Just Sociology

include curfews community service and treatment orders

One of the most controversial institutions in modern society, the prison system is the subject of much debate among social scientists and policymakers alike. While advocates of imprisonment argue that it serves a crucial role in maintaining social order and deterring criminal behavior, critics point to the staggering rates of recidivism and the negative effects of prolonged incarceration on individuals and families.

This article will explore two opposing views on the function of prisons in society: the Functionalist view and the Marxist view. Functionalist View on Prison:

The Functionalist perspective sees prisons as institutions that fulfill important functions for society.

First and foremost, prisons are seen as a deterrent to criminal behavior. The threat of imprisonment is meant to dissuade would-be offenders from committing crimes by demonstrating that the cost of breaking the law is too high to justify the potential benefits.

Additionally, prisons are said to help maintain social equilibrium by removing dangerous individuals from society and restoring order to communities affected by crime. Finally, the Functionalist view holds that prisons play a crucial role in the process of resocialization, helping individuals who have violated social norms to reintegrate into society by teaching them the values and behaviors expected of law-abiding citizens.

However, the effectiveness of prisons in fulfilling these goals has been called into question by numerous critics. One major criticism is the high rate of recidivism among released prisoners according to the National Institute of Justice, around 60% of people released from prison will be re-arrested within three years.

This suggests that prisons are not effectively deterring criminal behavior or resocializing inmates. Additionally, some scholars argue that the prison environment can actually reinforce criminal values and norms, making it more difficult for individuals to reintegrate into society upon release.

This phenomenon is known as institutionalization, which refers to the process by which long-term prisoners become so accustomed to the prison environment that they are unable to function outside of it. Marxist View on Prison:

The Marxist perspective, by contrast, views prisons as symptom of deeper structural problems within society.

According to this view, inequalities and poverty created by the capitalist system lead to crime, especially in working-class communities. In other words, rather than viewing criminal behavior as the result of individuals making poor choices, the Marxist view focuses on the larger socio-economic context in which those choices are made.

Therefore, to effectively address crime, the Marxist view holds that more attention must be paid to addressing systemic failings that create and perpetuate poverty and inequality. Furthermore, Marxists argue that the function of prisons extends beyond maintaining social order and punishing criminals.

In fact, many see imprisonment as a way for the ruling class to silence opposition to the system, by removing individuals who are likely to challenge the status quo from the public eye. In the words of Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, prisons serve as a means of cultural hegemony that is, they reinforce the dominant culture and ideology of the ruling class, while silencing dissenting voices.

Another criticism of the prison system from a Marxist perspective is that the focus on working-class street crime obscures more significant crimes committed by members of the elite class. Marxists argue that the police, court system, and media are more likely to focus on crimes committed by those in lower social positions, while ignoring crimes committed by the wealthy or powerful.

This, in turn, perpetuates the false idea that crimes committed by the working class are the most significant threat to social order. Higher rates of imprisonment in more unequal countries also support the Marxist view.

Countries with higher levels of income inequality, such as the United States and Brazil, have much higher rates of incarceration compared to more equal countries such as Norway and Finland. This suggests that the prison system is used more often to control the working class in unequal societies.

Criticism of Marxist Views:

Despite some of the merits of the Marxist view, this perspective is not without its criticisms. One of the most significant critiques of the Marxist view is that it absolves criminals from blame, placing the responsibility for crime on larger societal structures rather than the individuals committing the crimes.

Critics argue that this ignores the agency of criminals and fails to hold them accountable for their actions. In addition, some critics argue that the Marxist view overlooks the role of personal responsibility and individual choice in determining criminal behavior.


In conclusion, the Functionalist and Marxist perspectives offer two vastly different views on the function of prisons in society. While the Functionalist view sees prisons as necessary institutions to maintain social order and deter criminal behavior, the Marxist view views prisons as symptoms of deeper structural failings in society.

Regardless of which view one subscribes to, it is clear that the prison system as it currently exists is far from perfect, with high rates of recidivism and significant negative effects on individuals and communities. As society continues to grapple with issues of crime and punishment, a nuanced understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different perspectives will be essential in determining how best to reform the prison system.The prison system is a complex social institution whose role in society has been debated by scholars and policymakers alike for decades.

While some argue that prisons serve a crucial role in rehabilitating criminals and maintaining social order, others see them as part of a larger system of social control aimed at maintaining the status quo. In this expansion, we will explore two additional perspectives on the prison system: Michel Foucault’s view and the increase in imprisonment in the UK.

