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There are many issues that have plagued the criminal justice system for decades. However, the issues of the past are much the same as the issues we are dealing with today. Some of the issues we are currently facing are drugs, the overcrowding of jails and prisons, organized crime, juvenile justice, youth violence, adult probation, parole, re-entry, prison, over-criminalization, and many more.
Drug-related offenses have been steadily increasing and reaching record highs for the past few years. "In 2006, the United States arrested approximately 1.89 million people for drug-related offenses, up from 581,000 in 1980," (Priority Issues: Substance Abuse, para. 1). Many people arrested for drug-related offenses were incarcerated for non-violent crimes, even though they were not direct threats to society. Incarcerating these offenders seemed to be the best way to insure that they stopped using drugs. Citizens of the United States have the right to question whether or not we are accomplishing that goal through incarceration.
One of the major issues in the juvenile justice system is juveniles being tried as adults. Some people think that juveniles are tried as adults because of the nature of the crime, while others feel that juveniles are not mentally and emotionally developed enough to fully understand the impact of their actions, nor how they will affect victims and families. There are also concerns about the lack of intervention methods to help the troubled youths in our communities. Some of these trouble youths simply slip through the cracks and end up in the criminal justice system for the rest of their lives, even though a lot of them could have been saved from a life of crime if there had been intervention methods available to them during important stages of their lives.
The need for probation for nonviolent offenders is something of an issue. Low-risk and first-time nonviolent offenders are taken away from their families, jobs, and communities and placed in the prison system, which may do them more harm than good. When these types of offenders are placed into the correctional system, they are surrounded by dangerous offenders whom have the opportunity to transform them into career criminals. They are also unable to pay restitution to their victims while they are incarcerated. "When spending taxpayer money on criminal justice, it is counterproductive and wasteful to enact policies that create more criminals, rather than enacting policies that reduce the incidence of crime," (Priority Issues: Adult Probation, para. 1). Probation gives an alternative to prison for some low-risk and nonviolent offenders. It is pointless to take offenders off the streets and not think how the prison system will affect their return to society.
The most profound issue is one that has been considered off-limits to a reform: prisons. In June 2006, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons found that at any given time there are more than two million people incarcerated. "Over the course of a year, 13.5 million people spend time in jail or prison, and 95% of them eventually return to our communities," (Summary of Findings and Recommendations, pg. 1). It costs the United States more than $60 billion a year to incarcerate offenders, many of which are re-offenders. Offenders should be adequately rehabilitated while in prison in order for them to become productive members of society, to reduce recidivism rates, to reduce costs, and to enhance the safety of communities.
Prisons play a critical role in society. "In many cases-particularly cases of violent crime-the best way to handle criminal behavior is to incapacitate criminals by incarcerating them," (Priority Issues: Prisons, para. 1). In 2009, there were 760,400 people incarcerated in jails and 1,524,513 people in prisons in the United States. For these more than two million inmates, life can be terrifying and difficult. Some of our jails and prisons are unsafe, unhealthy, unproductive, inhumane and quickly unraveling. Some prisons are overrun with gang violence and extremely overcrowded. Many inmates have to deal with the harsh conditions of prisoner rape, gang violence, excessive force used by corrections officers, contagious diseases, and much more.
It is estimated that one out of every 100 adults in the United States are guests of jails and prisons, a total population of about 2.3 million people. "Although the United States accounts for only 5% of the world's total population, American prisons house 25% of the world's prison population," (A Hard Look, para. 2). Take Indiana's prison population for example. Between 2000 and 2010, the prison population increased 47 percent from 19,309 to 28,389. Due to this increase, spending on corrections also increased 37 percent from $495 million to $679 million.
The increase in the prison population is nothing new. Over the past 25 years, the war on drugs has caused the prison population to increase tremendously. Based on current estimations, there will not be a change in the number of inmates this year. SCRAMx estimates that there will be a 13 percent increase in the prison population, costing American taxpayers and state and local budgets approximately $27.5 billion.
