American prisons need reform. They are expensive, overcrowded, and growing. None of these is good for society. But we will not seek real reform until we answer why do prisons exist?
If prison exists to reform prisoners, then it exists to educate them into functioning citizens. If prison exists to punish the convicted, then we must ask another question: why do we punish things? To teach that those things are wrong. In other words, even punishment is only a form of education. Prisons exist to educate.
Until we as a society understand that, prisons will continue to grow, will continue to cost, and continue to be ineffective. Once we do realize the purpose of prisons, we will be able to recover not only the monetary and labor investments of today’s prisons, but reclaim the parts of society that have been lost behind bars.