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In the late 1970's, criminal rehabilitation programs were no longer seen as effective for reducing recidivism. The rising U.S. crime rate led correctional administrators to state publicly that it was time to stop relying on rehabilitation to solve the problem of high rates of recidivism and move on to other means (Himelson,A., n.d.)."
A prison , penitentiary, or a correctional facility is a place which individuals are confined and deprived of their personal freedom because of criminal behavior. These institutions which are part of the criminal justice system are conventional at best. Prisons are meant to be a house to hold in criminals and are anything but a vacation resort. Drab walls, barred cells and windows, tall barbed wire fences, and armed guards is the only life they will know while being incarcerated. (Seiter, 2008)
The first modern prisons of the early 19th century were sometimes referred to by the term "penitentiary" (and still used today). The goal of these prisons was for punishment and penance for their crimes through a regimen of strict disciplines, forced labor, and silent reflections. For the most part, this is the design of most penitentiaries:
The main entrance;
Educational facilities to include a library in most cases;
An exercise yard or gym within a fenced open aired area;
The hospital or other comparable healthcare facility;
The segregation unit or isolation units;
The protective custody area for vulnerable prisoners subject to be preyed upon to include former police officers, informants, sex offenders, or youthful offenders;
The safe cells which usually house those who are at risk for suicide;
The visiting area where prisons spend time with friends and loved ones under a supervised visitation;
The death row facility;
Staff quarters where some staff reside;
Agricultural and industrial plants; and
The recreational area where the prisoners can watch television.
Throughout the facilities, the guards have control over the cells by electrical locking mechanisms. The control station is where the communication and the closed circuit television (CCTV) is housed and monitored for any suspicious activity and then relayed to the attending guard should there be trouble brewing from within. With the modernization of many prisons being built today, they are developing these units with what is referred to as "pods" or "modules" all arranged around a central yard. Within these pods or modules you will find tiers or levels all open where one guard in a control center can physically see and monitor the activities of the inmates. (McLaughlin, 2010, p. 41)
Aside from the general structure of the units, there are multiple facility types of prisons for different types of sentencing. For instance, there is a juvenile prison typically housing people under the age of 18; military prisons which are primarily designed to house prisoners of war, those who could potentially be deemed a security risk, combatants, and members of the military who have been found guilty of serious crimes; political prisons which Stalinism are best related; psychiatric facilities used to confine patients/prisoners who are considered dangerous and have committed some crime; and rehabilitation facilities used to prepare the prisoner for release and prevention of recidivism.
Now that we have a sense of what the prisons have to offer as far as structural design, let's touch on the programs within the facilities that lead to rehabilitation. First and foremost, the purpose of any prison is to punish the individual for the crime, but punishment alone will not guarantee successful rehabilitation or recidivism. Placing the criminal within the walls of a prison successfully removes the individual from society, but society needs to be comfortable in knowing that when this person has served his/her time, that they return without being a further threat in the future.
For some first offenders and depending on the level of criminal act committed, a judge may order probation and/or restitution to his/her victim. In addition to probation, the offender may be ordered to serve weekend jail time for a determined amount of time ordered by the judge (Seiter, 2008). Some judges order juveniles be sent to a program called "boot camp" or are subjected to a program called "scarred straight." Boot camp is a heavily structured program involving a prison type atmosphere with rigorous and intense physical exertion, mandatory educational instruction, and an intense rule environment. With scarred straight, a juvenile (typically) will be brought into a prison facility and exposed to other offenders who have volunteered to mentor these youth and teach them just what will happen when they end up in prison. The youth are not sheltered from other inmates comments or actions but are protected by the prison personnel. They are "scarred" into reality, literally! In most cases, this is a successful rehabilitation tactic for juveniles. (Farrington & Welsh, 2007)
For those who have been incarcerated into a prison facility, and depending on the sentence given for their crime, may be granted parole after they have served a portion of their original term of incarceration. Parole is not governed by the judge or warden in a unit but by a board of individuals representing the criminal justice system known as a parole board. Being granted parole does not mean the offender is absolved of his sentence, only that the board of pardons and parole has determined that he/she has been rehabilitated enough to be released back into society. With this release typically comes restrictions or requirements. Each are to report to a parole officer, pay monthly fees, attend drug or alcohol awareness programs, be subjected to possible electronic monitoring, random drug/alcohol testing and be required to abide by curfew and travel restrictions. This parole only ends at the end of the offenders original sentence given. (Seiter, 2008)
Those in prison need us to help them restore productive activities during their incarceration and to assist them in reentry. "Fewer than ten percent of the 110,000 inmates released from California prisons in 1999 received any prerelease assistance. Many were put out on the street with no more than the $200.00 given to them by prison officials (Petersilia, 2009, p. 18)." This amount comes nowhere near what it would take for a parolee to get a successful start on the outside. Most will be unsuccessful in finding immediate employment, shelter, and transportation. Statistics have shown that many are homeless and penniless and out of self-preservation, will re-offend out of sheer survival. Having a strong support system such as family and friends who can assist them during the transition of being a productive citizen again will have a much higher chance of success. "If they come back to the community un-rehabilitated and unprepared to live in a law-abiding way, not only will they return to crime and create new victims, they also will likely export the culture of prison to the next generation of young men or women (Petersilia, 2009, p. 19)."
