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  • Can you imagine what a

  • world without prisons would look like?

  • Happier?

  • Safer?

  • Scarier?

  • Or is it just impossible to imagine?

  • Maybe that's because it feels

  • as if prisons have just always been part of society?

  • Even though they haven't.

  • The idea that prison can reform and rehabilitate

  • is only around 200 years old.

  • Or perhaps it's because we're told we need prisons to deter criminals?

  • Even though there's no consistent link

  • between the prison population and levels of crime.

  • Or is it because we think prisons keep us safe?

  • For some offenders, their time in prison

  • can be a period of reflection and growth,

  • but others struggle and can become traumatised or more dangerous,

  • and re-offending rates are high.

  • But just because it's hard to imagine -

  • and we don't have all the answers yet -

  • that mustn't stop us trying to consider a world without prisons.

  • And asking ourselves if there is a better approach?

  • A world without prisons would mean upending our current system,

  • and putting the needs of those who are harmed first.

  • Right now, prisons are too often used as a kind of last resort

  • for dealing with the inequalities and problems

  • that our health, welfare,

  • education and employment systems aren't solving.

  • Which is one reason why people from some ethnic minorities,

  • from poorer communities,

  • those with a history of mental health problems,

  • or people who've grown up in care,

  • are all more likely to end up in prison.

  • Crime won't be reduced by continuing to lock all these people up.

  • What will help is tackling the societal problems

  • that have led them to commit harm in the first place.

  • So, in a world without prisons,

  • funding priorities would need to shift.

  • Using some of the current prisons budget might help.

  • But this would just be a small contribution -

  • in fact, far bigger and systemic change is needed.

  • Because while we focus on blaming, prosecuting and punishing

  • the harms and crimes of the poor,

  • all too often we ignore the wider economic, structural

  • and psychological harms committed by the powerful.

  • A world without prisons would be fairer.

  • But could it also be safer?

  • Yes, a small number of people do need to be kept out of society

  • for the safety of us all.

  • But although the idea of evil looms large in our culture,

  • our prisons contain fewer dangerous people than we imagine.

  • Nevertheless, any attempt to reduce danger and harm in society

  • would need a new culture of safety and respect,

  • ensuring those who may be harmed are properly protected.

  • And preventing violence in the first place,

  • rather than allowing it to breed in prisons and return into communities.

  • Properly funded interventions

  • to safeguard vulnerable children from harm,

  • and refuges for victims of sexual or domestic violence,

  • would be essential.

  • And how would victims feel in this world without prisons?

  • Wouldn't they want... well, justice to be done?

  • In fact, most victims don't cite revenge or punishment

  • as their priority.

  • What they care about most

  • is protecting themselves and others from harm in the future.

  • Restorative justice, or a truth and reconciliation process,

  • is a very effective way of doing this -

  • allowing victims to talk through grievances,

  • accept what has happened to them, and rebuild their lives.

  • The impact of any harm is formally recognised by the one who caused it -

  • but also by society.

  • This encourages communities to take responsibility

  • for helping both victim and offender.

  • Because when you can't simply lock someone up,

  • everyone has a vested interest

  • in finding ways to live more peaceably together.

  • In a world without prisons, justice isn't about punishment.

  • It isn't about repeating cycles of violence and harm.

  • It's a world where justice is about righting systemic wrongs,

  • about supporting people to meet their employment, education,

  • and health needs.

  • It's a world focused on social justice rather than vengeance.

  • So a different approach isn't impossible.

  • But maybe many of us are still imprisoned by old ideas?

  • Imagining a world without prisons

  • will require all of us to think outside the box.

Can you imagine what a

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What would a world without prisons be like? | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2020/08/21
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