Hi Maddy, thank you for the question.
I have a hunch you will not like my answer too much, but here goes. Having a BA in Corrections, I do know the inner workings of the penal system. I also have a good bit of knowledge of the law enforcement and prosecution of offenders. I will say that I do not support the death penalty, unless you can guarantee me that the offender sentenced is the correct person being put to death. Too many times, our society had locked up people for offences they did not commit. That is just unacceptable.
You do have to look at the “big picture” though, and realize that most first, second or even third time offenders are not sentenced to prison. They may be locked up in a local jail for a short time, but long prison sentences are a rarity. Most offenders who are sentenced to long prison terms have been down that road before. That is to say, this is not their first rodeo.
You must also think about the victims that have been harmed by an offender. For example let’s assume that an offender has been a “career criminal”, and finally does the unthinkable and he kills the driver of vehicle he wants to car-jack. My question then is it right to let him off with a light sentence when he has purposely, and forever harmed an innocent family? I mean let’s say that the person he killed was a mother to two kids, and a wife with a husband. Now, the husband has the responsibility for raising those two children. Is that fair? I don’t think so.
Prisons in our society are there to punish the offender first by restricting his freedom. It is also there to hopefully let the offender reflect on his actions, come to terms with them, and show some true remorse for what he did. Further, the prison system is there to potentially “rehabilitate” the offender so that he may come out of prison with the skills necessary to be a functional member of society, and hold a job upon release. That is the goal. Is it always possible? Does it always happen? NO. Many times the prison system fails the offender by allowing some to be brutalized by other inmates. Some have guards that truly neither care about the offender or the purpose of rehabilitation.
The Cook County Jail (Chicago, IL) was the first jail facility in our country. The system expanded from there. Today, we see more and more private prisons doing the job of the Government. I do not agree with private prisons, because there is little oversight from the Government who incarcerated the offender. It does leave an offender in a bad position when this happens. You must also look at the pay that is received by a prison guard. It is extremely low for the risks faced everyday.
In closing let me say that if an offender is not mentally capable of understanding the ramifications of what he has done; if he cannot tell right from wrong, then you are correct. That individual needs to be placed judicially in an institution for treatment, and not in prison. However, if on the other hand, they do know right from wrong, and just chose to ignore the consequences of their actions, then prison is the correct place to put them. It ensures that society is protected, and the offender is punished. To fail to do this would result in victims seeking revenge on their own.