Commentary: The American prison system could use reworking

Restorative justice is meant to appease all parties involved to best benefit society.

Alexandra Felt

Restorative justice is meant to appease all parties involved to best benefit society.

Prison abolition isn’t a bad thing.

From what I gather, prison abolition is sometimes misunderstood. It’s not about the erasure of our criminal justice system, it’s about replacing it with something new and better.

The most important thing to know is that prison abolitionists believe in alternative forms of justice. The system currently in place is punitive and centers around the idea that an offender should be punished in response to a crime they committed, believing that punishment will change their behavior or deter them from that behavior.

Abolitionists propose a change to restorative and preventative justice.

Restorative justice defines crime as transgression of one person against another, rather than transgression against the state as in punitive justice. It focuses on communication between offender and victim, should they so choose, so that both parties are restored.

The offender takes accountability for their actions by repairing harm done and the victim has a voice in what would be sufficient to repair the harm of the crime, with the end goal being reconciliation for both parties.

This doesn’t mean restorative justice is the best way to deal with every crime, but it could work in many more instances than you may think.

Low level criminal offenses count for around 25 percent of the prison population. Restorative justice such as community service, restitution or treatment would be better alternatives for crimes such as these. It has been proven to reduce the likelihood of repeated offenses, especially among juveniles

Recidivism is common in the U.S., with around 70 percent of prisoners facing reincarceration within five years of release. We also have the highest prison population in the world, accounting for 4.5 percent of the world population yet housing 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. Punitive justice has effectively failed in reducing criminal behavior because it has no focus on rehabilitation and deterrence theory clearly isn’t working.

Additionally, a 2016 survey by the Alliance for Safety and Justice showed that more victims are for rehabilitation of criminals than punishment.

So why not move towards a system of justice that is better for everyone? Why not put the funds into rehabilitating criminals and preventing crime? It’s working in other countries — take Norway as an example.

Whether you support or oppose the abolishment of our current prison system, I think it’s good to start thinking about what can change and become better in our criminal justice system for the betterment of the country.