken bone. Each remedy attempts to correct only the symptoms, but once they are taken away the problem is still there. As a weed must be torn out by its roots, crime must be eliminated by destroying its underlying causes.
The roots of crime are often a result of a person's alienation form society, which steals his dignity and worth. Consequently, this causes feelings of detachment and helplessness and destroys any feeling of personal responsibility to that community. In other words, he will have no personal interest in, nor the power to effect his community and therefore he cannot care about its fate. As a result of his apathy, he will have little objection to putting his personal welfare above that of the community by breaking the law.
As a society we must help alienated people by reviving their dignity and giving them the skills and knowledge to help themselves. Through education and job training, these criminals can have the power to take control of their own life and contribute to the community. Once able to contribute to the community, a person will feel a sense of ownership in that society. He will therefore want to protect the community, and uphold its laws. In short, a criminal with the right rehabilitation can be turned from a menace to society into one of its valuable assets.
A prisoner who is not given the chance to get an education, receive job training, and have healthy interactions with people is likely to walk out of prison in worse shape than when he went in. Conversely, after undergoing effective reform programs, he can make a positive impact on the community when he re-enters. To conclude, the true aim of our prison system must be to reform and rehabilitate criminals, not to simply punish them. ?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.