Psychologist Impact Social Change In And Out Prison Criminology Essay

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The institutional structure of law is limited in its ability to address ongoing societal changes. The legal system, that is law, is geared more toward applying consequences to conflicts and violations of standing laws. The system's capacity for transforming change within the community, in an equalitarian way, is hindered by the written law that is often seen as more important than the negative outcome it has on family, community and society. As a result, today's legal system has metamorphosis into a more efficient justice system that is geared toward speed, efficiency, and effectiveness, of which has increased the number of citizens in the judicial system expeditiously (Mirchandani, 2005).


The United States has the highest rate of imprisoned citizens compared to other countries, with a 2 million plus population incarcerated at a cost of 100 billion dollars per year, up from 12 billion in 1972 (Stevens, 2011). These results are the driving force for preventative and reentry programs geared toward empowerment and skills building, of which are imperative. However such goals can not be realized until society implements social change that addresses a need to first understand the problem from the inmate's point of view. This perspective will assist community organizers in implementing programs that can best effect social change internally, as well as externally. Also equally important, is a need for a community involvement commitment to changing the way the judicial systems functions as a revolving door (Stevens, 2011). Further statistics indicate that in 2002, the United States was the second largest in the world with a prison population of 486 prisoners per a 100,000 population (Stevens, 2011). Additionally, from 2009 to 2010, the number of prisoners increased to 866,974; this was a 2% increase (Minton, 2011). The ability for the prison system to sustain this gradual increase year after year reinforces the need for community involvement, with the assistance of psychologists, to creating sustainable programs for inmates in prison, inmates in line for parole, people who are on parole with the potential of going back to prison, and programs designed to prevent people from becoming incarcerated.

An Analysis of the Problem

The current bureaucratic models of justice includes a team that consists of the judge, attorneys, public defenders, law clerks and a number other workers who work on cases to either exonerate or incarcerate a person (Mirchandani, 2005). Such teamwork is needed when community based organizations collaborate with members of the judicial system to effect social change in a positive way.

To analyze the problem locally, statistics indicated that California's prisons house approximately 160,000 inmates with about 110,000 parolees at any given time (Zhang, Roberts, Callanan, 2006). A move toward the way the system is addressing the influx of parolees reentering prison, and people on probation who reenter county jails is a direct result of the creation of special courts that deal specifically with domestic violence, drugs cases, community issues and mental health cases (Zhang, et al., 2006). The California courts realize that there is a need to prepare inmates to successfully integrate back into society, and in order to do this, lawyers, judges and other members of the judicial team are working with community based programs to provide the necessary supportive network for inmates (Zhang, et al., 2006). Unfortunately, the system lacks the focus of addressing social problems that exacerbates the high incarceration rate: dysfunctional family, drug addictions, and socioeconomic issues (Mirchandani, 2005).

The need for organizations that are spearheaded by psychologists and community volunteers who can focus specifically in these areas by creating social programs where the community is directly involved, would prove beneficial for inmates, the legal system and the community. Anleu and Mack (2001) are clear in their point that the law is not an important factor in understanding what constitutes change in society and how society changes. It is important to note that when spearheading unconventional programs, the understanding that a one-size-fits-all philosophy is not appropriate for every community. With this in mind, there are unsafe neighborhoods where members of the community are fearful of getting involved in programs designed to assist parolees, and there are neighborhoods where the level of community involvement might be high, resulting in potential success of effective programs designed to assist parolees (Caughy, O'Campo, & Brodsky, 1999).

Interpretive Theory

Interpretive theory suggest that our understanding of the way the legal war on drugs is socially constructed, through means of communicating through media and laws, is not how it is successfully being viewed in the social world. Through individual interpretations, the war on drugs is being negatively viewed due to the number of jailed fathers and mothers, placed children in foster care, sentences being stiffer for the poorer populations, and multiple drug arrest. Interpretive theory, as it relates to the law, was first introduced by Dworkin, who criticized the way the judicial system uses the interpretation rules as a means for reasoning that an individual's rights are valuable, when dispensing the law (Hunter, 2005). Hunter (2005) further stated that "Interpretation of law is fundamental to the democratic system and the Rule of Law" (p. 78), and when judges interpret the law, they approach the process with multiple perspectives while considering every factor associated with the case in order to seek out the best result.

