The Corner

Criminology 101

Jonah: Roger on your last. I had a colleague in England circa 1980 who had

been a prison probation officer in a previous life. I remember the

following from our conversations. (1) There are three kinds of people doing

time in prison: the sad, the bad, and the mad. (2) Prison serves four

social purposes: punishment (you did something bad to us, now we’ll do

something bad to you), incapacitation (locked up in here, you are no threat

to free citizens), deterrence (free citizens who may be thinking of a career

in crime see how it ends up) and rehabilitiation (we’ll have a shot at

making something decent out of you, if you seem willing). He also told me

that imprisonment was a recent invention, historically speaking. Most of

the great ancient civilizations–Rome, China, etc.–held very few prisoners.

The usual punishments for antisocial acts throughout most of human history

were exile, mutilation, or death. Imprisonment is a pretty new idea.

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