The History About Criminal Justice Criminology Essay


As criminal law practitioners, policymakers, and researchers struggle to define what the purpose of criminal law is, consideration of what crime is and what it does concerns all of society. Crime is not simply breaking the law. Crime causes injuries on several levels experienced by the victims, the offenders themselves, and society at large. The practices and policies of criminal justice tend to focus on the offender, as the lawbreaker, and questions of legal guilt and punishment while researchers and lawmakers seek to discover effective and cost efficient methods to curtail the growing rate of repeat offending among offenders.

In a review of state parole supervision data, Hughes, James-Wilson, and Beck (2010), provided findings from a 2001 special report by the Bureau of Justice (BJS) that revealed a growing number of offenders under state supervision. Legislative attempts to address concerns about a perceived "drug epidemic" and dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system created prosecutorial tools such as "mandatory sentencing," "three-strikes," and "truth-in-sentencing" guidelines which spurred the 1980s and 1990s growth of incarcerated Americans (Hughes, James-Wilson, & Beck, 2010). The 2009 study data cited, showed 509,700 adults under community supervision with 441,600 adults who entered parole supervision and 432,200 who exited. Although prison release rates dropped and despite increased levels of reform and change, considerable growth was seen among parole supervision offenders which peaked in 1992. Comparison data, per Hughes et al., showed by year-end 2000, more than 652,000 adults under state parole supervision and among the disposition of state parole discharges, 45% successfully completed their supervision terms in 1990 while in 2000, only 42% successfully completed their term (p. 183).

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In another study, H. Miller and J. Miller (2010) reported a 2009 BJS study which showed "one in every 136 American" currently confined and "another five million under community supervision" at year-end 2008. In 2007, over a million offenders reentered society of which more than half of those released had reoffended and were reincarcerated. According to the BJS report, it is expected that most offenders (95%) will be released back into the community eventually but, what society does not expect is for those released from "learning a lesson" and being "rehabilitated" during incarceration to reoffend (BJS, 2009 in H. Miller & J. Miller, 2010).

How we respond to crime and the questions relating to how to prevent offenders from re-offending keep policymakers, researchers, and stakeholders diligently engaged looking for answers. Prison as a solution to the social problem of crime (Haney, 1982 in Haney, 1997) does not work. Regarding crime and punishment, the statistical data appear to support that incarceration or punishment alone does not deter crime or rehabilitate offenders (e.g., Garland, Wodahl, & Mayfield, 2011; Hughes, James-Wilson, & Beck, 2005; H.V. Miller & J.M. Miller, 2010).

Haney (1997) prescribed utilizing psychological theory as a basis to create "intelligent" crime-control policies that do not "sacrifice correctional justice" (p. 501). Others, such as Van Ness and Strong propose a restorative justice philosophy that emphasizes repairing the "harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior" and may be best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders (2006 p. 43).

Just as researchers use sets of assumptions (patterns of thinking) to give meaning to the vast informational data gathered and attempt to make sense of these patterns and disregard data that does not fit or find new alternative patterns, society has assumptions that when a crime is committed the offender should face consequences for their actions, be it incarceration, financial fines, or other prescribed penalties. Incarceration has been one of the most prolific of the consequences utilized and, perhaps, the least understood in terms of cause and effect on future criminal actions. Societal demands that criminals "pay" for their crimes and expectations of rehabilitation through incarceration seem to be in direct contrast to the reality of an industrial prison complex, where the "war on drugs," which "demonizes drugs, targets specific individuals and populations," (quoting Papa in Peet, 2005, p. 176), appears to have created a circuitous pattern of offenders reoffending.

During incarceration, most decision-making is done for the inmates, from the most trivial to the most important. For first-time prisoners, at the outset of incarceration, they may experience periods of high psychological stress which generally morph to a slow adaptation into norms of the surrounding hostile environment. The prison regime produces a type of institutionalized mentality and when inmates are released from prison to reenter society, making a simple choice of where to go, what to do seem, or what brand to purchase at the store seem overwhelming and paralyzing for the ex-offender (Van Ness and Strong, 2006).