Empowering the Community

Social change begins with reframing and with individual action. Each one of us has a critical role in framing the problem, envisioning a solution and then taking action (Weinstein, 2006). That would include the judicial system. Anleu and Mack (2001) pointed out that there is a need for therapeutic jurisprudence that is engaging and empathic in finding solutions for the high incarceration rates across the country. They should communicate with the public and be geared toward progressive social change that has a physical and psychological impact on inmate's well-being. Lower legal systems, such as city and county jails, are in a unique position to effect positive social change due to the many opportunities they have from a micro level, as they are more connected with the community than prisons (Anleu & Mack, 2001). Community psychologist can play a pivotal role in initiating social change in the community and with the community activist on multiple levels: by creating community-based services, being the voice of the community thereby empowering the community (Weinstein, 2006). Communities need to create more reentry employment and educational programs for inmates when it is time for them to reenter society. Ultimately, the first step is to create programs and policies that will help in creating social interventions to best fit individual communities and assures success for the participants and the community's residents (Caughy, et al., 1999).

The need to empower people of a community to get involved in developing, supporting and participating in programs that address the needs of inmates who are in a state of hopelessness and despair due to socioeconomic factors is called, empowering community settings (Maton, 2008). Maton (2008) defines this concept as "a group-based, participatory, developmental process through which marginalized or oppressed individuals and groups gain greater control over their lives and environment, acquire valued resources and basic rights, and achieve important life goals and reduced societal marginalization"(p, 5).

Effective Social Change Agents

The key element in social change is in understanding the problem, how it developed, as well as what caused the problem and how it is being sustained. As Stern (2000) stated, people who which to affect social change must develop the most effective way to go about making that change. This involves educating one's self about the social issue through research. The most fundamental understanding of social change is that human beings have choices; they may choose to embrace change or they may choose to continue the same nonproductive maladaptive behaviors. If they choose to effect change, the program must be attractive to the public, thereby gaining public support. Furthermore, the program must hold a certain amount of value to the person it is designed to help, and it must be valued by the community. Finally, the program must be sustainable; it must be designed in a way in which the benefits are highly desired by all who participate so that the participants continue to utilize the services, making the program affective and a model that can be duplicated across the country, and globally (Raven, 2004; Stern, 2000).

To be an effective social change agent when working with the legal system and inmates, one must have the ability to exert a certain degree of control (Anleu & Mack, 2001) over those of whom they wish to impact, and the system in which these people are entangled. Psychologists, as agents of change, provide a unique perspective on the topic of human behavior. Psychologists have years of research experience and the ability to clarify goals in a way that can be measured scientifically. They collaborate with others who inspire to make a difference in their community, and implement practices in order to strengthen existing programs (Agent of Change Network, 2011). Psychologists also have the unique ability to utilize past research in order to design a new program with data that has been proven to be reliable across many types of settings. Most important, psychologists are skilled in providing the best guidance to participate by helping them redefine their role in the community and investing long-term (Raven, 2004).

A Proposal for Action

Working closely with the community and the prison system would require a unique collaboration of ethical trust, a level of confidentiality, and a sense of security for the participants in order for them to feel as if the program is designed to help and not trap them with the threat of reincarceration if they do not complete the program (Zhang, et al., 2006).

