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The question had always been, 'When somebody has difficulty adjusting to life after prison is it because of the problems that they had before they came to prison or is it the experience of imprisonment itself that took its toll. In your case suggests that the experience itself takes a toll (Sanders, 2005).'
Hornoff validated that the experience behind bars has an effect on a person that may make it difficult to reintegrate into society once released. The experience behind bars affects each person differently. For some people they have their "ah ha" moment and give credit to the system for giving them a chance to hit rock bottom and turn their lives around. For others time in prison accelerates their attachment to the relationships, attitudes and mindsets that define criminal lifestyle. Gang relationships develop and or intensify or a criminal identity is embraced.
Peter Wood stated, "The vast majority of offenders released from prison will re-offend, about two-thirds will be re-arrested within three years, most current prison inmates have prior prison experience, and many repeat offenders are devoted to what has been termed a criminal lifestyle. (2007)" Similar to those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, it is unrealistic to cut them off cold turkey and be successful. It becomes a process of trying to increase the time between their relapse in offending. Martin Leyva a prior convicted felon stated, "Researchers hide behind the illusion of 'objectivity' but lack a solid understanding of the lives of the people who have served time behind bars. They have never felt the human degradation that comes with incarceration: the endless strip searches, the brutal repetitiveness, and the continual physical and mental abuse'" This is similar to the idea a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.
The Positive Punishment Effect discusses four concepts: emboldening, defiance, gambler's fallacy, and experiential learning. These ideas explain why a person will be more likely to commit crime. Emboldening, is the prediction that the punishment itself increases the chances of the person committing future crime (Wood, Peter 2007). A person commits crime more frequently because they feel empowered by their previous experience. Defiance, punishment increases subsequent deviance. This occurs when punishment received does not seem just in the eyes of the offender; this may lead to unacknowledged shame and defiant pride which in turn increases future criminal tendencies (Wood, Peter 2007). This concept is similar to Labeling Theory, the person accepts the negative label and decides they want to live up to what society labels them as. Gambler's fallacy, those who have been already arrested believe their likelihood of being rearrested for another crime is slim to none, so they are more likely to take the chance and reoffend (Wood, Peter 2007). On a smaller scale this is similar to those who speed on the freeway. The chances of being caught are slim to none, so people accept the gamble. Lastly, experiential learning is explains the lifestyle and the benefit/rewards that habitual criminals associate with offending, and that individuals become more criminal through other inmates within the correctional environment (Wood, Peter 2007). Many argue this concept because hundreds if not thousands of inmates are living under one roof and interact with each other every day. The idea "You are who you keep" is a realistic problem within correctional facilities. When inmates are released they tend to have more criminal tendencies compared to when they first entered the facility.
Rational choice theorists look deeper into how imprisonment impacts the offender's likelihood reoffending once released and how the criminal justice system shapes their concept of cost benefits that motivate those to commit crime (Wood, Peter 2007). Those who commit crime are not thinking about how they will be punished, instead they are thinking about ways of not getting caught. The majority of criminals do not think rational that's one of the main issues.
I have gotten busted by the police several times because I was alone. I couldn't see them coming. When you're with your boys you have more eyes to check out what's going on-you can see the cops; you can see the opposition. But when you are by yourself sometimes you feel scaredâ€¦In the Diamonds we teach the young guys; we practice how to be together all the time. We think that that's our strength. Other people have money. We have each other (Scott, Gregory).
This is a perfect example how the minds of criminals work. The more people involved the more eyes to spot a cop. The increase in surveillance, the less likely they are to get caught. Criminals aren't thinking about the punishments, their main objective is to not get caught. Through Positive Punishment Effect is it emphasized that "get tough" on crime will not work the way conservative thinkers predicted. It increased incapacitation, but did not address the issues of the increase in prison populations and lack of resources. Offenders are not thinking about how many years they will receive for the crime they commit. They are thinking about the probability of being detected and detained. Using situational crime prevention, it will increase the visibility and detection, and reduce the reward. People need to become more proactive instead of reactive. If criminals knew they would get caught swift and certain, they would be less likely to offend.
