The Inhumane Punishment of American Prisoners

The punishment for many non-violent criminals is to enter into low-security prison camps for their crimes. Even though there is a lot more freedom there than in a maximum security prison, they still complain. In America, we see these people as whiny brats because, well, it was their actions that caused them to be there in the first place. However, in other countries, particularly those in Europe, they see it as a cry against inhumane and unjust prison conditions. Our prison systems are vastly different; basically, night and day when it comes to facilities, treatment of inmates, and restrictions. Has America brainwashed its citizens into thinking that just because you are being punished, all normal living conditions should be taken away? The majority of Americans might agree that a tiny cement cell is a necessary punishment for someone who broke the law, but how far is too far? Better yet, how lenient is too lenient, you know, for a criminal’s sake?

Some prisons in America are for-profit institutions and thrive on cheap labor, materials, and low maintenance facilities. Since they make money when they receive inmates, they aren’t focused on helping them become better citizens. There’s no focus on rehabilitation and making sure that they are leaving the prison on a path that doesn’t lead them back to prison. Instead, we increase punishment for the smallest sanctions. This could be things like wearing the wrong clothes. In Europe, the prison system focuses on each inmate and aims to change a person from the inside out so that they don’t return to prison.

When you were younger and you were punished for your misconduct, most likely your privileges were taken away and you were “grounded”. I believe the prison system started with this idea. They took away liberties to punish criminals, but they also took away their dignity. Inmates were never treated with respect. I’m not talking about treating prisoners like royalty, but common courtesy should be a right and not a privilege. In my opinion, it’s more punishment to put forth an effort and work for things than to be treated like an animal. However, being responsible for making your own food, taking classes, and finding work will create a routine that is needed post-prison. That’s part of rehabilitation.

Inside view of one of the prison cells in Landsberg am Lech, taken at a media event in the prison Landsberg am Lech, southern Germany, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) (

Business Insider interviewed various prisons and found that “prisoners in the Netherlands and Germany have a “fair amount of control over their daily lives,” the Vera Institute report notes. They get to wear their own clothes and make their own meals, and they’re required to work and take classes. Guards also give them some sense of privacy by knocking before entering their cells. Prisoners have keys to their cells and separate, walled toilets.” On the Vera Institute of Justice’s website, there’s an article that recounts the mutual respect, familiarity, sincerity, and hope from a CO (correctional officer) towards an inmate in Germany.  

Sometimes it’s hard for prisoners to adjust to prison. Inmates have access to email notifications and phone calls and hear about things that can upset them. Perhaps a family member died or a something is being repossessed or foreclosed because they are in prison. When these things happen, emotions can become negatively stirred. Punishment for negative emotions and actions usually result in prisoners being forced into the SHU aka solitary confinement. Again, no rehabilitation, acknowledgment of overwhelming stress or even a method to de-escalate situations and offer ways to destress those who are going through a rough time. The prison in Germany understands that inmates are humans too. Officials know it was an inmate’s actions that caused them to be locked up, but they are still pleasant towards them. “We are a prison and people here have made failed decisions,” said Nico, a social worker at Jugendanstalt Hameln. “But they are humans.”

Who knows when the punishment for American criminals will just be the fact that they are locked away. How can we even begin to fight for justice when Americans don’t know that their prison system is truly an unjust punishment? Is America so great that the punishment for criminal behavior is to treat humans like caged animals and never give them any respect? Well, that’s our rehabilitation program, and we wonder why it’s not working.