Crime is an issue which poses many different questions relating to ethics. However, in the modern world, it is not realistic to suggest that crime is a simple issue. The reasons crime are committed wildly vary, although the punishment is almost always the same; imprisonment.
According to recorded crime statistics, the re-offending rate within the United Kingdom is nearly 75%. This suggests that within the prison system, something is very not working. If Prison is meant to reform an individual, then surely it is the job of the prison system to give every possible opportunity to these individuals to change their ways, and give them a chance.
While this is largely done, one might also suggest that due to the psychological nature of many prisoners, the reoffending rate will be high no matter what steps are taken.
To draw an international comparison, it is a well known statistic that within the USA, you are more likely to find 17 year old black male in prison than you are in college. While this is somewhat shocking, and the reasons for this can be speculated upon for an almost limitless time, this raises a bigger question which is, how does society change the situation?
In the last 50 years, internationally, the level of imprisonable offences has risen dramatically. This effectively means that more people can be imprisoned for more offences: increasing the load on the already overworked public services. Each prisoner, to keep within the cells for a year, can cost a suprising amount of money.
There are numerous costs associated with modern jails; the food has to be of a good, balanced standard, lighting and energy bills are constantly rising, skilled personnel to deal with each prisoner also have to be employed at great cost. This means that effectively, some sentences mean a much larger burden to the regular taxpayer than the risk the criminal on the street would be to society.
One case in point is that of a California man, jailed in March 2010 for stealing a $5 packet of grated cheese. The sentence eventually handed down was 8 years. This was because of the American legal system's "3 strikes" ruling, which means that if 2 previous offences are committed, in some states, you could theoretically face life imprisonment for something as unimportant as the stealing of cheese. Infact, there are even cases of men being imprisoned for 25 years for the theft of a single VHS tape.
Realistically, we can assume that cases like these are a clear reason for why the reoffending rate is so high. If a man is imprisoned for 8 years for stealing cheese, he is unlikely to have any respect for the society that placed him in confinement in the first place.
This is exactly the kind of imprisonment that is unethical; not only does the punishment not fit the crime, but the cost to the taxpayer is horrendous. Each country has a limited budget, and it would seem more sensible to spend the money spent on keeping cheese-thiefs in prison on things such as healthcare or education.
One may blame the prisoner for committing the crime, or one may blame the system for over inflated sentencing. However, one more realistic social approach, particularly in the USA, would be the desire of the public for "justice"; if a crime is committed, the vast majority of the public want to see the criminals behind bars without any thought to possible consequences to this, not only on the psyche of the prisoner, but on the taxpayer's budget on the whole.