Incarceration is not an equal opportunity punishment, as many people may believe. Many inmates come from disadvantage backgrounds, most do not have a high school diploma, and some can barely even read. Only a portion was actually employed before they went to prison, and some made less than $5,000 a year (Prison Facts, para. 4). As of June 30, 2009, there were 1,309,668 men incarcerated in state prisons; 693,800 were white men, 841,000 were black men, and 442,000 were Hispanic men. Black men only represent about six percent of the American population, but they represent over 40 percent of the American prison population. "Black non-Hispanic males, with an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, were incarcerated at a rate more than six times higher than white non-Hispanic males (708 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents) and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic males (1,822 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents)," (Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009-Statistical Tables, pg. 2). Black men between the ages of 30 and 34 had the highest incarceration rate of any age, gender group, or race.
In June 2009, there were 101,233 women in state prisons. There were 92,100 white women, 64,800 black women, and 32,300 Hispanic women incarcerated in state facilities. There were also 94,498 non-U.S. citizens in state and federal facilities and another 2,778 inmates under the age of 18 in state prisons.
Health care in some U.S. prisons leaves something to be desired. Of the roughly two million state inmates, nearly half suffer from a chronic illness that requires some type of medical treatment, such as diabetes, hypertension, a previous heart attack, or a previously diagnosed cancer. "Compared to non-incarcerated citizens, inmates in state jails we 31% more likely to have asthma, 55% more likely to have diabetes, and 90% more likely to have suffered a heart attack," (Many in U.S. Prisons Lack Good Health Care, para. 1). In 2007, there were approximately 3,388 prisoners who died while incarcerated. Of that, 2,860 of those died from illnesses, 120 died from AIDS, 214 committed suicide, 57 were killed, 41 died from drug and alcohol intoxication, 28 died accidently, and 68 died from unknown causes. (See Table 1.)
Source: Data from Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 7 February 2011 <http://bjsdata.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/dcrp/dictabs.pdf
Prison health care in California was so lacking that in May 2005, a federal judge threatened a takeover of their health care system. Judge Thelton E. Henderson cited the terrible medical treatment inmates received from bad doctors in miserable facilities. He also found that the management of HIV patients was irresponsible. Judge Henderson came to the conclusion that the lack of proper medical attention, bad doctors and facilities, and the mismanagement of HIV patients all contributed to inmate deaths, (Federal Judge Threatens Takeover of CA Prison Health Care System, para. 1).
According to the Eighth Amendment concerning cruel and unusual punishment, prisoners have a constitutional right to receive proper health care. Considering the fact that incarceration is so costly, it is alarming that we do not ensure that inmates receive the basic care that would aid in their rehabilitation. According to the Indiana State Constitution, "the penal code shall be founded on the principles of reformation, and not of vindictive justice," (Top 10 Department Fact, para. ____). The state of Indiana is required to provide medical and dental treatment to inmates. There is no reason why health care in prison should suffer, especially if proper health care could help reduce recidivism rates.
For much of the last 30 years, overcrowding has been a major problem in our prison system. Federal and state prisons and county jails are reaching near-disastrous levels of being over their capacity because we have tried for so many years to incarcerate our way out of crime. However, operating budgets and funding for new facilities have both been greatly reduced, and over the next few years it will more than likely get worse.
On October 5, 2006, because of the overcrowded prisons in California, Governor Schwarzenegger issued an emergency proclamation to allow the transfer of inmates to other states to ease their burden. This emergency transfer of inmates did not ease enough of their burden considering that the prisons were still 70 percent over capacity at the end of 2006. In order to relieve more stress on the prisons, Governor Schwarzenegger announced another plan to release some of the nonviolent criminal early in February 2007. By April of 2007, California legislators approved a program to construct new facilities, costing the state another $8.3 billion.
