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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Does the U.S. Prison System Really Work?

           We've all seen it on the television documentaries and news reports, or perhaps in the movies.  Prison is a bad place to be.  There are some really bad people in prison.  Then there are also people from typical families--people who have made some incredibly stupid life choices that totally changed their futures and the situations that they have to live with on a daily basis.

             Sure some hardened criminals deserve harsh punishment, but there are others who have committed crimes who are just not the same kind of people as those hardened criminals.  It's like taking just average high school footballers and putting them on a pro football team.  They're either going to get crushed or they're going to have to learn to play like the pros play.  It comes down to survival.

              Some of those tough career criminals aren't thinking about rehabilitation, but there are other inmates who have learned a lesson and just want to avoid getting in trouble again and coming back to prison.  Sometimes they have families to support and kids they need to be examples for.  

               There might be gang leaders who are operating out of prison controlling things that are happening on the outside.  Some of the inmates might be running scams and committing crimes within the prison population.  Many of them just want to keep a low profile, stay out of trouble, and get back to life on the outside as quickly as they can.

               The question is are they prepared to cope with life outside the prison walls?  Have they been trained in some kind of skill or received an education that will help them find an honest job?  Have they learned job hunting skills and mechanisms to cope in socially acceptable ways?

               On the other side of the coin, is the prison staff adequately trained and supervised?  Correctional officers unions are powerful.  Are they being kept in check?   Is the goal really correction or is it oppressive control?   Some of the prisons are so crowded that adequate and appropriate supervision may be difficult.  Are there many people in correctional facilities whose sentences could be handled differently than in the normal correctional institute?

               There are so many questions to be asked and alternative solutions to be offered.  Some reports claim that the United States has more people per capita in prisons and the parole system than any other country in the world. Federal and state governments spend billions on the correctional system.  Are we getting good return for our tax dollars?   How much has crime been reduced?

Is the correctional system in the United States effective?   Does the prison system really work?

13 comments:

  1. I can't comment on the US prison system but here it leaves much to be desired, people who are supposed to be seving life sentances are realeased after so many years and many commit crimes as soon as they're out, many are murder, if a person is given a life sentance because they have murdered someone life should mean life, but that's only my opinion,

    Have a lovely day,
    Yvonne,

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  2. Being an ex-prison guard I can tell you your observations and questions are valid. But one must remember rehabilitation comes from within not from a concrete cell.

    An incarcerated person did something to get there and though not an ideal place we must have justice. Is it fair, no.

    In closing, I was always more afraid of my fellow staff, than I was of the inmates.

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  3. Most states spend more on incarceration than on education, which is a telltale sign of a sick society. It also doesn't help that privatized prisons are now big business.

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  4. Your 'football' analogy is perfect! I've heard of guards being more frightened of the collegues than the inmates. Matthew also had a valid (frightening!) point about privatization, and penal/educational proportions.

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  5. My major is in Criminal Justice and I sit on my county's correctional advisory board.

    The sad fact is that we have an average recidivism of 66%. That means that 2 out of 3 inmates will be reincarcerated within 3 years of their release. That is an exceptionally high rate by comparison to other countries.

    So, if our correctional systems goal is to "correct" the problem, to rehabilitate the offender, then we are obviously not doing a good job. There are a number of factors that cause this, I could write a thesis on it (and in fact I have), but suffice to say that it's a combination of our penal codes (what we actually consider a crime) and our correctional programs (what we do in prison to help the inmate).

    I recommend taking a tour through your local facility and asking questions of your warden. They're funded by your tax money, and most are more than happy to answer citizen's questions.

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  6. I just read Daniel's post and no, it doesn't work. If there's no rehabilitation, not only are the criminals just as bad off as when they went into prison, but they emerge even more angry, crafty, unable to cope with others, and with a prison record.

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  7. I am keeping this comment anonymous because I think he might prefer it, but I thought he made some excellent points Arlee


    First, I am speaking from a view point of having only been behind bars once, for drunk in public when I was 19 and in the Marine Corps. I spent the night sleeping it off and was out the next morning with no charges or record thank God.

    Second, there are no immediate or even extended family members who have done time.

    Third, I just realized something when I read a comment, I guess we call it "Correctional System." We call prisons correctional facilities and we have correctional officers.

    Well, I am not sure when that came about. It used to be called the penal system and they were prisons. I think when we stopped following biblical guidelines of executing murderers, kidnappers, and child molesters we increased the prison population. We also created the problem of what to do with them.

