Protection from criminal mentality

The adage "Stone walls do not a prison make" may include a message beyond the traditional: that there is an action of thought which cannot be imprisoned. Walls cannot contain thinking; they can't diminish the mental influence we have on each other.

We can't just stick someone—or many—behind bars and, forgetting them, feel protected from criminality. A criminal way of thinking cannot be confined by prison bars. It is part of the mental atmosphere inherent in mortality.

One value of prisons is that they protect prisoners from the vigilante impulses of a wrought-up community. One particular prison —in the 1790's—was conceived with the primary purpose of protecting the prisoner. Today the emphasis is on protecting society from the lawbreaker. Yet if we are going to have an institution that protects both the criminal and his victim, we're going to have to come up with something more effective than prisons.

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Error tells on itself
February 4, 1980

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