The cost of housing and caring for the more than two million jail and prison inmates has quadrupled over the last ten years. Most states even spend more money on jails and prisons than they do on education. "Over the course of the last 20 years, the amount of money spent on prisons was increased by 570% while that spent on elementary and secondary education was increased by only 33%," (Prison Facts, para. 8). We spend upwards of $60 billion a year to house our prisoners, which exceeds any other nation, but we do not receive much of a return on that investment when you take into consideration the crime and recidivism rates.
Despite the emphasis put on people in America to seek counseling when they need it, rehabilitation in our jails and prisons has failed dramatically. Rehabilitation is "a programmed effort to alter the attitudes and behaviors of inmates and improve their likelihood of becoming law-abiding citizens," (Seiter, pg. 32). Rehabilitation programs in the prison system are important to both recidivism and an offenders' re-entry into society.
When an offender enters a county jail, the Sheriff's Department uses a special system to classify inmates and assign them to a certain area of the jail. They are classified based on their age, gender, frequency and type of offense, their health and mental state, and sexual orientation. Once an inmate is assigned to their cell, they are assigned to rehabilitation programs, if any are available.
Inmate rehabilitation and treatment programs are few and far between in county facilities. County facilities only provide rehabilitation opportunities to a selected few inmates. "A general questionnaire distributed to Texas county sheriff's or their administrators indicated that larger jails were more likely to have both inmate education and substance abuse treatment programs than smaller jails," (The Rehabilitation Dilemma in Texas County Jails, pg. 1). There were not many facilities that reported having comprehensive or sophisticated programs, and many reported having no programs at all.
The entry process for state inmates is much the same as for county jail inmates. Prison inmates are assessed in a Reception Diagnostic Center where they are scored on the Classification Designation Instrument. "Points are assessed according to length of sentence, seriousness of offense, violence in the offense, escape histories, substance abuse problems, conduct while incarcerated, etc," (Top 10 Department Facts, para. 11). Once these points have been assessed, a score is calculated to determine of the inmate should be housed in a minimum, medium, or maximum security facility. The score is then compared to security level criteria of the prisons to ensure the inmate is housed in the correct facility. For example, sex and violent offenders are not eligible to be placed into minimum security prisons; therefore, they would be placed into medium or maximum security facilities based on their scores.
"According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Report in Corrections Digest (2001), only 40% of the nation's jails and prisons offer drug rehabilitation programs," (The Rehabilitation Dilemma in Texas County Jails, pg. 1). This report also suggests that only about half of the inmates receive drug treatment even though nearly 75 percent have substance abuse problems. The state of Indiana is one state that offers many rehabilitation programs to their inmates, such as substance abuse programs, vocational programs, educational programs, housing programs, family improvement programs, and humanitarian programs. By focusing on character, education, family, housing, employment, and health, the corrections department is able to break down the barriers of re-entry and still be able to promote public safety.
These programs focus on reducing recidivism, rehabilitation, and re-entry into our communities. The Indiana Department of Corrections offers substance abuse programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Crystal Meth Anonymous, Clean Lifestyle is Freedom Forever (CLIFF), Outpatient Substance Abuse Program, and Therapeutic Communities (TC). Of these substance abuse programs, Clean Lifestyle is Freedom Forever and Therapeutic Communities have demonstrated a positive impact on recidivism rates which are almost half that of the state's overall recidivism rate for the inmates who successfully complete the programs.
Clean Lifestyle is Freedom Forever (CLIFF) is designed for inmates whose lives have been impaired by the use of methamphetamines. The programs lasts a minimum of eight months, 12 to 15 hours a day of behavioral counseling. It helps them to overcome their addiction, build social skills that are accepted in society, and job interviewing skills. Therapeutic Communities (TC) is designed for inmates who have severe drug addictions. The format of Therapeutic Communities is much the same as the CLIFF program. Both CLIFF and TC programs also work on inmates' personal and peer relationship skills in their recovery process.
