Are prisons effective total institutions or do they more commonly fail in their goal of resocialization?
Please compare and contrast how a conflict, a functionalist or an interactionist theorist would answer this question.
Finally offer your opinion on the issue.
Before trying to answer this question, it is important for us to realize that the three major schools of sociological thought would not disagree about whether prisons are doing a good job of resocializing prisoners. This is, for the most part, a matter of statistics rather than a matter of opinion. What the three schools would disagree on is whether A) resocializing convicts is prisons’ main goal and B) why prisons are not doing a good job of resocializing inmates.
As you can see from the previous sentence, I would argue that America’s prisons are not doing a good job of resocializing inmates. For the most part, the American public is not very interested in issues of rehabilitation and resocialization. Instead, Americans seem to prefer that their prisons should punish people. Because of this, I would argue, we spend very little money and effort on providing the sorts of programs and opportunities that would lead to rehabilitation. This is why we have such high rates of recidivism. The rates of recidivism and the extreme difficulties faced by many ex-inmates indicate to me that our prisons are not effective in resocializing inmates.
Now we turn to the sociological perspectives. They would have differing views as to why prisons fail to rehabilitate their inmates. A functionalist might say that resocialization is not the goal of a prison. They would say that the function of a prison is to deter people from committing crimes and to incapacitate those who do commit crimes. By doing these things, the prisons serve a purpose in our society. They fail to resocialize inmates, in this view, because it is not their true function in our society. A conflict theorist would say that prisons are actually institutions set up by the dominant group in society to help oppress and repress the subordinate group. Such a person would say that the people who dominate society do not really care if prisoners reform. All they want is to make it hard or impossible for prisoners and other members of the lower classes to challenge the dominance of the upper classes. In this view, prisons are an instrument of domination, not of resocialization. Interactionists would look at how people in society view prisons and prisoners. They might say that Americans do not tend to perceive prisoners as people who can and should be rehabilitated. Because we do not see them in this way, we do not demand that our prisons should be able to resocialize them.
Thus, I would argue that all sociologists would recognize that prisons do not resocialize inmates very well. They would disagree as to why prisons fail to do so.