Recidivism continues to be a serious problem. There has been a widespread recognition that rehabilitation programs are important. The prison systems need to provide education, vocational training, and life skills that will help them adapt to their return to the community. Some have even argued that nothing works. Their suggestions is that the goal of rehabilitation be strictly relied upon their incarceration and deterrence. This suggestion was adopted in the 80's and has become the predominant method of the penal system throughout the country. (Clark, 2004)
Ideas behind rehabilitation have been focused on assessing the inmate at the time of entry and determining at that stage where the planning and training needs are to begin a successful rehabilitation during incarceration. To be successful, input from prison and corrections staff, victims, families of the prisoner, health and human service agencies, and other volunteer organizations will help by providing a plan to achieve long-termed results. How successful the plan will be primarily rests upon the resources available in the community where the inmate will be released. Discovery has been made that not all community programs are made available to some newly released persons. This is certainly an area of concern and is being probed into further. (Clark, 2004)
Areas currently being probed for further consideration and believed to be successful integrators for reentry are:
Transition planning and coordination by providing sufficient staff, providing one or more coordinators at each institution solely for the purpose of working with those incarcerated and the development of the resources and any reentry programs in their communities.
Community reentry programs in each county, as well as, a coordinator to head the reintegration of the released offender for the purpose of finding housing, a job, health care assistance, transportation, education, family counseling, and religious programs.
Education programs need to be expanded in the facilities with assistance in obtaining high school completion, life skills training, and higher education. The only way to successfully make this happen is to locate funding for these programs specifically and ensure that the funding does not go to other areas within the facility.
Vocational programs need to be re-vamped to the incarcerated leave with a trade and the practical skills that would be critical to their success in society.
Chemical dependency and mental health treatments need to be made available to all incarcerated individuals that may have contributed to their criminal behavior and that could potentially defeat their success upon release.
Practical preparation for the person being released needs to be improved by helping them obtain the necessary identification such as social security card, birth certificate, photo ID, family reunification and basic interviewing skills.
Legal financial obligations debt should not accumulate interest during their incarceration and should only bear interest at the current market rate. This reduces the burden on the released individual and speeds repayment.
Lastly, any barriers such as employment discrimination and felony restrictions to employment if it is not a threat to public safety.
If these policy changes are implemented , successful reintegration of the incarcerated could amount to a cost savings with long termed results for the state's expenditures in our criminal justice system. (Rosenfeld, Wallman, & Fornango, 2005, p. 85)
Federal lawmakers realize prison spending is somewhat out of control. A lot of pressure is being applied to the local governments and the prison officials to establish a program that will reduce prison overcrowding, yet, keeping the recidivism numbers to a minimum. Prison officials know that with all repeat offenders, their level of violence increases. This mindset needs to be altered by establishing reentry programs and is becoming a priority for federal lawmakers if they want the funding to continue. "You cannot reform criminals without re-socializing them first (Pecchio, 2010)."
Exactly how do we re-socialize an offender? We implement programs to assist them. The following is a short list of areas needed:
Academic programs which assist them in completing their high school GED
Vocational programs to learn a skill or trade with a vocational certificate
Substance abuse programs to help them overcome addiction which may have contributed to their incarceration
Religious practice and worship
Family re-unification by involving family in special programs within the facility
Peer/Mentoring programs with inmate on inmate instruction and guidance
Having some type of transitional program in place has found that the inmate's success rate greatly increased after having these resources made available to him/her. For example, Project Re-Connect program provides transitional housing with the completion of a 100 hour transitional course. The results are far more comprehensive and there is less failure or chance of recidivism. (Rosenfeld et al., 2005)
Another program for reentry was launched by the Urban Institute named Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry. This research is being conducted over multiple states, Maryland, Illinois, Texas, and Ohio. With this program, it helps to develop a deeper understanding of the reentry experiences of returning prisoners, the families of the prisoner, and the communities involved. Interviews are taken prior to their release and after their release, as well as, interviews with the families and anyone who would hold a direct influence on the inmate. For those in Texas prisons released primarily to the Houston area, of the 676 prisoners, five percent re-offended and reentered the system within the first six months, two percent re-offended within the first three years and the study is ongoing for the remainder of those released. (La Vigne & Kachnowski, 2005)
Many rehabilitation programs do have some level of success. However, the percentages are lower than expected but if compared to those who have had no exposure to reentry programs, the numbers do reflect somewhat higher. Traditional applications of academic education, vocational training, drug/alcohol treatment, and secular programs are often found to produce positive results in many of the institutions. The secular programs and their participants hold the highest number of success and rehabilitation of any listed previously. All of the programs in place are strictly voluntary on the part of the incarcerated. One problem in getting good results during the assessment of these rehabilitation programs is in comparing volunteers with non-volunteers. Those inmates who volunteer for a program indicate a real difference to succeed once released back to their community.
In conclusion, ultimately the inmate holds the power on his/her success upon release. Will they prove to be productive citizens and bring positive results to their community? Will they re-offend or succeed in staying out of prison? Only time can answer those questions. This writer believes that if there is substantial information, training, family and community support, as well as other options available, the offender will have a larger leg up in society. Do not swing the doors open in these institutions to release inmates because of overcrowding. Make it mandatory that the inmate successfully complete some kind of program while incarcerated to prove good faith in adding to their future of living on the outside. Only they hold the keys to their future and it is up to all of us to ensure they succeed.