At this very moment in time there are 82,813 people in prisons in the UK (weekly updates of prison UK populations) whereas in February 2004 there were only 69,122. We are punishing more-and-more people every year with prison but is it effective (a topic for another post) and does it only punish those who were at fault?
In the first known study of its kind, University of Michigan researchers found that people with a family member or friend in prison or jail suffer worse physical and mental health and more stress and depressive symptoms than those without a loved one behind bars. Moreover, these symptoms worsen the closer the relationship to the person who was locked up
According to the study, those who knew someone in prison had 40 percent more days where poor physical health interfered with their usual activities, including work, and 54 percent more days where poor mental or emotional health interfered with these activities.
Should this be a consideration when deciding on a suitable punishment for an offender?
Many people believe that all offenders should be punished. Some believe individuals can change and can be responsive to rehabilitative interventions, either within prison or the community others feel that prisons should be more strict than they currently are (or at least seem to be if you believe the media).
There are many motivations behind punishments, some negative, so to reinforce the concept that the individual has done wrong, some supportive to help rehabilitate the offender.
Many would consdier these factors when thinking about the punishment of going to prison but it seems that we have ignored those that could be at risk in society – those related to offenders who are sent to prison.
Talking about the study into the effects of prison on ‘loved ones’ the research states: “Our study demonstrates that incarceration is not only enormously expensive economically, it also has public health costs and these should be taken into consideration. In the last 30 years or so, we have seen a more and more punitive system, one where judges no longer have discretion for sentencing.”
Moving toward a rehabilitation model may benefit both the offending individuals and society – but should we?
Kruger, D.J., & De Loney, E. H. (in press). The association of incarceration with community health and racial health disparities. Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action.