    I thought the system was to simply to punish the offender. You broke the law now you will be punished. For example, I have never approached the death penalty as a deterent. It isn't. The death penalty will not prevent murder from taking place. The death penalty is a punishment for taking human life. God said if you take a life you must forfeit your life. It is a punishment and should be treated as such.

    Now, if we really think we can rehabilitate and correct prisoners, then we should do it. After we have executed the murderers, kidnappers, and child molesters, we whould divide the prisons in half. Those who truly want to be corrected and rehabilitated are put into classes. They should be trained in decorum, laws, self-control, education, a trade, and then how to re-enter society.

    Those who do not want to be corrected and re-directed are then put into a work system, where they clear forests, clean highways, build bridges, repair roads. There was nothing wrong with using prison labor to serve as a work force. I don't mean we go back to setting the dogs on them, shooting them, etc. But they don't need babysat until their sentence is up. Work hard for 10 hours a day. Make them earn their keep.

    We need to change laws making it illegal not to hire a prisoner who has been "corrected" or rehabilitated. They do need a job when they get out.

    The system is broke. I do not believe it can be fixed. I don't mean to be a pessimist but since we have gone far left, it is usually impossible to go back right, and especially far enough right.

    I just don't know how to fix the system other than a massive overhaul and shock to the system and that might not work.

    Lepoards the bible says don't change their spots, unless Jesus Christ does the changing.

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  8. I think you are right on that the system doesn't work for rehabilitation and that one important reason is throwing a bunch of badly behaved people together where the only options are to learn and excel at the game, or to become a perpetual victim of the more dangerous people. But I have another angle to the problem.

    In the United States, the prison system is the last stop for mental health care. There are NOT institutions for poor people who need mental health care on a permanent basis--they can't hold a job, they have trouble with social interactions... they frequently turn to crime for survival, sometimes intentionally, knowing at least in PRISON they will be taken care of. (roof--3 square meals)

    I don't happen to believe in the death penalty, not least because it is enforced in a racially biased way. But I DO like the idea of separating 'rehabitable' versus dangerous/uninterested criminals. I DON'T like separating white collar from blue collar criminals--in fact the white collar guys typically hurt far more people and should be CLOSER to the trenches than the two bit thief.

    I ALSO think it is a waste of needed resources to put the money and effort into drugs as illegal--I don't LIKE THEM, but as illegal substances they 1) create a violent criminal underworld, 2) give an 'alternative to hard work' path to money in very poor neighborhoods and 3) stigmatize treatment needed to break the cycle.

    But I think our BEST money is invested outside prison: education, job training, social services in resource poor communities--save people before they get there. And then GOOD mental health care (just as I think we all deserve regular health care)

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  9. There are two prevailing theories when it comes to penology, as demonstrated by the comments thus far:

    #1: We should rehabilitate the criminal.

    #2: We should punish the criminal.

    We see these extremes in our justice system as we have both a death penalty and rehabilitation programs.

    For myself, I believe that "Thou shalt not kill" cannot be justified by interpreting other passages as you like. God has final say over the disposition of a human life, not us. Not only that, but execution is more costly than life in prison, does not deter nor rehabilitate, and is rather barbaric when you get down to the details.

    This is not to say that I don't believe in punishment, I do. I just feel strongly that a society that abhors murder cannot then, itself, commit it.

    (I do apologize if this sparks controversy in your blog. It is a hotly debated issue that I happen to be very passionate about.)

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  10. Did you know Dan posted something similar on his blog today? Excellent points

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  11. Well I highly doubt that our prison systems are effective enough. Although I am sure that we've come a long way from days gone by and from other countries.
    The plain and simple fact is that no one wants to deal with "The bad guys". No one wants to think about it. They just want to brush it under the rug. No matter what the circumstance of the individual.
    What the answer is, I don't know.
    So many problems. Not enough money and not enough people who care.
    And I'm not just talking about the correctional institutions!
    Love Di ♥

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  12. As an outsider I can't really comment on the US system.
    However looking at the system here the vast majority of people in jail here in Oz are there for repeated (usually minor) drug related crimes. People are going to jail for committing crimes to finance a drug habit.
    Working in mental health and homeless fields I would argue that the vast majority of the addictions that lead people to crime should be treated as a health or mental health issue rather than a criminal issue.
    Decently funded health, rehab and training programs would do far more to reduce crime than prisons.
    I've seen the alternative work, but there is never enough money or places.

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  13. Thank you for these really superb comments. You have all added much to the discussion. I agree that ultimately accountability and change must come from within the individual, but a change is also in order for the entire social process. It is all very difficult and could come in many forms. It's unlikely that anything will change quickly, but it would be good to see something different being done.

    Arlee

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