Successful Social Programs

Psychologists and community activists across the country can model California's successful rehabilitation programs by working closely with prisons, county jails, businesses, clinics and community volunteers. California created a multidimensional, parole-based reintegration program named the, Preventing Parolee Failure Program that provides a variety of services for drug users, tutorial, and job counseling. The program is so successful that it was expanded to include six sub programs: Jobs Plus, of which consists of 12 subcontractors in nine counties that provides listings of local employers who are willing to hire parolees. The Offenders Employment Continuum Program consists of six subcontractors from six counties who provide mandatory 40-hour workshops to help prepare parolees for employment by improving their interest and aptitude. They help parolees identify and correct barriers to employment, and encourage vocational training. California also established two substance abuse programs; the Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery Program is a 4-week educational program that helps parolees recognize, acknowledge, and prevent substance abuse problems. The second program called, the Parolee Services Network. This program provides short-term detoxification, long-term (180 days) residential drug treatment, sober living support that provides up to 90 days of drug-free and alcohol-free community-based housing and outpatient services. This program was so successful that is was modeled in eight counties providing a total of 500 treatment slots. The Computerized Literacy Learning Center Network is another program that California offers parolee. It is a self-paced, computer-assisted instructional program designed to increase parolees' literacy and mathematic skills. Additionally, six Residential Multi-Service Centers provides residential therapeutic environments that support homeless parolees in the community to transition into independent living (Zhang, et al., 2006, pp. 553-555).

Creating a program from scratch is not necessary. There have been many types of programs affecting social change on a large scale from small community groups to large industrial programs that work well in the community. Some relay on retention of its participants to measure success, while others rely on research to validate its effectiveness. The California's prison system's success was supported by research. Its fundamental premise became the bases for similar programs to sprout in support of making a difference in low income communities; for minority children to young adults.

For example, in Richmond California, there was collaboration with various companies, agencies and organizations modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone Project to create The Next Wave. The Next Wave also targeted disadvantage minority children by providing social programs that focused on alcohol and drugs, parent-student training, and after school activities. Social change continued in New York with the Rochester Children's Zone Project, of which targeted low-income children and provided programs with the help of community involvement to encourage children to take advantage of educational and extracurricular activities.

Furthermore, in Columbia, Missouri, the Youth Empowerment Zone carried on the model of interweaving community agencies and businesses to support low income, high risk children with the opportunity to "stay on the right track" with educational and developmental programs (Caplan & Dell, 2007). Another great program called the Lawrence Community Works saw high levels of participation from its residents in various neighborhoods, with 500 residents attending annual meeting and participating in voting during elections. Mandell (2010) contributes the Lawrence community Works commitment to organizing with the community members.

Another program mentioned by Fortune, Thompson, Pedlar, and Yuen (2010) is the restorative justice community-based organization, called Social Justice, where both men and women from the community participated in going into the prisons and working with inmates before and after release from prison, is a social recreation program of great success. It existence helped to develop supportive relationships among the inmates and the community volunteers. It motivated female parolees to become productive citizens upon release creating a circle of support around them.

These successful programs can only be enhances by incorporating programs that address the high incarceration of women and adolescents. Working closely with California's legal system to obtain funding, psychologists, community volunteers and community activities can assist in creating programs that are designed specifically for female inmates and juveniles as transitional programs.

Role of Psychologists

Psychology, as a behavioral science that includes humanist, sociologists, social psychologists, and community psychologists, are in a unique position to effect positive change and can make fundamental differences by contributing their expertise to this area of need (Mandell, 2010). There appears to be a high level of survival for community groups linked to institutions. Beyond the indirect legitimate organizations derive from adopting a more deeply embedded structure, we also expect that groups that have higher levels of community sociopolitical legitimacy will be more likely to survive (Walker and McCarthy, 2010).

Regardless of how much of an organization's total effort is devoted to goal accomplishment, organizational survival is necessary in order to mobilize and institutionalize an autonomous voice for the poor in local and national politics (Walker and McCarthy, 2010). Lemon, Craig and Cook (2011) advocate for programs that are designed with a methodology that is opposite of the top-down approach to functioning that impacts and shapes the program to better fit the needs of its participants.

Communication and Motivation

Communication and motivation is also important toward assuring potential value to all participants, and the importance of working as a team for the greater good of the community is rooted in the foundation of the program with the understanding that the individual is the focus. This brings about trust and flexibility that allows the program to adjust and expand as needed to accommodate and address each participants specific needs. By addressing needs, it allow opportunity for empowerment and thus, productivity on the part of each participate. There is a need for psychologists to develop methodological and theoretical approaches to address recidivism compared to those who are able to reenter society successfully in hopes of making a difference in people's life that would create positive change (Lemon, et al., 2011).The methodologies used in establishing programs in and out of the legal system at all levels needs to account for the constant changes in society that inmates must be able to adapt to, such as technologies, economics, natural environment etc., that consists of a complex system of survival once released.

