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According to prison critics and others, prisons are schools of crime. This viewpoint holds that when someone gets a prison sentence for a small crime, they will meet bigger criminals and build a social network among criminals. Secondly, the viewpoint asserts that when released from prison, regular elements of society do not wish to receive the person, whereas criminal networks do. These factors may then lead to recidivism.

Now of course there are other points of view, but my question is: what alternative systems to prison sentences have been proposed? For small and juvenile crimes, one alternative that has been proposed is forced labour (cleaning parks, etc.), but have any alternatives been proposed for serious, violent crimes, such as rape, armed robbery, and murder?

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    Well, there is always oldie but goodie approach of an eye for an eye :) – user4012 Dec 9 '12 at 17:28
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    Death penalty, fines, deportation, corporal punishment, removal of certain rights... I suspect some of those are not the favourites of the prison abolishment movement either. – gerrit Dec 9 '12 at 17:31
  • well, if the reason/excuse for seeking an alternative are specific flaws in prison system (making small offenders immersed into criminal culture), then complaining that an alternative is not to one's liking does not make an alternatve invalid as long as it avoids the stated flaws :) – user4012 Dec 9 '12 at 17:34
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It depends on what you want to achieve - there are differing schools on why punishments would work, and it affects the means on how you achieve those goals.

Preventing repeat crimes - protecting society from the violent criminal: aside from incarceration it can be achieved by death sentence or exile - e.g. "transportation" in the old British Empire, or the Russian Siberia starting from Tsarist times.

Vengeance and deterrance - there are many historical examples and a few current countries where harsh corporal punishments are practiced. Things like amputation of limbs or castration certainly have some efficiency for those two goals.

Rehabilitation - for some types of crimes/criminals, forced psychiatric treatment has been used. Also, there are 'alternative prisons' that claim to achieve better rehabilitation than the USA-style prisons - such as http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/25/norwegian-prison-inmates-treated-like-people description.

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In order to not copy and paste what has been done somewhere else I would recommend the following Wikipedia article on Alternatives to incarceration which has a large list of potential changes.

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  • Interesting link, but I don't find the article very good — very US-based and example of approaches doesn't really describe how the alternative approaches work. – gerrit Dec 9 '12 at 16:14
  • @gerrit - wearing my cynical hat, a description of how an approach works is predicated on approach being able to work at all, as opposed to being a neat theory. – user4012 Dec 9 '12 at 17:37
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    @DVK - the point is, I think, that, depending on criteria, the present system doesn't work very well either. – gerrit Dec 9 '12 at 18:01
  • I will look up whether I can find any other examples that are less U.S. based – Sven Clement Dec 9 '12 at 19:29

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