Across the board researchers are trying to point their finger as who is to blame for creating individuals with terrible behaviors. Who is the one to blame? It is a never ending cycle what came first the chicken or the egg. Some blame the individual and biological factors, while others blame environmental factors such as disorganized neighborhoods and power control. Dina Rose and Todd Clear had this idea of coerced mobility and related it to prisons (Lily et al. 2011). If the male is out of the picture, the females are more likely to work longer shifts to make up for the income loss, which leads to less time to supervise their children and a higher chance of a male figure stepping into the picture who is not the child's father. If a large amount of young African American males are taken out of a community what happens to that community? There becomes an increase of single mother households and moral poverty. With the lack in income at all they may have to frequently change addresses, move into different school districts, and more social disorganization.
There are so many studies that link increase in crime caused by a lack of income and financial poverty, but hardly focus on the moral poverty, being without loving, capable responsible adults who teach the young right from wrong (Lily et al. 2011). Children need moral guidance to grow into healthy adults, and it does not necessarily have to be from a parent/guardian, as long as it is a positive role model. Researchers will have an endless debate on nature vs. nurture, but it becomes obvious once they take the time to read into the person's history and why they act the way they act. There is a common theme of abandonment, trust issues, abuse (emotional, physical, and/or sexual), and a lack of structure. If a person is incapacitated they also need to be rehabilitated. Their personal issues need to be addressed before they are released or they are almost guaranteed to return to prison.
Time behind bars
It does not matter the state or city, prisons are the most segregated places across the United States. Not all inmates become sucked into a prison gang, but all people have to quickly fall into a subculture. These groups tend to be racially based. To reduce chances of being victimized while incarcerated a person must follow the prison regulations so they don't catch more time, as well as the inmates set of unwritten rules. One of the most important rules that inmates learn quickly is they didn't see anything, hear anything, or know anything. A couple of correctional officers are not going to protect from whoever was snitched on. It becomes a game between the inmates and the prison guards.
People who are not already in a gang prior to incarceration may seek to join a gang out of fear of being victimized. Some view gangs as a protection barrier from other gang members as well as prison workers. One aspect to prison culture is understanding the dynamics of prison gangs and how it may benefit a person while incarcerated. Gangs in prison are more likely than street gangs to have an established hierarchy, interdependent roles and functions, formal rules and regulations, and a system of negative sanctions governing those who deviate from authorized ways and means of gang protocol (Scott, Gregory 2001). These groups may appear to be tightly knit, stable, and enclosed, but in actuality it is constantly changes, complex and developing.
Prisons are expected to provide a person with their basic needs to survive on a daily basis. Prison gangs organize goods, services, relationships, and information that are obvious or easily accessible through other means within the prison (Scott, Gregory 2001). Contraband is vaguely defined as anything the correctional officer deems illegal. It is viewed as a developmental resource to enhance a person's status, social capital, and economic viability while inside prison (Scott, Gregory 2001). Inmates have limited resources, the majority of the inmates don't have a constant flow of money to make purchases at the commissary, so they cherish the little things a person on the outside take for granted.
Those with life sentences and have been in the system for a long period of time may have found sanity through religion, education, or counseling. Old timers may become mentors to those who have shorter sentences and encourage them to make a change. Martin Leyva stated many elders in prison suggested that he return to school and change his life, because they didn't want to see him turn up like "them" (2010). Leyva had the drive to feel wanted and understood, but lacked the ability to know how to ask for help and be able to accept the help when offered. This is a common issue inmates have to deal with. Sampson and Laub explain turning points are hooks for change (Lily et al, 2011). These events create the possibility, not the inevitability, of change and stop committing crime. Offenders must take advantage of the opportunity to redirect their life course. For change to transpire, the offender must first develop a general cognitive openness to change (Lily et al, 2011). Visher and Travis (2003) explain that for some people going to prison is an abrupt and beneficial departure from a prior life of antisocial behavior and accept their prison sentence as a wake-up call. Others take the prison experience to accelerate their criminal behaviors. For each person it is what they make of the experience.
