I’ve spent the last couple of weeks deep-diving into the world of prison documentaries. In-depth films that allow you to hear the experiences of various prisoners serving jail sentences from a few months all the way up to death row.

I will leave some links below to documentaries I have watched recently, but I will let you know that most of these prisons have been based in America and contain elements of bias, just like any other documentary. Also, in this post, I’m not going to dive into the death penalty – but you can find my thoughts in this previous post:

Why we must abolish the Death Penalty

The key theme exposed within each documentary is the immense amount of time many inmates spend in prison, regardless of their rehabilitation. At one prison, called Indiana State Prison, there is a barbershop run by prisoners who hold multiple sharp scissors and are convicted of serious violent crimes. Still, there hadn’t been an attack in the barbershop in over two decades. One prisoner, a convicted murderer, had worked in the barbershop for more than 30 decades. Why is this man in jail?

Another prison that I found incredibly confronting was a female correctional centre. Over 80% of women in the prison are mothers. Some are in there for minor crimes such as drug possession, but their previous criminal record causes them to spend extended times in prison where they miss the critical moments of their children’s lives. Some women even entered the jail while pregnant, were taken to the hospital under security guard to give birth, and then returned to the prison with their newborn child. Why are these women in jail?

We grow up with a very straightforward idea being presented to us. (To be honest, I’m not really sure where it originates from? Parents? Early education?).

Regardless, it’s the idea that prisons are for bad people so that they can’t get out and hurt anyone. It’s simple, straightforward, and very easy for any child to understand. Even as we grow older into primary and high school, attitudes towards prison remain remarkably consistent, leading to an entrenched belief within the adult population that prisons are required to ensure the community’s safety.

Criminal vs Society. If that’s the choice that we have to make, we will choose society every time. We can’t be upset that we want to feel protected as a population rather than allowing a convicted criminal to live outside of prison. BUT, what if that equation doesn’t exist at all?

What if releasing a criminal doesn’t change the likelihood of harm to the community at all?

Because I can tell you this much, the man who has worked in a prison barbershop for 30 years poses zero threat to the community’s safety. And multiple mothers caring for their newborn children while in prison also would have no impact on society if they were released. So why are we continuing to waste billions of dollars and destroy people’s lives when no difference is being made?

This is an essential point that we need to consider when we reflect on the role of prisons within our society. We know more about the brain than ever before – it is rehabilitation that can transform criminal behaviour and reduce recidivism. It isn’t incapacitation. For severe crimes, severe punishment is understandable. I’m not at all suggesting that a convicted murderer should be given a 1-year sentence and then released. However, our goal must always be finding pathways that can safely reintegrate an offender into the community.

Our current obsession with prisons is not the best way to achieve that goal…

Prison Documentaries:

Inside Indiana State Maximum Security Prison – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tqypS2cm0g

Death Row: Indian State Prison – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0__XpC6c-bQ

Inside Death Row Five Years On – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGT2pwNO0yk

Women Behind Bars Maximum Security Prison – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbUTHDxhmME

Prison For Life Women’s Maximum Security Prison – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um40nauAuvg

Britain’s Most Dangerous Psychiatric Hospital – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qpX0FUDzuw&t=167s

Louis Theroux – San Quentin Prison

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