this one has taken a lot of thought and a lot of discussions to sort out in any real way. i think i've thought this through to some fairly good conclusions, but perhaps someone will hate me for this, too. fingers-crossed.
the question of what to do about prison time is one that i have gone back and forth on for some time. there are times i feel too lenient and other times i feel too harsh, and neither lasts for very long. the issue seems obvious to me, while lenience can provide opportunities for real growth and change of the offending individual, there seems to come a time when it is just enabling the behavior.
note, here, that while this issue directly relates to individual laws and how they are prosecuted and possible inequalities of sentencing, etc., those are separate for this discussion. for the moment, i am going to assume that laws are there and breaking them results in punishment, that's about it.
my general outlook on punishment for severe crimes is that the punishment needs to be uncomfortable enough that someone will not want to do the time in the first place, and unpleasant enough that should one receive said punishment that they will think seriously before acting similarly if they are allowed out again. what i have seen of prisons seems too much like the prisoners are running things and the guards/staff are only there to prevent total chaos, which is akin to letting your kids do nearly whatever they want so long as they don't kill each other or you. i.e., not a solution.
so for more minor crimes � and no i don't have an easy definition for you, but we can assume a common ground for the time being � rehab and high school education are offered, perhaps work-release. if rehab is failed or for repeat offenders, the punishment gets more severe, more work, less freedom, etc.
for serious crimes, rehab is still offered as is education, and here is the first divide. if certain felons are not interested in the rehab/education route, if they are repeat serious offenders, then they get less freedom, less opportunity, more punishment.
one of my more conservative friends thinks that the death penalty for the worst criminals is too easy of a way out, and is not really a punishment. so he has offered the idea that these individuals be beaten to the brink of death, nursed to health, and repeat. i'm not sure how that solves the internal problems of the criminal, nor the external problems of spending vast amounts of money on prisons and prisoners.
so another very liberal friend has offered the idea that rehab and education along with very limited prison time, work-release, and victim/criminal confrontations are the way to go as it allows closure and healing. and while i can get on board with the sentiment, to me that only works in the minor crimes arena. if you've stolen my stereo, then all of that along with reimbursement is possible, and appropriate. but if you've violated my person physically or sexually, or you've killed me, saying sorry is no longer the bar you have to cross to see the outside world again. it may remain a bar, but the rest of them got higher and more difficult to get over.
so i think prisons for those meting out the serious crimes should be very taxing. there should be a lot of work, no pay, actual food but nothing beyond what is healthy, and stimulation (tv, books, newspapers, other people) would be severely restricted. a lot of people i bring this up to don't like that, think it is too harsh, but that is what people should learn as a kid. some don't, do horrible things, and need to be taught. so be it.
i know many such criminals have mental problems, but those would be dealt with through mental help specialists and medication where appropriate.
too many prisons are just state run homes for drug lords and gang rulers who still run everything just like they did when they were outside except now they have taxes paying to keep them alive and preying on others. communication is cut. visits are allowed but no contact to pass contraband, no letters or packages in or out, no phone calls. if you really wanted to see your family then maybe you wouldn't have killed someone.
so basically there would be two tiers (major and minor crimes) and two divisions within each tier (those going the rehab/education route and those choosing not to).
i am not oblivious of issues that lead to crime (poverty, opportunity, education, home situation, role models...) and those issues need to be addressed as well, agreed. at some point it does come down to a choice, and it is getting beyond old to be subsidizing those that chose to kill and maim others for nothing beyond a whim. and disappearing them isn't looked on very favorably anymore; thanks argentina.*
* - that sentence was sarcasm before i get exploded on.
always assuming the worst