Does the prison system need a new direction? Oh yea, very much so! Not to be soft on crime but to be very very hard on it... to reduce it and to make it unacceptable in our society!
Totally agree. In discussing this kind of issue, there tend to be two prevalent principles that drive peoples thoughts:
A belief that prison is there as a punishment, or a belief its there to rehabilitate and ensure the miscreant does not do it again.
I tend towards the latter. The former is easy to follow, has a high perception amongst many, and becomes "emotionally satisfying". That does not mean be "soft" on criminals. It does mean tackle the root cause for that individual doing it in the first place. The latter phrase opens the door for all sorts of favorite short term High Publicity bandwagons that are irrelevant to the core issue - they just sound great - but thats not where its going, or should be going.
Criminal acts are in the main a result of what society considers "unacceptable". Change the perception of what is and is not acceptable, you change attitudes and follow on actions. For a criminal act to occur the perpetrator has come to the conclusion (or self justification) that, on balance, for whatever reason, what they are about to do is "acceptable", or more usually "justifiable" - else they would not do it. Change that value equation, that belief structure, you significantly enhance the possibility of stopping people re-offending, even breaking The Law in the first place.
As SpacePony pointed out above - we all do things, or were on the edge of doing things, that if caught we would end up in serious trouble. The next bit is where people go off at tangents on different views - but the premise is a simple one.
In the overwhelming number of cases, individuals are stopped from doing these activities, not because of fear of what will happen to them, but because of their belief structure as to what is or is not acceptable. They would either disagree its "illegal" or justify their actions in such a way as to trivialise that its "illegal". Strengthen the belief structure in what society says is "illegal", and you reduce the chances of crime occurring. The crazy loons who let loose with AK47's on campuses, know full well where they are headed, but that didnt stop them - they did it because what they believed to be the key issue was more important than the law, and "justified" what they did or were about to do. Crazy? Thats for sure, but is what they BELIEVED
, change their value equation, beliefs, you significantly reduce the likelihood of illegal acts in the first place.
Emotional responses to violent criminal acts are natural, and understandable. Repeating the error themselves by beating the %^%$£ out of the criminal either physically or throwing them jail, and throwing the key away, does ziltch to solve the core issue - its merely retribution, and does nothing to prevent crime or rehabilitate criminals. It only breeds a generation of even more hardened individuals who previously thought life was giving them a bad deal - the only difference is now they KNOW
they are getting a bad deal - such will be their thought process, as their belief system has not been changed. Its been reinforced they were right in the first place because, in their mind, retribution for what they did was wrong, I was right etc!
Would there still be "animals" around who you could to talk to until your blue in the face and they would not change, thats for sure, human beings are complex beasts. However 99% of people do respond to change if handled correctly.
A return to the Middle Ages of `100 lashes, or "throw em in the pond, float and they are guilty, drown and they are innocent" is silly and pointless. (The latter pond example was a common response to allegations particularly WitchCraft allegations - as nuts as it seems these days).
Easy? No its damned difficult, but its utterly pointless just throwing people in jail and burying the key - the latter does nothing, absolutely squat, to help stop crime in the overwhelming number of cases.