In order to prepare inmates for successful re-entry into society, Indiana Department of Correction also offers many educational programs. The Department found that approximately 34 percent of inmates are functionally illiterate. In the 2008/2009 school year, 4,658 inmates enrolled in the Literacy Education program. Of those, 1,264 demonstrated a sixth grade literacy level at the end of the school year. GED instruction is also offered to inmates. During the 2008/2009 school year, 4,658 inmates also enrolled in GED programs with 1,660 inmates successfully completed the program. If inmates decide to further their education and obtain a college degree, Indiana has a partnership with six colleges and universities that offer on-site education. Each year there are about 1,000 inmates that receive their associate and bachelor degrees. However, it is up to the inmates to pay for their college education.
The Indiana Department of Correction has also partnered with the Department of Labor to create Registered Apprenticeship programs to train inmates in industries such as construction, manufacturing, health care, electric, information technology, and telecommunications. This program connects qualified inmates with employers looking for qualified employees. "This supports their re-entry into the community and can help them overcome the obstacles encountered by ex-offenders seeking employment," (Programs, para. 4). There are also Vocational Education programs, ranging from auto body to welding, that are available to inmates. There were 4,237 inmates who enrolled in Vocational Education programs and 2,133 received recognized certifications during the 2008/2009 school year.
In order to enhance the relationship between inmates and their families, Department of Correction offers two programs, The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) and the Responsible Fatherhood Program. PREP encourages inmates to maintain and strengthen their relationship with their families. The Responsible Fatherhood Program provides inmates with the skills to be better fathers. This programs utilizes materials from the National Fatherhood Initiative, 24/7 Dad, and Inside Out Dad to give offenders the skills they need to be better role models for their children.
Indiana Department of Correction also offers a multitude of different humanitarian programs. The dog, cat, and horse rescue programs take hard to adopt dogs and cats from local animal shelters and work with them to become adoptable. The Thoroughbred Horse Retirement program rescues retired race horses from needless abuse and slaughter. Inmates involved in the Indiana Canine Assistant program train assistance dogs for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Shifting Gears refurbishes bicycles for children and adults in need of transportation, and Wheels for the World restores donated wheelchairs and other rehabilitation equipment to be shipped overseas for disabled people. These programs teach the inmates how to work together, gives them skills to use when they get out of prison, and gives them a sense of pride for doing something to positively contribute to the community.
The Department also offers a faith-based program, Purposeful Living Units Serve (PLUS) Program. The PLUS Program is a "faith- and character-based community that encourages offenders to choose alternatives to criminal thinking and behavior by providing a focus on spiritual and character development, life-skills training, community service, and intentional preparation for living as law-abiding citizens," (Programs, para. 13).
The rehabilitation programs in state prisons focus on important areas of character, education, employment, health, and family. However, the road to re-entry does not end there. Prior to an inmates' release, there are quite a few steps that need to be taken to improve their chances at succeeding in society. Most prisons offer programs to soon-to-be-released inmates, such as housing programs, health services programs, and workforce programs, to name a few.
Some prisons have partnered with state and county departments such as Family and Social Services, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Department of Workforce Development, Housing and Community Development Authority, Legal Services, State Department of Health, and the Social Security Administration to help inmates have a smoother transition into society. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles issues state identification cards to inmates prior to their release. Family and Social Services helps inmates apply for Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) so that they have access to medical care, food, and a little money to start their new life. The Department of Workforce Development aids inmates in finding employment. The Housing and Community Development Authority in Indiana has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to implement a program to provide rental subsidies to selected parolees in certain counties. Legal Services provide some legal assistance to inmates for suspended driver's licenses and child support and the Social Security Administration helps inmates apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
When it comes to people in the correctional system, society fears those who escape from prison and those who are released from prison. Even though the idea of an escaped prisoner is terrifying, we all know that law enforcement will have them back in prison before long. However, released inmates can be even more terrifying. They live among us, drive among us, and work with us. Of the thousands of inmates released from state and local facilities each year, approximately 67 percent will re-offend, be arrested again, and get put back in prison. That fact alone is terrifying.