Michel Foucault’s View on Prison:

Michel Foucault’s view on prison is arguably one of the most influential perspectives on the role of the prison system in modern society. In his book “Discipline and Punish,” he argues that the growth of the prison system as a form of punishment reflects a larger societal shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power.

Under sovereign power, punishment was brutal and overt, intended to publicly display the power of the sovereign over the powerless individual. However, as societies became more complex, power began to shift away from the sovereign and towards institutions that exercise discipline and control over individuals more subtly.

According to Foucault, the power of disciplinary institutions is exercised through surveillance. Prisons, for example, are designed to be more invasive as a means of social control, with prisoners being constantly monitored and observed.

The goal of this surveillance is not only to punish individual criminals but also to discourage others from engaging in criminal acts by creating a sense of fear and apprehension around the consequences of breaking the law. However, Foucault’s view is not without its criticisms.

Some argue that prisoners do not change their behavior in response to surveillance in fact, some studies have found that prisoners may become more adept at circumventing the surveillance mechanisms in place. Additionally, some have criticized Foucault’s view for its lack of attention to the ways in which inmates themselves may resist or subvert the disciplinary power of prisons.

Increase in Imprisonment in the UK:

The UK has seen a significant increase in its prison population over the last several decades. According to data from the Ministry of Justice, the number of people incarcerated in the UK roughly doubled between 1990 and 2020, from around 44,000 people to over 83,000.

This increase has been accompanied by a shift towards tougher sentencing policies, such as mandatory minimums and longer prison sentences, as well as an emphasis on rational choice theory and zero tolerance within right realist policies. Right realist policies emphasize the idea that criminals make rational choices to commit crimes based on the perceived costs and benefits of their actions.

Therefore, by increasing the severity of punishment, policymakers believe they can deter individuals from engaging in criminal behavior. Additionally, zero-tolerance policies aim to crack down on minor offenses as a means of preventing more serious crimes from occurring.

However, some have argued that these policies may be counterproductive, leading to harsher sentences for minor offenses and contributing to the over-incarceration of individuals, particularly those from marginalized communities. Despite the emphasis on tougher sentencing policies, the state has also claimed that tougher penalties have caused declining crime rates.

However, some scholars have argued that this relationship is more complicated than it appears, pointing to the role of other factors such as changes in policing strategies, demographic shifts, and economic conditions. Conclusion:

The perspectives offered by Michel Foucault’s view on prisons and the increase in imprisonment in the UK illustrate the complex and multifaceted nature of the prison system.

While Foucault’s view highlights the ways in which prisons represent a shift in power from sovereign to disciplinary forms of control, the increase in imprisonment in the UK underscores the role of policy and ideology in shaping the criminal justice system. As society continues to grapple with issues of crime and punishment, a nuanced understanding of these perspectives will be crucial in developing effective strategies for promoting public safety while also protecting the rights and dignity of individuals affected by the prison system.The role of prisons in modern society has been a topic of debate among scholars and policymakers, with differing perspectives on the effectiveness of imprisonment as a means of punishment, rehabilitation and social control.

This expansion will explore two additional perspectives on the prison system: David Garland’s view on imprisonment, and alternatives to imprisonment. David Garland’s View on Imprisonment:

David Garland, a British criminologist, argues that the increase in imprisonment in the UK and other countries is the result of a political shift towards neo-liberalism, which has resulted in more unequal and individualistic societies.

As societies have become more unequal, harsher penalties have been deemed acceptable as a means of controlling crime. Garland also argues that the era of mass incarceration, which began in the US during the 1980s and 1990s, contributed to the global increase in prison populations.

The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 2 million people currently behind bars. However, despite the growing number of people being incarcerated, crime rates have actually fallen in many countries over the last two decades, including those that do not imprison as many people as the UK.

This suggests that there may be alternative ways of addressing crime that do not rely on imprisonment. Alternatives to Imprisonment:

There are a number of alternatives to imprisonment that have been proposed as more effective ways of addressing crime.

Some of these alternatives include curfews, community service, and treatment orders. Curfews are restrictions on an offender’s movements, often requiring them to be home during certain hours.

Community service involves offenders performing work in the local community as a means of repaying their debt to society. Treatment orders, such as drug treatment orders or mental health treatment orders, involve providing offenders with specialized services to address underlying issues that may be driving their criminal behavior.

One of the key advantages of these alternatives to imprisonment is their lower re-offending rate compared to incarceration. Imprisonment removes offenders from society, which can result in a rupture of social ties, making it more difficult for them to reintegrate into society on release.

Additionally, the characteristics of the prison population differ from the general population as a whole, with ethnic minorities, men, the underclass, and young people overrepresented in prison populations. Alternatives to imprisonment may be more effective at addressing the underlying issues that contribute to criminal behavior within these groups.


