Essay by cozy_University, Bachelor's May 2005

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The issue of crime within society has been a problem for many centuries past. There has always been cause for punishment of offenders, but only recently has prison become the main institution for doing so. Until the 18th century there were numerous methods for punishing crime, many too gruesome to be considered using today. Prison is now seen as being the greatest form of punishment an offender can be given; the greater the crime, the longer the sentence. But if this was the case, surely crime rates would be decreasing. The number of prisoners being incarcerated is steadily increasing, but similarly, so is the crime rate. If prison is really as fantastic as its proponents claimed it to be, then the crime rate should be decreasing. Instead we are currently living in a high crime society. These increased crime rates can be partly attributed to an increased level of reporting crimes, but that cannot be the sole explanation.

The fact that prisons are not as effective as they should be can better account for rising crime rates.

Before the 18th Century, imprisonment was only one, and by no means the most important, element in systems of punishment. These took the form of aggravated forms of death penalty such as breaking on the wheel, corporal punishment such as whipping, and public shaming which was achieved through the pillory. In mild cases banishment and fines were used. Crime rates at this time were comparatively low to modern times, even though prison was not the main form of punishment. This could just be due to a poor system in recording offences or it could highlight the fact that prison itself does not reduce crime rates. In the 18th Century there was a growing revulsion against public, corporal and capital punishment.

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