Indiana Department of Correction defines recidivism as an offender who is re-incarcerated within three years of being released from prison. There are quite a few theories floating around as to why ex-offenders recidivate. One theory is being labeled as a "convict." A person being known as a convict, or even as an ex-convict, makes gaining employment extremely difficult, especially for those who are actually trying to straighten out their lives. If an ex-convict is unable to find employment, they have no money and end up resorting to criminal activity in order to survive. Another theory is that some ex-convicts needed certain rehabilitation programs, but the programs were unavailable to them. Some ex-convicts believe that if they had received the assistance they needed while incarcerated, they would not have recidivated.
Based on the most current published data collected from a 1994 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 70.7 percent of released offenders were arrested within three years of being released for committing a new crime, 45 percent were taken to court within two years of their release for committing a new crime, 23 percent were convicted of a new crime within a year of their release, 8.6 percent were put back in prison for a conviction of a new crime within six months, and 27.3 percent were convicted and re-incarcerated for a new crime within three years. (See Figure 1.)
Source: Date from Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoner Recidivism Analysis, 7 February 2011 <http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=datool&surl=/recidivism/index.cfm#
Prison Reformation Plan
The reformation of our prison system is a must if we want to reduce crime and costs, properly rehabilitate offenders, and protect our communities. There are many people in the United States who feel that the prison system puts too much focus on punishment and not enough emphasis on rehabilitation and preparing inmates for re-entry into society. Violence, overcrowding, poor medical and mental health care, and numerous other issues have plagued the jails and prisons in the United States. In order to alleviate some of the problems in the prison system, a few changes are going to have to be made.
All states need to have some version of the Three-Strikes Law. "The Three-Strike law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of felonies who have been previously convicted of a violent or serious felony, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than a prison sentence," (The Three-Strikes and You're Out Law, para. 3). One thing to remember is that all Three-Strikes cases require that the offender has had two previous serious or violent convictions. The prosecutor is also required to file the offenders' prior offenses along with the new charges. Judges and prosecutors do have the ability to strike previous offenses in cases that they think the offender is worthy. In most cases, a third strike is 25 years to life, not life in prison without the possibility of parole. As of 1996, there were 24 states with the Three-Strikes Law in affect.
In California, the Three-Strikes Law was passed in 1994. A study was done by the California Department of Justice and the California Department of Corrections comparing crime rates ten years before the Three-Strikes Law and ten years after. From 1985 to 1993, there were approximately 8,825,353 crimes committed in California. From 1994 to 2002, there were only 6,780,964 crimes committed. To put the facts into a better perspective, from 1994 to 1996, California had 6,738 less murders; 230,337 less robberies; 1,283,088 less burglaries; 18,571 less rapes; and 101,379 less assaults. This added up to a savings of approximately $28.5 billion in California (A Decade of Difference, pg. 3).
Inmates need to be required to have medical insurance prior to their release. Inmates need to be required to show proof of medical insurance to the Department of Corrections before they are released from prison. Some states, like Indiana, have partnered with Family and Social Services to help inmates apply for Medicaid. Many people believe that ex-convicts have a better chance of not recidivating if they have access to proper medical care.
Inmates need to have adequate health care in prison. Inmates need to know how to properly take care of their health and the first step to that is good medical treatment while incarcerated. Even small improvements in medical care could help reduce recidivism rates. Even though we can legally deprive inmates of their liberty, we cannot allow them to be neglected the medical care they need. "There's some alarming data that suggests that those inmates with chronic conditions don't get the care they need when incarcerated and that's 8th Amendment illegal," (Many in U.S. Prisons Lack Good Health Care, para. 15).
There needs to be an education requirement for all inmates. In order for an inmate to gain employment after their release, they need to have some type of an education. Research has found that released offenders who are employed with sustainable wages are less likely to end up back in the prison system. Whether it be their GED, high school diploma, or a vocational certification, it will help them transition into the community easier and they will be productive members of society.