Developing Sustainable Social Programs

Overall, sustainable social programs can be achieved through the guidance of psychologists by developing specific programs that can be generalized in any urban or suburban community across the country. The goal would be to teach marketable skills, parenting skills and provide psychological interventions to felons and ex-felons in order to enhance the quality of life to women and juveniles. In order to assure an effective program, a multilevel component should be implemented in the prisons, in communities, and within home based programs to ensure that the situation is statistically effective by the decrease of reentries into the legal system. Furthermore, the use of focused groups, data that profiles the neighborhood's willingness to embrace and participate in such programs, health needs and projected outcomes of these services, ongoing, in person surveys and indepth and informal interviews with community leaders is needed to further support the success of these types of programs (Caughy, et al., 1999).

Evaluating the Programs

Psychologist can further impact change by evaluating the interventions and services to the men and women who have been incarcerated to assure a partnerships that leads to agencies and volunteers who are working together to better the correctional system (Fortune, et al., 2010). Additionally, as psychologists, a focus on stress, anger management and other emotional behaviors that are often associated with disadvantage populations should be provided as a means for developing coping skills to better deal with an environment that is limited in resources.

Psychologists are very aware that their interventions have a political and social cost that effect those who are at a disadvantage (Comas-Diaz, 2000). They understand that people have rights and these rights need to be respected and supported by society. Ultimately, the shared responsibility belongs to all members of the community, of which includes all institutions, organizations and businesses (Fortune, et al., 2010).

Critique of Suggested Action

With every generation, society's challenges impacts the need for social change. Social change would imply that policies must change to address the needs of all people, of which includes the disadvantaged. It starts at city hall, the state capital or congress, or it starts in neighborhood churches, community meetings, or at homes. It may spout due to positive interaction between policy makers and between people in the community; what ever the genesis, social change is the building block toward healing economically deprived, crime infested, and inequality within communities and around the country.

The old proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, could be extended to the community at large; it takes a community to develop healthy residents. The role psychologist play toward moving individuals, communities, and the general population to healing internally and externally benefits humanity. Psychology continues to evolve and will continue to do so as long as human beings continue to thirst for an understanding of who they are, and an understanding of the world around them (Prilleltensky, 1989; Thorne & Henley, 2005).

Socioeconomic Status

The debate over family and community as it relates to social and economic changes are affected by the way people relate to each other, and how well families and communities are connected (Edwards, 2007, p. 209). Children from low socioeconomic status are exposed to greater levels of dysfunctional families, neighborhood violence, higher crime rate, and substance abuse than children of higher socioeconomic status (Evans, 2004). Disadvantaged neighborhoods that have limited social activities for its residents often suffer from gangs, crime, and other negative activities associated with poverty, whereas wealthier neighborhoods are not openly exposed to such experiences (Evans, 2004). Because of poverty, some people may resort to selling drugs as a means of economic survival, of which may be a temporary or permanent means for support, thus seen as an entrepreneurial way of supporting one's family (Evans, 2004).

Environmental factors

In many communities, drug activities have grown out of control. Within the past few decades, crime have risen, resulting in an increase of people going to jail or prison, and worst, juveniles arrest is climbing. The principles of Applied Behavioral Modification, as a specific therapy technique could be use to assist juveniles when addressing maladaptive behaviors with reinforcement, extinction, and generalization (Wong, 2006). Wong further stated that therapeutic technique promotes behavioral change when people work on their problems over a period of time and learn to generalize these new skills when in other environments. Programs designed with this focus in mind could be helpful for troubled teenagers.

Nonetheless, the disproportionate number of people in prison is economically poor. Because of laws designed to house those who use drug and not address the reason for the drug use, community organizers that work with the legal system to address issue surrounding socioeconomic status, limited opportunities for employment, and lack of community involvement, must stay aware of the fact that these are factors responsible for increase drug use and dysfunctional families (Evans, 2004).

