Friday, January 22, 2010

Prison, its Characteristics and Aims

The crimes have existed in every society and in all times. Seeing that there is no society nor any era which is free from crimes, one is temped to say that criminality and humanity are the two sides of the same coin; and if this hurts some sensitive souls, this at least can be maintained without the fear of contradiction that no society can be free from a-social elements. The conception of society involves the conception of discipline and the discipline is needed only if the subject of discipline is wild, free and unfettered. The social thinkers have always been concerned about the ways of dealing with the crime and the criminals. Some have advocated the simplest way of elimination: kill or transport criminals. But others have advocated a moderate approach of reform and rehabilitation of the criminal by letting them realize their folly and learn the new way of life. It is under this approach that the idea of prison sprang up and various shelters or housing complexes were put up to exclude the criminal from the society so that he may realize and learn that deviant life does not pay and that he must accept the discipline of the society. In order to know fully about prison, their aim and purpose, we must first of all, attempt a definition of the prison.

Definition of Prison

The prison is a place which shelters persons of a particular category, viz. criminals, each for a definite period depending upon the ruling of the courts, to the exclusion of his family members. Below we give the definitions offered by eminent scholars of penology:

(A) In his book Society and the Criminal, M. J. Sethna defines prison thus; “A prison (meaning a ‘cage’) is a place for detention, prisons are places for detention of undertrials also. They are the place where the offender can be loged for his/her reformation”. Two features emerge from this definition: (1) prison is a place of temporary stay and (2) the temporary stay is intended to reform the criminal, that is, make him realize the folly of his deviant behaviour and also help him accept the normal ways of living.

(B) According to the ordinance of 1984, a prison house is a particular building or a building complex set up and maintained by the state government for keeping on a temporary or permanent basis the convicts and the undertrials. This definition brings out an important feature of the prison, namely, the fact that it is set up and maintained by the state government.

(C) Fairchild has defined the prison house in his Dictionary of Sociology thus: The prison house is a “penal institution operated by either the state or the federal government and used only for adult offenders whose sentence exceeds one year.” The definition of Fairchild brings out three elements: (1) government; (2) only adults are lodged there and they must have been proclaimed offender by the courts and (3) only those offenders are kept in the prison whose sentence exceeds one year.


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