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The United States justice system has two foremost objectives in the managing of convicted criminals: imprisonment and rehabilitation. The incarceration of criminals serves as a means of protection to society from the potentially dangerous criminals. Most importantly, the prison system is roughly ten times larger today than it was thirty years ago. The consequences of having such a large system present problems for America's current and future correctional objectives. Overcrowding is one of the main concerns affecting the prison system today. As overcrowding increases, our system looks for other alternatives, such as probation. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding which punishment is the best method. The best answer can only be determined after careful evaluation of incarceration and probation.
The Comparison and Contrast of Prison and Probation
Often, we may hear of felony offenders sentenced to prison or perhaps probation. Many offenders and communities bear a great deal of positive and negative aspects of each judgment. The United States justice system has two foremost objectives in the managing of convicted criminals: imprisonment and rehabilitation. Designed to work collectively, these two techniques have been a part of the U.S. justice system from the start. Probation and prison sentences are for convicted felons that have committed the most heinous of crimes to the lesser white-collar crimes. The research conducted on both verdicts yields us with provocative evidence to explore. From a rational perspective it is important to distinguish the reasons for placing offenders in prison or on parole and determining a purpose, we strive to accomplish. This paper will seek to evaluate and contrast prison and probation. Upon completion of this paper, the more prominent punishment will be determined.
Incarceration Objectives vs. Reality
The incarceration of criminals serves as a means of protection to society from the potentially dangerous criminals. In addition, inmates can receive rehabilitation prospects from career education to therapy. However, studies continue to report that a year after release, an astonishing 60 percent of former inmates stay unemployed. The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported two thirds of parolees return to prison within three years of their release. Correctional departments blame the budgetary constraints, decrease of available counselors, deficient space, few amount of volunteers, and limited inmate awareness as the main reasons prison official's quote for not offering some of the rehabilitative services (Thompson, 2001, P. 93). Almost everyone who goes to prison goes to prison comes out of prison. "In fact, except for the 5 percent who are sentenced to life without parole, executed, or die of natural causes, 95 percent of all prison admissions are released, and 80 percent are released to parole or some kind of after-prison supervision" (Jacobson, 2005, p. 131).
Conditions and Effects of Prisons
Over the past forty years, America succeeded in building one of the world's largest prison systems. The prison system is roughly ten times larger today than it was thirty years ago. Ultimately, there are some consequences of having such a big system. Overpopulation becomes one of the major issues faced with the prisons today. Drug law related crimes account for a staggering 55 percent of all federal prisoners. "Nearly 70 percent of state prisoners and over half of federal prisoners suffer with problems relating to drug addiction or alcoholism" (Thompson, 2008, p. 92). Inadvertently, overcrowding negatively affects the inmate's health, conduct, and mental state. There are frequently reported accounts of inmates enduring feelings of depression and despair in-overpopulated prisons. Researchers Travis, Solomon, and Waul (2001) concluded that approximately 15 percent of all individuals infected with HIV and approximately 40 percent of all individuals infected with hepatitis C transmitted through correctional institutions.
Why and Who Gets Probation?
Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, an increasing amount of immigrants who had hardly any skills, limited education, and slight knowledge of the English language began flocking to the United States. Crime became a means of survival for many immigrants. By 1878, Massachusetts became the first state to allow judges to choose probation as an alternative to a prison sentence. Reformers saw a need to improve the living conditions, especially among the immigrants, opposed to sending them to prison. By the late twentieth century, America's prisons witnessed the effects of overcrowding. Consequently, minor offenses faced alternative sentences to incarceration (Hall, 2004, p. 551). However, not until the 1980's did all states and the federal government provide for adult probation (Hall, 2004, p. 552).
Presently, the sentencing process starts with an arraignment. During this time, the accused appear before a judge and the alleged crimes are stated. A probation officer may file a petition with the court if an alternative to incarceration is practical. The decision for probation depends upon the seriousness of the crimes, the likelihood of transformation, and the living conditions to which the accused will be returning. Probation entitlement generally depends upon felony cases, not in misdemeanor cases. If the decision results in probation, it is always conditional. Assigned probation officers will monitor criminals. If they violate the conditions of probation, they face prison sentencing (Hall. 2004, pp. 551-553).
Probation's Goals and Downfall
Probation started as an option to incarceration. It was a method of treatment to save many nonviolent individuals from the terrors and violence in prison life. Since prisons lacked the ability to reform convicts and always seemed too overcrowded, judges would have a choice to sending people to the prison. Although probation seemed like a solution to overcrowding, as with anything it has its negatives.
The goal of probation aimed to decrease crime by permitting offenders an opportunity to exhibit their suitability for society. Vital to probation is the idea that persons found to be "good risks" will benefit probation; they will not commit more crimes if supervision and counseling follow. However, this calculated risk has its margin for error. The philosophy of probation is that convicted individuals can develop into a law-abiding citizen again. The key was to propose treatment programs, employment, and other services. The focus is not on the harm done by the criminal but on the future reduction of criminal behavior, achieved through proper treatment and supervision. If in fact, the individual fails to comply with the guidelines set, the offender will likely face jail time (Hall, 2004, p. 553).
The Better Choice
Does probation or incarceration make a significant impact? Of course, issues such as costs and justice are imperative in public policy choices. On the other hand, the degree to which crime declines is always important. Additionally, it is the primary reason for corrections. Examining programs in New Jersey and Georgia, studies concluded probation with rigorous court ordered monitoring significantly reduced chances for reincarceration (in Georgia, see Erwin, 1986) and rearrests (in New Jersey, see Pearson, 1987). Scrutinizing the limitations of the prior research, Petersilia and Turner (1993) used an experimental design to reevaluate recidivism using both arrests and technical violations. The results showed there were no significant differences in arrests. However, there appeared to be a significant difference with the technical violations. In summary, no evidence supported that the monitored surveillance discouraged offenders from committing crimes; it appeared that this control increased the probability for detection of technical violations (Bernfeld, 2001, pp. 59-61).
As with anything, there are positive and negative aspects. It is my personal opinion that probation serves as a better solution for non-violent offenders. An appointed officer monitors probation and mandatory drug testing and random visits to an offender's home are typical. The supervised offenders become accountable for their actions. I believe we should seek to rehabilitate the criminals because we want to reduce crime. It is already a proven fact that overcrowding the prisons does nothing except promote hostility among inmates and require more staff to run the daily prison operations. A better environment is imperative for an individual to become receptive to learning. Therefore, probation provides us with the best solution.