Even though there has been much research looking into how crime infested environments and chronic poverty affects children and communities, there are still multitudes of challenging issues that need to be addressed in crime and drug infested communities. On a positive note, one can highlight the strengths within these neighborhoods and draw from them programs that can be developed to unite the desires of its residents through active involvement and support (Caughy, et al., 1999). The understanding that environmental stressors are some of the key factors that perpetrate lawlessness, the need to focus on the individual's responsibility to his or her risk factors assures an investment in his or her level of social change.

Overall, psychologists must address and work to minimize barriers that are larger structural issues that people must face on a daily bases, such as poverty and deteriorating conditions in their neighborhood, poor health, lack of adequate education and high unemployment (Caughy, et al., 1999).

The Potential Positive and Negative Outcomes

O'Neill (2004) infers that our understanding of the world around us and the basic functions of human beings in their environment tends to be so focused that we then stray from the very target of our focus to being redirected to other matters of interest, therefore, never really addressing the original interest, or that our analysis of an issue may be interpreted as a cause instead of the fact.

Positive Outcomes

Psychologist, as agents of change, do provide an unique perspective on the topic of human behavior over the general public who choose to simply get involved as volunteers in order to make a difference. Volunteering group counseling developing programs for job placement, furthering education, developing basic social skills, addressing issues associated with domestic abuse, drug abuse and homelessness, many ways psychologist can impact community change. Conducting research that tracks success or failure of the many programs that can be implemented in the community in order to enhance the life of future participants is an important contribution to society.

In evaluating the program, Walker and McCarthy (2010) stated that success with organization and local community ties enhances the legitimacy and recognition of the program, and increases political support. Results from research conducted by psychologists that measures the progress of the collaboration between the institutions, organizations, community volunteers and inmates, will help to strengthen the program, and if needed, redefine the parolee's and juvenile's role in the community (Agent of Change Network, 2011; Raven, 2004). It's about getting people involved in their community and empowering them to make a difference. It's about creating a grassroots movement with ordinary people that organize and inspires others to participate, and it's about developing leadership skills that change social policies (Stoecker, 2009).

Wong (2006) stated that it is important to promote reinforcement contingencies delivered in the therapeutic setting to be generalized in the home and environment. The need for social change in the legal system when addressing illicit drug use, the impact that drug addiction has on the family structure, and how innovative programs can address addiction and family cohesiveness as part of recovery to strengthen dysfunctional families while providing these services in low income neighborhoods, should be the focus of any community based program where poverty, high unemployment, and crime are an issue.

The use of new technology would be a helpful addition to programs that focus on getting women and juveniles an equal footing with opportunities for employment. In fact, Marsella's (1998) concept of a global community of psychologists suggests that this be with the aid of the internet. The concept of a program with a world perspective takes into account the diverse cultural influences, value systems, norms and tradition within various areas, communities and homes. Taking advantage of disastrous situation to train and educate parolees is a positive outcome. Programs that provide an opportunity for parolees to experience different places and cultures beyond a person's old environment might enhance their life.

Negative Outcome

Despite some negative factors psychologists encounter when partnering with community members and the legal system, there are many benefits to working collaboratively with an organization or institution on a social change action research projects (Mandell, 2010). With a well organized community program one's methodology and practice may help turn the tide against different forms of oppression while focusing on the poor and working class who lack access to a decent living wage, affordable housing, health care (Stoecker, 2009) and faces discrimination (Weinstein, 2006).

As psychologist working with culturally diverse populations, one unintended consequence would be to make the assumptions that an action is the cause of a reaction before gathering a holistic understanding of the individual, shows a lack of respect for the person or people involved. Without facts, such assumptions could be construed in the field of psychology as unethical conduct (American Psychological Association [APA], 2002, O'Neill, 2004). For example, among the challenges the women faced in the Social Justice program upon release, as they integrated back into society, was the stigma of being in prison and social exclusion, of which exacerbated due to the lack of community support beyond those who volunteered. However, by having the circles of supportive volunteers, these women transition eventually got better.

