The justice system uses the prison system as the main means to punish offenders of the law. The prison serves as an institution where the criminal spends punishment time; however, there is constant debate on whether tougher sentencing is an effective deterrent for crimes or an unnecessary expense that burdens the citizens.
Fear of Consequences
Tougher penalties discourage criminal activities, decreasing the number of crimes committed every year. Although there are people who commit crimes without conscience or care for the law, there is also a large per cent of the population that is dissuaded from criminal acts due to the fear of consequences, such as incarceration.
Safety of the Public
Confinement ensures that criminals are prevented from causing harm to the general public. In jails, criminals are re-educated in an attempt to "better them," ideally helping them to avoid repeating the same offences. Rehabilitation programs lessen the chance of offenders re-engaging in criminal acts. According to Kent Scheidegger and Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, imprisonment works and "locking up more criminals for longer periods of time reduces the level of crime," offsetting the issue of costs.
Overpopulation in Prisons
Some prisons, such as those in New South Wales, Australia, have become severely overcrowded, which means that more prisons must be built and more guards employed to monitor the increase in population. Prisons cope with overcrowding by double-bunking the offenders in their cells, often compromising nutrition and cleanliness. This often makes prisons less of a place where offenders can reform, but more of a harsh holding cell, which may make offenders behave worse when released back into society.
An increase of reoffenders has been seen as a result of tougher sentencing. On top of this, money becomes a central dilemma. Prisons cost money to maintain. Prisoners also cost money, to feed and house. This money comes from government funding, which leads to a dilemma for many taxpayers, who feel that punishment should fit the crime, but don't necessarily feel that they should have to contribute to supporting prisoners.