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An estimated 1,600 offenders are released daily back into the community, dominating any of the previously recorded data in American corrections history (Beck, 2006 in H. Miller & J. Miller, 2010, p. 895). Considering the reported number of offenders released daily from prison back into society combined with the fact that 67% return to prison within three years (Langan & Levin, 2002, in Phillips, 2010, p. 11), the task of rehabilitation appears rather daunting.

A review of studies about prisoner reentry and reintegration revealed literature is replete with data from an assortment of studies designed to use different measures (i.e., qualitative, quantitative , quasi-experimental, meta-analyses, and review of published literature in order to better understand the phenomena of reentry and recidivism ( see: Garland et al., 2011; H. Miller & J. Miller, 2010; Morani,.Wikoff, Linhorst, & Bratton, 2011; Phillips (2010); Spjeldnes & Goodkind, 2009; Visher & Travis, 2003).

Past published studies examined barriers to offender reentry identified inadequate job skills and education, financial or socioeconomic status, physical health issues, mental health issues, substance abuse, lack of positive social family support, and societal policies restricting employment, housing, and job options as reentry needs for successful reintegration (Garland, Wodahl, & Mayfield, 2011; Phillips (2010); H. Miller and J. Miller, 2010; Morani, Wikoff, Linhorst, & Bratton, 2011; Pettus & Severson, 2006; Severson et al., 2011; Visher & Travis, 2003).

Garland et al., (2011) and Phillips (2010) are two quantitative studies exploring the reentry process and the barriers to success facing the returning prisoner. Qualitative research, sometimes called fieldwork, involves gathering data through observation and/or document analyses offers a level of detail entailing descriptions of social settings and the persons active within the social settings (Champion, 2006, pp. 102-103). Noting that most research studies paid limited attention on totality of prisoner reentry from a qualitative perspective and tended to focus on larger urban areas, Garland et al. (2010) conducted retrospective interviews with 43 former inmates who had been released from prison for at least three months into a small metropolitan community. Garland et al hypothesized there are "core obstacles and strains in the reentry process that exists across geographical locations," (p. 90) and used open-ended questions to examine obstacles and strains of reentry faced by participants. Garland and associates scrutinized study participants' evaluations of their feelings and experiences of reentry during three different time periods (at the time of the interview, the first few days of release, and at the one month mark of release) and reflections on the effectiveness and provision of services and programs relevant to reentry. Garland and colleagues gathered descriptive information about participants (i.e., money available at time of release, highest level of education, where they stayed upon immediate release, whether or not they had identification when leaving prison, how many different jobs since release) and the results suggested that issues with money, reconnecting with family, and employment are consistent across geographical location (p. 90). Also identified during the study were key new findings: (a) the critical importance of the first few days and weeks of reentry, (b) some negative consequences of the spiritual components in programs, (c) the importance of employment aside from the financial benefits, and (d) concerns about the psychosocial strains among returning offenders (Garland et al., 2010, p. 101-02).

The first few days and weeks of reentry are of critical importance as the returning offenders struggle to adjust to life outside the structured confines of prison life especially considering many offenders return with little resources and often to disadvantaged communities with limited local resources available to aid the transition process (Garland et al, 2011; H. Miller & Miller, 2010; Petersilia, 2004, in H. Miller & J. Miller, 2010); Visher & Travis, 2003).

The less visible costs of the failure of get-tough-strategies on criminality are the ones faced by offenders and their families: disruption of familial relationships, alienation from the community, and stigmatization. Ex-offenders, who have completed their sentences, may feel resentment, anger, and distrust and paranoia of others; when they may view the experience of exclusion by society and family as an injustice (Van Ness & Strong, 2006).

In a study by Phillips (2010) the role of substance abuse, from the offenders' perspectives, in community reentry explored the criminal histories, participants' lives, reentry barriers, and coping strategies of 20 incarcerated male inmates who returned to prison following an unsuccessful reentry experience. In this qualitative analysis, Phillips found all 20 study participants identified substance abuse as having been a problem in their lives (2010).