Transition between prison and freedom
Due to an increase of people incarcerated, due to longer sentences, there is a lack in treatment and programs behind bars. Mostly because the staff count has stayed the same while the population increased. The programs that are available may not sufficiently prepare those upon release. Job skills are changing constantly with the quick changing technology. 10 years down the road a person that held a 9-5 labor kind of job may now have a machine that does the job and is more cost efficient. Besides keeping the inmates busy do they benefit the inmate? Programs do address these issues: job skills, cognitive skills and substance abuse. Many times job skills are learned, but they are not at levels that are purposeful for work after prison. These skills tend to be lower paying positions such as a plumbers aid/assistant, than a plumber itself.
Once released to the outside world they must find a legitimate job, housing, resist the temptations of the homies, and staying clean. Some age-out and are ready for a new life, end their criminal ways, and want to live their lives on the straight and narrow path. Many times reality gets the best out of them. They leave prison with high expectations and good intentions, but they don't know how to obtain their goals they set. People who are convicted for the crime they committed, completed their sentence, and released to the public are still being punished through public stigma. These are invisible punishments that negatively follow a person through employment and housing. If they are short on cash they are more likely to go back to their old criminal habits. If they had a drug or alcohol problem they are more likely to relapse to cope with their high anxiety levels from all the new responsibilities.
When an inmate is release to the free world or on community supervision, they don't realize all the responsibility and continued hardship that will follow upon release. Those who have not been in and out of the system do not understand the invisible punishments that follow incarceration. They believe they have done the time and now they are able to get back to living their life. Invisible punishments are constant reminders of a person's time in prison. These may include, problems with employment, housing, welfare assistance, and stigma attached to a convicted felon (Wood, Peter 2007). Is it possible that society is setting up those leaving the system to fail? If there are added restrictions to public housing and limiting job opportunity how is a person supposed to succeed? If the whole point of sending a person to prison is for retribution, how long past their sentence do they need to be punished for? It becomes difficult to find a job when they now have a criminal history and for every year locked up is a year less of experience in the work field. Due to policy changes some former prisoners face housing regulations that may deny felons access to public housing, eligibility rules for substance abuse treatment, and difficulty accessing medical care, and obtaining needed medication (Visher, Travis 2003). It becomes too easy for a person to slip back into old habits if they do not have the positive support system from family, friends and neighbors.
High expectations to living the new on the straight and narrow could be flooded with an overwhelming amount of anxiety. Leyva and Bickel expressed, one of the keys to success is learning how to ask for help, and learning to accept it (2010). If they did not deal with unresolved issues, such as substance abuse and mental health problem, they will have to deal with these issues with their triggers for relapse surrounding them. Even if prison was a "turning point" in a person's life, it is not inevitable they use it towards their advantage and seek the help they need. If they don't know how to ask for help they will quickly slip back into their old habits, whether it is drug/alcohol abuse, breaking in and entering, theft, etc.
Joining a gang while in prison does not necessarily mean they will continue the gang lifestyle on the outside world, but the majority of those who are in gangs will continue their criminal behaviors once released. Most gang members prefer determinant sentencing because once they complete their time they don't have to deal with parole.
Before, during, and after the incarceration experience, prison gang members possess a greater propensity of offending and a lesser degree of responsiveness to intervention relative to their non-gang criminal and delinquent peers. At the individual level, participating in a prison gang amplifies ones criminal motivations, opportunities, and skills both during the incarceration period and after when the process of reintegration begin. (Scott, Gregory 2001)
Gangs are a never ending issue within the criminal justice system and to this day there is no solution for addressing these issues. Besides locking everyone up, the most realistic way to win the fight with gangs is to prevent adolescents from joining them in the first place. The increase in minority males in prison and increase in single parent households in the neighborhoods that are economically distressed, there needs to be more funding for programs to prevent teens from turning into their negative role models.
There are more church programs that are widening their views. Religion is one tool people use to get their life back together. Some may joke, anyone will find God behind bars, but if God helps a person find righteousness so let it be. Bethesda Family Ministries church member's help parolees adjust to the outside world by holding a hand out and not judging them by their past (Reentry). When they are released the parolee has a place to go that is away from the "homies". By bringing them into a clean and safe environment away from temptation they are less likely to reoffend, due to lack of opportunity. Instead they use the bible as a tool for parolees to guide them through their pain, anger, and other issues.