Another negative outcome for some of the programs initiated by the courts is that aftercare for parolees were terminated due to the participant's failing to participate in the program. Olson, Rozhon & Powers (2009) stated that the reason for the failure of these programs is the predictable recidivism due to variables such as age, race, marital status, education level and prior criminal history. Olson et. al. (2009) further stated that higher success for participates depends on residential-type placements with a drug-free environment; the unfortunate reality is that residential housing is limited and does not always equal a successful reentry into society.

Ethical Issues

Oskamp (2000) pointed out that sometimes a social transformation is needed in order for social change to occur and for society to benefit. Working closely with the community and the prison system would require a unique collaboration of ethical trust, a level of confidentiality, and a sense of security for the participants in order for parolees to feel as if the program is designed to help and not trap them with the threat of reincarceration if they do not complete a program. Furthermore, psychologists must stay aware of the bias and prejudice against the poor that is being manifested in heavy handed laws that place people in jail or prison for many years and help to create policies designed to address and assist those that are at a disadvantage.

Psychologist should also undergo continued education to maintain high level of competence in their ability to provide safe and professional service to the public (APA, 2002). Upholding the established standards of ethics is obtained through the knowledge gained by understanding the world and its occupants from various domains: social, cultural, behavioral, humanistic, motivational…to name a view, which helps empower psychologist with a better understand of human behavior, of which allows for open communication with a dialogue that is meaningful, morally strong, with a commitment to helping others, and absent of self interest.

Helping other to restore control over their life is, in itself, a human act. Psychologists should always take time out to re-examine themselves and their morality from time to time, and understand that the field of psychology lends itself to self evaluation of one's attitude, level of concern for others, and empathy and compassion for the fellow human being. Understanding and respecting the diversity that makes up our society is influenced by our values, experiences, culture and traditions that affect our personality. It is these values that shape our understanding of others and how we then engage them to promote behavioral change. To allow oneself to be lead to a new understanding that takes us beyond our comfort zone, our values, and cultural awareness, limits our ability to connect with others (Prilleltensky, 1997).

Evaluating the Proposed Outcomes

Culturally, the laws in the United States have not provided many opportunities for social change toward resisting drugs over stressors and trigger that cause's drug use. Working closely with the legal system, community group organizations, psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health workers, social workers and case managers willing to volunteer their time to these types of programs is feasible but takes lots of planning and dedication on the part of both parties: the inmates and the volunteers.

Critique of Community Programs

In order for psychologist to maintain their effectiveness in bringing about changes in their communities, the community organizations/programs must survive. According to Walker and McCathy (2010) there are several factors that will determine if organizations/programs will survive; the organizations/programs must have unlimited amounts of resources; internally and in the broader community in order to assure its survival. The organizations/programs must have a diverse set of funding sources, without conforming to the expectations and social norms of various institutions in order to legitimize them among states, potential corporate partners, community participants, and patrons. If this is not in place, organizations/programs would most likely fail. Beyond resources and legitimacy, the third most important thing to assuring survival of organizations/programs is that they must be able to stand out from others organizations/programs.

Throughout the years, the United States has had some successful grassroots community organizations spout up, such as in 1970 when small neighborhood groups organizes and fought against banks to start leading in their communities, and just recently the grassroots organization, Acorn, that was instrumental in registering young and old people of all ages, and race to vote in the 2008 elections. And the newest organization to sprout is the Tea Party movement fighting against government spending (Stoecker, 2009). Grassroots organization can continue with the need to fight against an institutionalized system that is designed to be a revolving door for poor people. Coy & Hedeen, (2005), talks about co-optation of which is possible when a challenging group or social movement opposes the practices or policies of a more powerful social organizations or political institution. Literature demonstrates that social control is manifested and challenged at the expense of more radical challengers, and without actual policy changes our justice system will continue to be a means of social control. Through grassroots community organizations, lead by community psychologists and other organizers, social change can be achieved (Coy & Hadeen, 2005).

The goal of psychologists and community organizers is to win the issue of recidivism and build an organization that is a force in the political arena that changes the legal laws to better address the reason for high incarceration numbers of minority men women and juveniles (Stoecker, 2009).