Monday August 6 2018

Are prisons our answer to crime?

It is commonly thought that a society dominated by religious communities should be less prone to crime. Yet the level of crime in Uganda (a highly religious country) is extremely high.

In the past 16 months, the Ugandan newspapers, the media been discussing disturbing social phenomena. Judging from media reports and police crime report, crime has increased in the country at an alarming rate in recent years, and there seems to be no end in sight.

Prisons are filled to capacity and the criminal court dockets are overburdened. The media continues to demand more effective policing, stringent laws, and drastic penalties to ensure detection and punishment of crime. There is rising crime rate because we put more effort into detection and punishment rather than prevention.

According to a report by the International Centre for Prison Studies, Uganda was voted ninth out of 10 of countries with the most crowded prisons in the world (Daily Monitor, August 8, 2013). The question is, are prisons the answer to preventing and resolving the issue of crime?

Crime prevention is involves any organised activity aimed at keeping unlawful behaviour from occurring originally or keeping such behaviour to a minimum. For many years, the field of medicine has been trying to prevent diseases.

One might ask, why similar efforts have not been applied to crime? The answer is, there is a high degree of complexity associated with crime, which hampers our ability to make unbiased decisions and conduct unbiased research to find out the real causes and how to prevent them.

We shouldn't forget that crime is not merely a physical problem with one direct cause. Crime involves complex emotional, physiologic, social, and environmental variables. Therefore, prevention is not simply a matter of developing a 'vaccine' or an "antidote' to crime.

But time has come for us to deal with crime and crime prevention in order to find permanent solutions. In my view, since crime is a social problem, the police are not able to contain the crime problem within a socially-tolerable level on their own.

Therefore, alternatives to arrests, convictions, punishments, and rehabilitation of criminals must be sought. Therefore, crime prevention by its nature, transcends the bounds of any one discipline and does not fall totally within the bounds of the criminal justice system. Even an architecture can play a vital role in crime prevention through the design of safer building, using more crime-resistant locks, windows and materials.

The importance of crime prevention measures in the incorporation of building and home designs must be realised by all crime prevention professionals and criminal justice practitioners.

One of the key barriers to implementing more preventative techniques lies in the fact that politicians are more worried about their re-election than setting up a better system that will force them to live up to people's expectations.

Richard Musaazi,

Twitter: @musaazi22

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