There are, in most peoples’ minds, two justifications for prisons: they are said to exist in order to punish wrongdoers, and to remove the danger they would otherwise pose to the wider world. Another justification might be that prison helps to reform the characters of those who have broken the law.
Before modern prisons there were gallows, gibbets, pillories, mutilation and transportation. The idea of imprisonment as a punishment in itself, rather than as a nasty interlude while awaiting something worse, is really quite modern.
Nobody has thought about it very much for rather a long time. The horrible imposition of total solitary confinement (a liberal idea, based on the fatuous but persistent belief of such people in reforming the characters of the criminals) had to be abandoned because it both drove people mad, and did not work.
According to Lwazi Nontyi, he confesses “I was never hungry because we had food every day. When I get sick I can’t go to the clinic because they want money. All these things are free in prison… If officials won’t take me back to jail I will commit a crime and then they will have to take me back.”
One wonders why crime is so high in South Africa. It’s probably safer inside prison than outside.