Engaging Effective Prisoner Reintegration Criminology Essay

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As humans tend to mimic what they see, social values are influenced and reinforced at an early age through exposure to the surrounding world. This exposure, in turn, tends to mold and direct thoughts and learned behaviors. The psychosocial influences derived from social and interpersonal relationships may not necessarily depict accurately what is actually happening in the world. However, coupled with political rhetoric broadcast through social media it may tend to inspire fear, hate, and a distorted view of what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

In the past few decades, numerous reforms seen in the criminal justice system of the United States reflect concern for social order and respect for social justice as society struggles with the dilemma of what can legally be done to people to achieve and preserve civil order (Haney, 1997). Imposing financial penalties or loss of freedom as a means to deter or reduce criminal activity may reduce an individual's ability to commit further crime for an indeterminate period of time, but it appears questionable as to what, if any, effect punishment may have on reducing levels of crime (Hollin & Palmer, 2009; Hollin, 2002).

A historical look at the American "get tough on crime" and "war against drugs" agendas show public policies such as mandatory sentencing and truth-in-sentencing laws requiring prisoners to serve a predetermined amount of prison time based on the crime committed and a significant portion of their sentence before being eligible for parole had a tremendous impact on federal and state correctional systems (Arungwa & Osho, 2012; Avakian, 2000; Miller & Miller, 2010).

According to a 2009 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report cited by Miller and Miller (2010), it is estimated that one of every 136 Americans is confined and another five million are under community supervision of which 95% are released back into the community; an estimated rate of 1,600 prisoners released daily (Beck, 2006). This represents approximate increase of more than 200% in the number of people incarcerated in the United States from 1985 to 2006 (Gilliard & Beck, 1997; Sabol, Minton, & Harrison, 2007; White, Saunders, Fisher, & Mellow, 2008).

The need to reduce prison population spurred by the increasing number of offenders incarcerated for longer periods of time, rising costs demands, high recidivism rates, and a slow economy has local, state, and federal officials as well as community members critically reevaluating and amending correctional policy in the United States (Stemen & Rengifo, 2012; King, 2007; Sung & Belenko, 2006; Wool & Stemen, 2004, Avakian, 2000).

Pettus and Severson, citing Monkkonen, (1990, 1992), assert prisoner rehabilitation and concerns about prisoner release conditions are not contemporary constructs of modern corrections' modification programming; they have been matters of concern since the earliest prisons (2006). Of growing concern regarding prisoner reintegration to policy-makers and correction officials are the critical issues of public safety, public health, and fiscal savings (Petersilia, 2003; Petersilia & Travis, 2001).

When prisoners are released and return to the community a multitude of conflicts occur which create impediments to community reintegration for these individuals. Many recidivate and return to an already overcrowded institution faced with fiscal shortfalls and budget cuts. Compounding the multitude of barriers returning offenders face are problems dealing with health and mental health care. Research data from a 1997 National Commission on Correctional Healthcare on inmate health issues revealed a significant number of inmates with serious health concerns such as HIV/AIDS (20-25%), hepatitis C (29-32%), and tuberculosis (38%) were released from prison. White et al., report statistical data from a 2005 New York City Department of Corrections study showed 75% of inmates have a history of substance abuse, 40% received mental health services, and 7% of males and 20% of female inmates are infected with HIV (2009, p. 129). The Human Rights Watch (2008) revealed 54% of those incarcerated for drug offenses and 14% of people who use drugs are African American. Tonry (1995) reports 90% of defendants sentenced for crack cocaine sales at the federal level have been African American. Community members, administrative and government officials, as well as service providers have been questioning who is responsible and what can be done to address these on-going issues (Pettus and Severson, 2006).

Empirical evaluation studies on reentry programs and their overall effectiveness as a means to improving offender reintegration after incarceration have provided mixed results (Taylor, 2012; Hamilton, 2010; Visher, 2006; Farole, 2003; Spelman, 2003). With men having been incarcerated at greater rates than women, developmental reentry programs traditionally focus on men's needs (Spjeldnes & Goodkind, 2009; Austin, Bloom, & Donohue, 1992; O'Brien, 2001). A 2009 review of literature on incarceration statistics, social/structural and individual barriers to community reentry, offender demographics, and gender-responsive tactics recommended improving the effectiveness of reentry interventions through identifying the dispositions and requirements for both women and men during incarceration and the reintegration processes (Spjeldnes and Goodkind, 2009).

Despite implications suggesting one reintegration program structure does not translate across the wide spectrum of communities and correctional facilities found within the United States, various members of society appear to acknowledge social support combined with a myriad of opportunities to achieve, succeed, and effect a more advantageous manner of life may offer returning offenders a better chance to affect a more positive change in their lifestyles.

Recent civil litigations and dramatic increases of incarceration rates have influenced policymaker attentions to focus on research, development, and implementation of prisoner reentry programs in prison and jails nationwide. Creating reentry programs to facilitate the transitioning into the self-decision-controlled habitat of society from highly monitored and structured environments may be a daunting task. With significant obstructions facing offenders such as lack of basic necessities, (i.e., shelter, food, clothing, personal identification, or transportation), mental and physical health problems, and the lack of education or employable skills, one could assume identifying and assimilating resources to meet the needs of inmates due for release to the community may assist in allowing a smoother transition into the community. As expressed by research findings, defining and clarifying basic idiosyncrasies of reentry service needs to address differences in community demographics, program and organizational structure, clientele, and provided services between the communities and prisons throughout the United States remains a core function of the reentry process. As such, the need for further research of and refinement to the various reintegration programs administered presents the most optimal suggestion for reentry program success.