Establishing a conventional lifestyle is one of the most difficult tasks for an ex-con. They might have never experienced a conventional lifestyle and obtaining things in life the legal way. By obtaining more education they broaden their options in life, even if it's just a GE.D. With patience and persistence, housing, work, and transportation may be legally obtained. Those who try and live the conventional lifestyle and beat the statistics need to be praised and hopefully set a positive path for those in their community. Some ex-cons like Martin Leyva have turned their life around and now help young kids in their community who need someone to look up too. Leyva was transitioning from a correctional institution to a learning institution (2010). It is humbling to see people make it out on the high road when they had everything thrown in their path.
Treatment & prevention
Sentencing reforms increased the length of prison sentences, but failed to address programming issues behind bars (Visher and Travis, 2003). During the 90's, prison populations increased 70%, but the programming in prisons did not keep up with the pace, so large amount of inmates were released without educational, vocational, or treatment preparations that are specifically designed to facilitate successful reintegration (Visher and Travis, 2003). Prior to the 1970s the majority of sentences were indeterminate and there was a parole board that would decide if the person has made enough change to no longer be a threat to the public. Due to policy changes and the general public wanting those people to serve out their time in prison and not the community there has been an increase in determinate sentencing. This leads to a decrease in incentives to become involved in programs that are offered in prison. Why would someone want to do counseling, or treatment to get to the root of their issues if they don't see any immediate rewards for them?
Our society need to become more proactive instead of reactive. There needs to be an increase of programs available to prevent people to reverting to criminal acts. As a nation, reactive laws and policies are created way more often than proactive. Early intervention programs might be used to divert youngsters from lives in crime. Programs tend to concentrate on three areas, which includes parent training, improving the cognitive development of children and reversing early manifestations of conduct problems (Lily et al. 2011). These types of programs have found to be excellent ways of preventing those who were born into a high risk living situation to have a better outcome. One example is the Prenatal and Early Childhood Nurse Home Visitation Program. It had positive long term effects shown by a fifteen year follow up on criminal and antisocial behavior-children were:
60% less likely to run away
55% less likely to have been arrested
80% less likely to have been convicted of a crime (Lily et al. 2011)
These numbers show that with programs successfully placed children and parents have a higher chance of living a successful life within the community and not behind bars. There needs to be an end to this vicious cycle of moral poverty to deviance. Young adults who have children need to learn about resources available to them to create a stable environment.
Drug treatment behind bars is rare. Most people who land themselves in jail or prison are usually hooked on some type of drug. Addicts are constantly in search for their next fix and many times they are short on cash. The crimes they commit may first only get them jail time, but further down the road those offenses may land them prison time. "The difference between this treatment is that other treatment programs tell you to change, but this program tells you how to change." (Hedden, Clayton, & Arndt, 2008) People may want to change their lives around, but there are so many issues overlapping each other they don't know where to begin. While a person is locked up in jail they need programs available to those who want to change. Three counties in Iowa experimented with Jail Treatment Programs that consisted of around 77 days in-jail portion of treatment and 135 days in outpatient treatment. In the Jail-Based Substance Abuse Treatment Program Year Five Annual Report, 1,731 clients were admitted into jail-based substance abuse treatment programs in Polk, Jackson, and Scott counties, from November 1, 2002 through December 31, 2007. 12 months after released from the program:
69.3% indicated abstinence.
83.9% were arrest-free during the six to twelve month post-admission period.
58.5% indicated full-time employment.
14.9% were employed part time. (Hedden, Clayton, & Arndt, 2008)
If all states would implement a similar substance abuse program within the jails, it will help reduce the recidivism rate of these low offenders. By keeping them within jails for about two months they will be sober and experience things with a clear mind. With an outpatient treatment plan it will help them stay on the right track and increase the time between relapse. By treating those who have substance abuse problems who are committing low level offense landing them in jail, it will reduce the likelihood of them escalating their crimes for a larger pay off down the road.
