Humanism is both an ethical and philosophical stance that stresses the agency and value of human beings either individually or collectively and affirms the ability of human beings to improve the quality of their lives through reason instead of following superstitions and traditions blindly thereby heightening the risks of sinking into brutality and cruelty. The history of the world is characterized by systemic developments that embodied the human desire to use reason in developing stable social structures capable of improving the quality of life. Key among such developments was the invention of prisons. Prisons are creations of philosophical viewpoints such as utilitarianism and came as an inherent feature of social contract theories in which humans designed proportional infliction of pain as a type of punishment for a wrong. Imprisonment typifies the use of reason in developing structures with successive developments showing the use of reason in improving the quality of life in the society.
Prisons, also known as penitentiaries jail and remand centers are social creations that that confine inmates forcibly and deny them several liberties under the authority of the government as a way of punishing criminals for the crimes committed against others in the society (Schneider, 2016). Social contract theory which personified the human desire for safety explained that members of a society readily give up some of their liberties to the state through elections in return for a safe society. The development of prisons followed immense philosophical considerations that sought to rationalize the infliction of pain and the development of appropriate forms of punishments capable of safeguarding the human dignity while ensuring the safety of the society.
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Penitentiary, for example, comes from penitent, an adjective that refers to the feelings of regret and sorrow. Philosophical studies showed that isolation provided people with opportunities for introspection thus eliciting the ability to repent for their actions (Walby & Piché, 2015). Modern prisons have structures that offer counseling to prisoners and concentrate on rehabilitating the behaviors of inmates as a principal way of safeguarding the human dignity. As such, most modern day prisons contribute to the development of safer societies by enabling the prisoners to reflect on their behaviors, acquire a sense of responsibility and transform their behaviors before their eventual reintegration into the society.
Modern day developments such as the prison reform movements in the United States in the 1970s followed widespread prison riots such as the infamous Attica riots that justified a paradigm shift in the design and implementation of modern prison systems capable of addressing contemporary security problems. Prisons thus served as significant deterrence for crime by preventing people from committing crimes and punishing crime as well. The reforms that typified modern philosophies sought to improve the justice system thereby made prisons integral elements in the justice system that focused on restorative justice (Schneider, 2016).
As such, imprisonment strives to improve the security of the society while endeavoring to reform the behavior of the prisoners thus providing them a second chance at re-entry into the society as reformed individuals depending on the seriousness of their crimes. Prisons have become increasingly humane and equally effective owing to the adoption of new practical, philosophical viewpoints that provide prisoners with some basic human rights and a chance to reform their behavior. Similarly, the prisons punish wrongdoing and inflict a sense of responsibility, features that justify the cost of running the prison systems in an economy.
- Schneider, D. (2016). Decency, Evolved: The Eighth Amendment Right to Transition in Prison. Wisconsin Law Review, 2016(4), 835–871.
- Walby, K., & Piché, J. (2015). Making Meaning out of Punishment: Penitentiary, Prison, Jail, and Lock-up Museums in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 57(4), 475–502. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjccj.2014.E15