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Criminal justice statistics on substance abuse in prison populations examined in literature illuminate the link between substance abuse and recidivism (Garland et al., 2010; H. Miller and J. Miller, 2010; Morani, Wikoff, Linhorst, & Bratton, 2011; Pettus & Severson, 2006; Severson et al., 2011; Visher & Travis, 2003); the factor by which the success or failure of reentry processes are measured. Each study participant, per Phillips, identified substance abuse as the primary reason for his criminal history (2010). In addition, all study participants reported to have relapsed on substances during their reentry attempt and fifteen of the 20 study participants explicitly identified addiction, using substances, and/or drugs as the predominant reason for returning to prison. "Substance abuse as a clear link to the cycle of criminal behavior and recidivism" emerged (Phillips, 2010, p. 15). Substance abuse was the most commonly identified barrier in the Phillips, (2010) study. Similar results were noted in the Garland et al. study which found, of study participants, 47% were incarcerated for drug-related offenses (2011).

Phillips reported that employment or financial difficulties were identified by nine of the 2010 study participants which correspond to findings of the Garland et al. study which identified employment difficulties as a significant barrier to reentry success (2011).

Of the barriers to community reentry reported by the Phillips' study participants, data on psychosocial strain offenders encountered provided rich details about reentering society from the perspective of those who endured the experience (2010). Among the strains identified by participants were: difficulties finding a legitimate job to sustain an adequate lifestyle and keeping the job to avoid parole violations, difficulties locating appropriate, affordable housing, reunification problems with family, returning or adjusting to neighborhoods where they had connections to drugs and/or crime, and using substances as a means to manage stressors encountered during the reentry process. Similar findings can be found in other literature (i.e., Garland et al., 2011; Severson et al., 2011; Visher & Travis, 2003). For instance, study participants in Garland et al referenced reunification difficulties with family, difficulties finding and keeping employment, and more than half study participants in Garland et al referenced psychosocial disorders in the first few days of reentry (2011).

In another study, 122 ex-offenders participated in Project Re-Connect (PRC), a voluntary 6-month prisoner reentry program offered by the State of Missouri for inmates who served their maximum sentence and provided direct monetary support and case management services to ex-offenders who were no longer under criminal justice supervision (Morani et al., 2011). The matched comparison of two groups of participants (Group 1-- those who participated in PRC [122 participants] and Group 2--those who were eligible for participation but did not participate [164 non-participants]) as explained by Morani et al., measured the impact of the success of offender participants in the reentry process (2011).

Study participants pre-selected anticipated services and assistance needs for successful reentry from a predetermined list prior to release from prison and PRC allotted a specific amount of monetary funds to be used to address reentry needs of the individual participants based on actual needs (Morani, 2011). Both the client-identified needs and actual needs expenditures were documented and tracked utilizing, per Morani et al., PRC databases. One database compiled entry and exit dates and client-identified needs from a predetermined list completed by participants prior to release; a secondary PRC database contained data collection forms completed by PRC case managers on the final status of client social outcomes (e.g., substance use while in the program, enrollment in substance abuse treatment services, housing status, and vocational and/or employment activities) and expenditures made on behalf of clients from the allotted monies for client needs (Morani, 2011, p. 353). Comparison data in the study indicated many ex-offenders take advantage of services to help them transition more successfully when given the opportunity, even when they are not compelled to participate in reentry programs, as evidenced by the fact 39.7% of Missouri inmates who were eligible to participate in PRC chose to participate in the program (Morani et al., 2011). In regards to client-identified needs, Morani et al reported PRC clients identified basic living needs (e.g., clothing, household items, & transportation), educational and/or vocational training, and medical services as their most important reentry needs (2010). According to Severson et al (2011), providing offenders with "personal and tangible support" (e.g., employment, housing, education…) while instituting in "systemic and attitudinal changes" is most likely to help reduce recidivism (Severson et al., 2011, p. 330).