Low-level drug addicts need mandatory drug rehabilitation. Instead of sentencing low-level drug addicts to prison, they need to be given a choice between a prison sentence or a mandatory inpatient drug rehabilitation program, and, after successful completion, they should be put on parole for the remainder of their original sentence. Even if they choose prison over rehabilitation, they would still receive substance abuse treatment, the only difference would be they would be in prison instead of out on parole. If Indiana took 100 low-level drug addicts out of prison and gave them inpatient substance abuse treatment, such as the Clean Lifestyle is Freedom Forever or Therapeutic Communities programs, the state would save almost $2 million a year on prison costs.
Judges need to have the flexibility to give shorter sentences to nonviolent offenders. Judges need to have the authority to give nonviolent offenders probation instead of a jail or a prison sentence. It costs an average of $80 per day to incarcerate an offender; however, it only costs about $3.50 per day for them to be on probation. Several states have already shown that it is possible to cut these costs and keep the public safe by keeping nonviolent offenders out of jails and prisons. States need to offer incentives to counties for them to handle nonviolent offenders at the county level instead of sending them into the prison system, which costs much more.
States also need to eliminate their minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent crimes. "These laws remove all discretion from judges who are the most intimately familiar with the facts of a case and who are well-positioned to know which defendants need to be in prison because they threaten public safety and which defendants would in fact not benefit from prison time," (Priority Issues: Prisons, para. 8).
States need to have geriatric release programs. There are approximately 200,000 inmates who are over 50 years old. The cost of keeping them in prison is high because they are in need of more medical treatment due to old age. Prisons are effectively turning into nursing homes for all of these older inmates, all paid for by the taxpayers.
Rehabilitation Programs in Prisons. Most prisons have an abundance of rehabilitation programs available to inmates. Instead of prisons spending money to keep programs running that do not have a positive effect on inmate rehabilitation and recidivism rates, states should shut down those programs. By shutting down those programs, prisons can use that money to expand successful programs so that more inmates can benefit from the programs. By doing this, hopefully more inmates will be rehabilitated, which will have a positive effect on recidivism rates.
In order to reduce recidivism rates and costs, enhance public safety, and to produce productive members of society, offenders need to be adequately rehabilitated. There are very few county facilities that offer rehabilitation programs and only 40 percent of prisons offer rehabilitation programs to their inmates. Considering the increase in incarceration rates over the past ten years, it is amazing that the corrections system still punishes inmates instead of correcting their behavior. The high cost of prisons might be worth it to the taxpayers if the recidivism rates were much lower, but since almost half of the released prisoners are expected to be back behind bars within three years, it simply does not seem worth it.
The medical care for inmates is questionable in American prisons. There are some prisons that outsource medical care to private companies, such as Correctional Medical Services. According to Wil S. Hylton, some of these private companies try to maximize their profits by giving minimal medical care to prisoners (Sick on the Inside, para. 10-11). An inmates' medical care is an important part of their rehabilitation. They should be healthy and well taken care of while in prison so they can learn how to properly take care of themselves when they re-enter society. There are too many inmates suffering needless deaths because of a lack of adequate medical treatment.
If the prison policies we have are not working even just 75 percent of the time and we know that there are better, more effective ways to rehabilitate, we need to change these policies. For example, crime rates have dropped in almost every state over the past seven years. "Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's," (Saving Money, Saving Lives, para. 11). Even though New York spent less on their prisons, their state had better public safety than Florida. Citizens in the United States need to know that we can change our prison system to save money and keep them safe at the same time. We all have a responsibility to create safe, productive, and humane correctional facilities. "With so much at stake for our citizens' health and safety, with so many people directly affected by the conditions in our prisons and jails, this is the moment to confront confinement in the United States," (Summary of Findings and Recommendations, pg. 7).