In 2015 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) submitted a report to the office of the high commissioner for human Rights. In this report U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is quoted as stating “This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working.” In the following text the author will act as an analyst in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and present a breakdown of the current incarceration trends in the American prison system. The analysis will assess the prison environment as experienced by different classifications of prisoners. categorize the various reform efforts, including the development of juvenile corrections, while discussing how the philosophy of corrections has changed over time.
Prison Population & Overcrowding
There are approximately 2.1 million people incarcerated within the United States. Of those 2.1 million inmates, around 600,000 are released yearly (Stojkovic, 2008). Those individuals released annually may have just as much to contribute to the increasing prison population as the widely considered variable; gender, race and types of crimes. In his paper, sociologist Ryan King (2016) describes the Nation’s prison population problem as a persistent mass incarceration problem rather than a mass incarceration problem. According to King (2016) Factors contributing to persistent incarceration results from an increase in crime rates during the 1970s through 1990s, the war on drugs, and the deluge of people who were then encumbered with criminal records as a result of the two. King (2016) goes on to argue that because of the manner in which sentencing guidelines are made those individuals are more likely to be sent back to prison on for future offenses. Through reducing recidivism, the United States would lower the number of people incarcerated.
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Some of the health conditions which are clearly represented throughout correctional institutions are; human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), other infectious diseases, substance abuse, and mental illness to name just a few. Roy Warmsley (2005), describes the negative impact overcrowding in prisons has on the health care of those incarcerated. Warmsley presents the argument that international standards requires prisons have appropriate space for prisoners instead of the estimated 70% of prison which are currently overcrowded (Warmsley, 2005). Most prisons in the United States are occupied far above official capacity, making it difficult to both supervise inmates and maintain a healthy environment for both the guards and inmates. As the number of inmates increase the space, policies, and personnel have not adjusted and respond to the overcrowding. Schnittker and John (2007) identify some of the direct and indirect effects incarceration has on inmates health. They found that incarceration has a strong impact on an individuals long-term health, creating severe health constraints. The authors suggest that beyond health issues incarceration contributes to racial disparities, inequality, overall stigma and stress (Schnittker & John, 2007).
Elderly Inmates & Mental Health
Dr.Stan Stojkovic (2008) presented in his text “Elderly prisoners: A growing and forgotten group within correctional systems vulnerable to elder abuse” that approximately 600,000 prisoners are released into the community every year throughout the U.S. Of those 600,000 inmates released many of them are elderly. In his text, Stojkovic (2008) makes the claim that the elderly experience abuse and neglect while incarcerated, which continues well after their release. Stojkovic (2008) argues that most correctional systems throughout the United States do not have the adequate resources to supervise the growing elderly population in corrections while they are incarcerated and after they are released.
Unfortunately, prisons have become the primary mental health institutions in the United States. Many inmates had not been treated for their mental health issues and then found themselves in trouble with the law as a direct result. Adams and Ferrandino write in their 2008 text, “Managing mentally ill inmates in prisons,” often there is a serious disjointedness between the needs of mentally ill offenders and the resources available for their treatment. This gap in resources has a significant effect on the supervision of the mentally ill within an institution. The conjunction between control of the inmate and treatment of the inmate must be met with an appropriate balance. Adams and Ferrandino (2008) make the claim that a large portion of the prisoner population has some type of disorder and in need of mental health treatment. Corrections staff and officers recognize substantial challenges while attempting to address treatment concerns combined with control concerns. There seems to be an increasing population of mentally ill inmates entering prisons, going untreated, being released, then finding their way back to prison because of the aforementioned lack of treatment.
Sex Offenders in Prison
Existing in prison can be abundantly difficult for sex offenders. According to Christopher Zoukis (2019) this label can be compounded if that offender was convicted of any act having to do with a child. Sex offenders are met with the fear of being targeted by other inmates,and are monitored more intensely as to safeguard against relevant behaviors. The Federal Bureau of Prisons formed the Sex offender Management Program (SOMP) as a response to the fears listed above as well as a means to better manage sex offenders for administration purposes. This institutional designation has a more vigorous sex offender treatment program and mental health department (Zoukis, 2019).
Authors Vogel and Porter (2015) presented data demonstrating that blacks and hispanics make up approximately 30% of the US population, yet make up 56% of the individuals incarcerated. The disparity of black person incarceration compared to white persons is strikingly unmistakable, as black males are incarcerated nearly seven times more than white males. On the other hand Hispanic persons are incarcerated three times compared to white persons. Vogel and Porter (2015) write that although criminologists have been struggling with the true cause of the clear disparities in sentencing for decades, some of the theoretical explanations involve the idea that higher incarceration rates reflect discriminatory treatment by the criminal justice system.
- Gaines, N. (2010, October 29). Discrimination is the well-documented cause of race disparity in prison.
- Hernandez, S., & Emery, S. (2011, November 11). Realignment brings in more inmates than expected.
- King, R. D. (2016). Persistence of mass incarceration in a low crime era. Ohio State News. https://news.osu.edu/why-prisons-continue-to-grow-even-when-crime-declines/
- Adams, K., & Ferrandino, J. (2008). Managing mentally ill inmates in prisons. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35(8), 913-927.
- Schnittker, J., & John, A. (2007). Enduring stigma: the long-term effects of incarceration on health. J Health Soc Behav. 48(2):115-30.
- Stojkovic, S. (2007). Elderly prisoners: A growing and forgotten group within correctional systems vulnerable to elder abuse. Journal of elder abuse & neglect, 19(3-4), 97-117.
- Vogel, M., & Porter, L. C. (2015). Toward a Demographic Understanding of Incarceration Disparities: Race, Ethnicity, and Age Structure. Journal of quantitative criminology, 32(4), 515-530.
- Warmsley, R. (2005). Prison health care and the extent of prison overcrowding. International Journal of Prisoner Health, 1(1), 3-12.
- Zoukis, C. (2019). Surviving Prison as a Sex Offender: Resources.https://www.prisonerresource.com/prison-survival-guide/special-tactics/how-sex-offenders-survive/
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