Friday, May 9, 2014

What Is The Point Of Prison? by Chad Flanders

Commentary: What Is The Point Of Prison?
By Chad Flanders             May 6, 2014

The saga of Mike Anderson, a man convicted of armed robbery 13 years ago and amazingly never put in prison (except for a few months at the time he should have been released), is seemingly at an end. A circuit judge decided that making Anderson serve his sentence would “serve no purpose” and released him to live the rest of his life a free man. 

The series of events raises troubling questions on the front end of the Missouri criminal justice system: How could a person guilty of a serious crime be able to escape punishment without anyone noticing? 

But it also raises important questions about the point of punishing people with prison. 

From all available evidence, the Mike Anderson who was not in prison for 13 years led an exemplary life. He married, had kids, started a business, and paid his taxes. He fully rehabilitated himself. Indeed, his behavior after his conviction was crucial in the judge’s decision to let him go. Punishing him wouldn’t do him or society any good. 

We don’t know how Anderson would have fared in prison; thankfully. Anderson doesn’t have to know, either. Maybe he would have also led an exemplary life as an inmate. Some inmates do. But many inmates do not. 

We do know that sending people to prison very often doesn’t make them better, it makes them worse. In 2011, the Pew Center released a study on recidivism rates in the 50 states. Missouri had the third highest re-offense rate in the country, with well more than half (54.4 percent) of those imprisoned committing new crimes upon release and returning to prison. Again, we don’t know what would have happened had Mike Anderson gone to prison for 13 years and been released. But we know he would be at a high risk of reoffending.