Would you deny a prisoner with toothache a painkiller or one with acute appendicitis a life saving operation? No, of course not! Then consider the following:
By sentencing a perpetrator to prison, a court had various goals in mind:
- to reform a person;
- to deter a person from committing a crime again;
- to punish a person;
- to remove dangerous persons from society;
Counseling therefore is imperative in those instances where the perpetrator shall be released in society. After all, we don't want them to commit crimes again, do we?
Counseling, especially in life skills, anger management, spiritual reform and emotional coping, serves the aims of rehabilitation and deterrence. People who receive counseling are confronted with their own values, morals (or lack thereof)and the choices they made. By counseling them they are taught how to evaluate themselves and the important fact that every person is accountable. You are the captain of your own ship, or the master of your own disaster!
Long term prison sentences are normally imposed where a very serious crime was committed and the perpetrator poses a danger for society as a whole. (We don't want serial killers, armed robbers and rapists to roam the streets.) The aims of the sentence would then concentrate more on the protection of society by removal of such people and on deterring others from committing the same crimes.
Yet, even though a perpetrator is sentenced to long term imprisonment where he has no hope of ever being released, we should not forget that they are also part of a sub-society, the prison. Here they have to be in contact every day with wardens, other personnel and fellow prisoners. They also, from time to time, see their families. Counseling them on various issues such as anger management, emotional separation from loved ones and coping with permanent loss of liberty would not only serve to benefit the sub-society as a whole, but would also show that society is humane.
In South Africa, where I am a legal practitioner, we have a vast prison population were a huge amount of prisoners are HIV positive. They have a right to proper medical treatment and part of that treatment is also counseling. Not only on preventing the spread of the disease, but also on dealing with their positive status, coping with impairment and eventually death. I for one, would not be in favor of counseling to be a privilege in these circumstances!
Although nobody (or very few) are innocently incarcerated and they only have themselves to blame, we cannot desert them. Taking into account that a prisoner has been stripped of his / her liberty, employment opportunities, family life and all the little things we take for granted, let us (at least!) grant them the right to become a better person if they want to.
After all, to err is human, to forgive, divine. Counseling, as I see it, is part of society demonstrating forgiveness.