Another successful program is the Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program uses a "swift and sure punishment" approach to discourage probation violations (Bulman, 2010). This program started in 2004 by Circuit Judge Steven Alm, who believed the probation system was not working well. This program focuses on being swift and certain with their actions and has had successful outcomes. Instead of quickly revoking probation they first modify their terms and conditions. Most other non-compliance (ONC) are punished with a short jail sentence which tends to be a couple days to a couple weeks.
Figure 2: Probationer Outcomes During the One-Year Follow-up Period*
No-shows for probation appointments
Positive urine tests
New arrest rate
Probation revocation rate
Incarceration (days sentenced)
*Results are from the one-year randomized controlled trial portion of the evaluation.
This program has been effective for the state of Hawaii reducing new arrests, revocation, positive urine analysis (PUA), and days sentenced for ONC. Unlike other treatment programs, HOPE focuses on decreasing the use of drugs and no-shows for appointments, and doesn't force a person to seek treatment. An option for those who do constantly test positive is to go to residential treatment instead of getting their probation revoked. Judge Alm's concept of probation should be carried out for regular probation and parole. Criminal offenders are like children, when they do something wrong they need to punished at the moment it occurred, so they can associate the crime with the punishment. Judge Alm's gives the offender opportunities to mess up and try again, but he explains to the person that this program utilizes various agencies and if they are going to mess around and not take things serious he does not have a problem sending them to serve their revocation to 5, 10, or 20 years. Unlike other drug programs there are randomized urine analyses and the person does not know if they have to report to test until the morning of when they call the hotline.
Overall, there was a huge decline in PUA's over a period of time. Whether it is due to the randomness of the urine analysis, or strict guidelines on missing appointments, this is a successful program that should be implemented throughout community corrections. It shows that when the system is swift and certain, there are positive outcomes.
Politicians and law makers will never propose to "get soft" on crime. No one wants to see people get shorter sentences, but the sentences need to be carried out more efficiently. Everyone needs to accept the idea that certainty of the punishment outweighs the severity of the punishment. The difference is most people make a rationale decision and will not take the risk because they know there is a slim chance they could get caught and don't want to risk the punishments that fit the crime. Criminal's rationale thinking is slightly different, they think about how likely they are to get caught, and not about the punishment that will follow. Anyone would commit a crime if they knew they would be able to get away with it regardless of the punishment.
There are more groups starting to reach out to inmates before they are released to community corrections. Neighborhoods need to "hug and thug" and inmates being released need to change their mind set of being entitled to everything in the outside world. With an increase of information through studies and research on the minds of criminals the general public is learning how to help and not to judge. Society needs to learn to accept the crimes that have occurred to start healing themselves, so they are able to move on with their life instead of dwelling on the past. It is our duty to help those who want help and to not judge someone because their past is their past.
Prison is a world of its own. Some people need to be incapacitated, because they have committed crimes that should be severely punished for, while others need to figure something else to do. Career criminals picked their path of choice, but every path has a fork in the road and it is a matter of deciding to change route. A few people commit crime because of the adrenaline rush or the challenge of not being caught, while other only know the criminal life because that's what how they grew up.
Theorists come up with crazy ideas why people commit crime, but it is more complex and is a combination of pointing fingers for who is ultimately at fault. Ultimately the communities need to take their part to reduce opportunity for crime, take pride in their neighborhoods, and help those who need help instead of shutting them down. The victims of crimes should positively advocate for their cause, by educating people about the crime that was committed and demand longer sentences. It does not make sense to create harsher punishment when it obviously isn't effective. Offenders need to accept they have underlying issues and work on them instead of burying them under drugs, alcohol, or criminal behavior. The government needs to stop making laws and policies based on a public outcry. Yes, they should do address the issue, but creating laws and policies in the spur of the moment is never beneficial in the long run.
Everyone needs to take their own responsibility in the mess created across the nation. Our nation needs to become proactive in helping people succeed, instead of reactive and locking everyone up. Children act out because they want attention and seek attention in any way they are able to receive it. Criminals act in the same way. Many times they want attention and they want help, but don't know how to ask for it. Like the saying goes "Hurt people, hurt people." This cycle needs to stop, and it is done one step at a time.