The language has changed over the years from penitentiaries (a place of penitence where people should contemplate the error of their ways so that they might return to their homes convinced of the wisdom of staying on the straight way) and reformatories (that people might find an improved or reformed attitude) to the more modern correctional facility. Although in many other nations people often do return to their communities never to reoffend, our recidivism rate is very high between 60 and 76%* (while Australia, Singapore, and Norway are at 20% with lower crime rates than the United States). Those are strikingly diverse cultures yet the low recidivism rate in each is paying off in less crime.
And of course crime does not happen in a vacuum: the incarcerated are far from the only folks caught in this nightmare. Let's start with the people who have been victims of crime or survivors of crime, have themselves been harmed as are their families who love them. To know a child in ones own family has been removed from a violent, abusive home wounds those who love both the child and the abuser. Some one may step forward to house and tend the wounded child. Other children are dropped into a broken governmental foster care system. The financial structure of victims of crime are damaged and health can be compromised for a lifetime or life can be lost at the time of the crime or in the aftermath. Members of law enforcement and the judicial system that deal with both victims and offenders then take their broken hearts home to their families and, if not well tended, those broken hearts break more hearts. Then we have the offender who has changed the course of his or her life with one more bad decision or impulsive action or stunning selfishness. Which leads to a whole new set of victims in the families and loved ones of the criminal sinner with the backlash here being as bad as for the victim of the crime as attorneys and commissaries and travel costs eat up funds better used for education and better food and safer housing for the children and aging parents dealing with the loss of a father or a mother or a son or a daughter. When the offender returns after completing their sentence their earning capacity is drastically diminished and the reality of life after release is full of challenges that expand exponentially for each year of incarceration.
Men and women who HAVE PAID their "debt" to society regarding their most public sin must continue to pay every day because people who are NOT without sin are so happy to caste stones rather than restore lives and communities. An estimated 44,000 laws, regulations and rules apply uniquely to people who are no longer incarcerated or under the jurisdiction of our penal system, making the rest of their lives a land mine. Additionally health problems which are attributed to or exacerbated by incarceration are lifelong burdens for many.
It is estimated that one in 4 people in the United States have been arrested at some time in their lives. With the advent of internet "background checks" not only these people but people inaccurately identified as these people are subject to discrimination in housing, jobs, and protections afforded other citizens and legal aliens by our government.
So the current system heaps new injury on victims of crime, extorts a stunning emotional costs of those professionals charged with dealing with victims, identifying the offender and meeting out the punishment on behalf of society, is highly unsuccessful at invoking penitence, reformation or correction, inflicts consequences on the families of the incarcerated who have themselves committed no crime, increased the cost of government and reducing the taxes that might be paid by a post-incarcerated, restored individual and mortgaged the future of a generation because we can't seem to do much more than turn a blind eye or wring our hands.
Lord have Mercy
Christ have Mercy
Lord have Mercy upon us all. AMEN
*federal versus state prison rates