The perspectives offered by David Garland’s view on imprisonment and alternatives to imprisonment highlight the socio-political context in which the prison system operates, and the importance of considering alternatives to harsher sentencing policies. The use of alternatives to imprisonment, such as curfews, community service and treatment orders, could provide a more effective means of addressing crime than traditional incarceration by tackling underlying issues that may be driving criminal behavior.

Examining the role of socio-political factors in shaping criminal justice policies and exploring alternative methods of addressing crime will require a nuanced and open-minded approach, as the issues surrounding prisons and the criminal justice system are complex and multifaceted.The issue of imprisonment has been and continues to be a contentious topic. Scholars and policymakers have proposed various perspectives to address the problems associated with incarceration.

While Functionalist and Right Realist perspectives have been dominant, critical approaches such as Marxism, Foucault, and Garland have offered more useful analyses on the subject. This expansion aims to explore these critical approaches to imprisonment and their significance in understanding the prison system.

Critical Approaches to Imprisonment:

Critical approaches to imprisonment including Marxism, Foucault, and Garland, challenge dominant discourses and present alternative ways of understanding the prison institution. These approaches critically consider the role of power and ideology in shaping criminal justice policies, and the ways in which individual and collective resistance can subvert disciplinary technologies.

Marxism views criminal behavior as being driven by systemic socioeconomic problems such as inequality and poverty. This perspective argues that the criminal justice system is used to control the working classes while protecting the interests of the elite.

According to Marxism, harsher penal policies only serve to create greater social unrest and repress dissent, leading to a proliferation of crime. Foucaults perspective views prisons as disciplinary institutions that exercise power through surveillance and control over the body.

He argues that power is not something that is possessed by an individual or institution, but rather something that is relational and pervasive throughout society. According to Foucault, the normalization of disciplinary technologies in society provides a new tool for the exercise of power.

Garlands view on imprisonment argues that harsher criminal justice policies are driven by neo-liberal hegemony and right realism. Neo-liberalism emerged as a dominant ideology in the 1970s, promoting free-market capitalism and individualism.

Since then, there has been a rise in harsher sentencing policies and the rapid growth of prison populations. Right realism, on the other hand, is a political philosophy centered on the idea that the punishment should fit the crime.

This ideology has led to the adoption of tougher sentencing policies and the proliferation of zero-tolerance policing, which focuses on minor crime. Significance of Critical Approaches:

Critical perspectives on imprisonment challenge the dominant narratives and provide a platform for alternative ways of viewing criminal justice policies.

These approaches underline the complexity of the prison system and its role in wider societal concerns. Such views demonstrate that harsher penal policies serve only to support existing systems of oppression and control, which leads to a proliferation of crime that is unchecked by prisons.

An emphasis on systemic issues and the role of power in shaping societal structures can yield more nuanced discussions around imprisonment, crime, and justice. Conclusion:

Critical perspectives on imprisonment, such as Marxism, Foucault, and Garland, provide alternative ways of understanding and addressing the problems associated with the prison system.

The rise of neo-liberalism and the increasing influence of right realism have contributed to a punitive culture that views harsh penal policies as the answer to societal problems. However, these policies have only served to create more social unrest, perpetrate inequality, and neglect systemic issues that influence criminal behavior.

Understanding the prison system from critical perspectives provides a platform for alternative ways of looking at this institutional system and promotes more open-minded and nuanced discussions about crime and justice. In conclusion, the prison system is an institution in modern society that is complex and multifaceted, which raises important issues around punishment, rehabilitation, and social control.

This article has explored different perspectives on the prison system, including the Functionalist, Marxist, Foucauldian, and Garlandian views, and has discussed alternatives to imprisonment. Critical approaches such as Marxism, Foucault, and Garland offer alternative ways of thinking about the prison system and its relation to wider societal concerns.

Ultimately, it is essential to consider these perspectives to reform the prison institution effectively.


Q: What is the Functionalist view on prisons?

A: The Functionalist perspective sees prisons as institutions that fulfill important functions for society. Q: What is the Marxist view on prisons?

A: The Marxist perspective views prisons as symptoms of deeper structural problems within society. Q: What is the Foucauldian view on prisons?

A: The Foucauldian perspective views prisons as disciplinary institutions that exercise power through surveillance and control over the body. Q: What is Garland’s view on imprisonment?

A: Garland’s view on imprisonment argues that harsher criminal justice policies are driven by neo-liberal hegemony and right realism. Q: What are alternatives to imprisonment?

A: Alternatives to imprisonment

Popular Posts