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Can the current state of corrections in the United States be improved?
A historical look at correction in the United States reveals that there has been a series of swings form one model of correction to another. With the constant changes in the correction models, several questions raised before still beg for answers. How has the growth in correction systems resulted in crime reduction? Are the high costs involved on correction justified? Is society safer today than it was before the introduction of new policies? Must new ways of effecting correction be developed, and if so then what? Apparently, the optimism that once characterized corrections is gradually waning. Nevertheless, correction has from the earliest times been used as a means of social control; being used to cause people to conform to the norms of society. Additionally, corrections help to define the limits of behavior, so that what is permissible is known to all members of the society.
The effectiveness of correction programs afforded in American correction facilities can be inferred from the number of inmates incarcerated. Statistics indicate that the United States currently incarcerates its residents at a rate that is far higher than any other country in the world. To be precise, it is reported that by the year 2005, there were 737 inmates per 100,000 United States residents. Compared to the world's average of 166 per 100,000, this figure is alarmingly high. There were approximately 2.1 million residents in the United States who were in incarceration, 65% of whom were inmates in state and federal prisons, and the remaining 35% resided in local jails (p.27). The prevalence of such a high number of inmates may imply a worsening security situation in the United States.
The purpose of correction is to reform the criminals to the extent that by the time they are released into society, their propensity to commit crime will have completely diminished. According to Clear, Cole & Reisig (2008), The Second Chance Act was enacted to ensure safe and successful return of prisoners through grants to communities to support reentry initiatives which focus on employment, housing, substance abuse and mental treatment (p.393). The dissatisfaction with the corrective measures and models used on the inmates results from the fact that a high number of inmates leaving prison do not manifest changed behavior, yet the government spends highly on corrective initiatives.
The greatest challenges arise when these ex-prisoners go back to commit crimes in the community, pushing further the levels of crime and insecurity in the country. The most common corrective measures taken by the governments are incarceration. According to Cole & Smith (2007), the idea of separate confinement of crime convicts was based on five principles (p.290). Firstly those prisoners will not be treated vengefully but should be convicted that through hard and selective forms of suffering they could change their lives. Secondly, that solitary confinement would prevent further corruption inside prison. In addition, isolation will cause offenders to consider their transgressions and repent (p.290). Besides feeling punished by confinement, government cost of keeping prisoners in one place is minimal as opposed to having various locations. Therefore, the purposes of America's penitentiaries are two: to punish offenders for their crimes and to correct their behavior in preparation for their integration into society.
Over time various correctional models have been adopted, some without success. The custodian model assumes that prisoners are in jail for reasons of incapacitation, deterrence, or retribution. In this model discipline is strictly observed and most aspects of behavior are controlled. Cole & Smith (2007) report that following the reduced application of the rehabilitation model which emphasized on treatment programs, discipline and order, community or reintegration model was adopted in the 1970s (p.294). The goal of community corrections was to reintegrate the offender unto the community (p.294). The supporters of this model argued that prisons are artificial institutions that prevent offenders from a crime-free lifestyle. To them, providing psychological treatment and increasing opportunities to offender can help them to succeed as citizens. Reintegration involved counseling by government agencies, medical treatment and financial assistance (p.294). This model lays emphasis on maintaining offenders' ties to family and community as a way of instilling reform.
The challenge that prisons have is enormous; based on the fact that they try to correct individuals from different backgrounds who have committed different crimes. Cole & Smith (2007) note that 'we ask them to correct the incorrigible, rehabilitate the wretched, deter the determined, restrain the dangerous and punish the wicked' (p.336). The consequence of such diverse pursuits is failure of the prisons. Another problem that may face the management of a prison is use of force by the wardens especially if inmates are uncooperative. It is argued that prisoners can be legally separated from each other and physically abused until they die or are seriously hurt (p.340).
The challenges associated with governing prisons can be overcome with the presence of good leadership. The factors of total power, rewards and punishment, exchange relationships and the leadership of inmates is common to all prisons and must be managed. The success of rehabilitation programs in prisons and even in the community will depend on the commitment of the leadership in place. A program that integrates all the three models should be formulated and used in the management of the prisons. In my opinion, since the inmates will one day be reintegrated into society, emphasis should be placed on the community model. During the reintegration process however, caution should be taken to notice those individuals that are pretending or posturing whereas they are yet to reform.
The leadership should devote utmost effort to ensuring that each of the inmates understands that crime is evil and punishable. It is only in this way that people will not go back to crime upon being released. Besides this, other aspects of the community model such as probation are very useful in determining the conduct of the ex-prisoners. Delegating the responsibilities of probation to lower authorities closer to the residences of the affected persons is critical. The length of the probation period will be determined by the magnitude of the crime committed and the state of the prisoner during the time of reintegration into society. Members of the society will also be asked to monitor the behavioral progress made and report it to the authorities concerned. If surveillance is observed by every member of the community to ensure that no crime is committed or that every committed crime is reported and the offenders taken through effective corrective channels, the recurrence of crime will be abated or minimized.
In conclusion, the rise of crime in the society and as a consequence the number of criminals is indisputable. The number of Americans in incarceration is the highest in all time and the management of the prisons and the actual work of correcting inmates has become a difficult problem. However, the deployment of a strong leadership to take control of prisons with a view of ensuring the transformation of inmates can reawaken the hope of a stable society. Establishing courses and disciplines intended to change the world view of prisoners where they are taught by professionals may result in their transformation. It is believed that young people engage in crime such as drug trafficking or drug abuse because they lack employment opportunities. The most important step that the government must take though is educating its communities especially the young people on the evil in, and the consequences of committing crimes. Creating opportunities for all therefore, will have a resounding effect in abating crime.