Programs designed to improve success of offenders leaving prison and reentering society have been implemented in many jurisdictions. Seldom seen, according to H. Miller and associate, are jail reentry programs (2010). Offender reentry programs implemented in many jurisdictions are designed to improve offenders' success after prison. Jail reentry programs, according to H. Miller and colleague are not as common (2010). In response to the lack of empirically analyzed jail reentry program literature and the "proactive justice system movements," Miller and associate assessed the effectiveness of an Ohio jail inmate reentry initiative utilizing a quasi-experimental design, "considered one of the most rigorous methodologies" (Sherman et al., 2006, in H. Miller & J. Miller, 2010 p. 900).

With more than 80% of the individuals in jail custody incarcerated for less than a month and, as Beck (2006) asserted, many for just a few hours or days, it may be understandable why some consider jail reentry programming to be without foundation (Miller and Miller, 2010). Shorter confinement periods of jail inmates in comparison to prison inmates, who spend longer periods of time isolated from the community, may limit rehabilitation options and appear to be an unnecessary expenditure for the less serious offenders housed in jails. Jails in comparison to prisons, however, see as many offenders in one month as prisons do in a year, thereby, Miller and colleague contended, creating "unique advantages for engaging rehabilitation" early on (2010). An examination of methods to disrupt the life-course of criminality presented an opportunity to coordinate with community corrections activities associated with post-release not "hampered by logistical problems" and "unfamiliarity between probationers and their counselors" seen in prison inmate populations (Miller et al, 2010, p. 898).

Miller and colleague implemented use of a matched comparison group from the Auglaize County jail and using recidivism (re-arrest during a 12-month follow-up period) as the key measure of success, hypothesized that "offenders who participated in the Auglaize County Treatment program (ACT) would experience more successful outcomes than those in the control group" (2010, p. 899). The findings of the study showed a 12.3% recidivism rate for the experimental group compared to 82% for the control group. Despite the low findings on recidivism for the experimental group, the program completion numbers, according to the researchers, were "surprisingly low" (2010, p. 904). Findings from additional analysis showed only program participation and criminal history significantly impacted re-arrest likelihood during the 12-month follow-up period, suggesting a strong, significant link between lower recidivism and program participation. In other words, jail reentry programs may have a significant impact on successful community reentry for participating inmates (H. Miller and Miller, 2010). Other studies show similar findings (Sung and Belenko (2011).

In a review of literature, Visher and Travis focused individual transitions from prison to the community and four sets of factors upon which post-prison reintegration and adjustment depends: individual characteristics or circumstances, family relationships, community contexts, and state policies (2003, p. 91). Noting the dimensions are not static and change when new discoveries occur overtime, Visher and Travis proposed prisoner reentry and reintegration experiences varied based on the four factors previously listed. The characteristics of an individual, Visher and colleague espoused, develop overtime and is influenced by their personal life experiences which include: their mental and physical health, substance abuse and criminal histories, job histories and work skills, prison experiences, and their beliefs, attitudes, and personality traits (2003). To summarize, as an individual transitions from prison they take with them all the learned programming and occurrences involved and experienced during their lifetime including incarceration. The social repercussions during transitioning in conjunction with the communal support of family, friends, and community stakeholders may assert influence on the success of community reintegration.

The four stages Visher and associate described as the transition process in every prisoner's life experience as involves: (a) life prior to prison, (b) life in prison, (c) the moment of release and immediately after prison release, and (d) life during the months and years following prison release (2003, p. 94). Referencing qualitative accounts in article and books written by former prisoners and the failure of most existing studies to address the "incarceration experience and its immediate aftermath," Visher and colleague suggested explanations for the post-prison outcomes and reintegration can be explained in these two stages the road a prisoner's life takes and their eventual process of transition (2003, p. 94).

In order to appreciate the full ramifications of the reentry process, we need to scrutinize what the reentry process entails. Van Ness and Strong describe the process as being accepted into the community as a whole person; acceptance of the person as a contributing member of the social network and not the "ex-con." The difficulty in such an endeavor is that it may be unclear if the individual had ever truly been immersed in the community prior to the criminal conduct which led to incarceration and it is difficult to legislate and enforce public and/or personal opinions, feelings, and acceptance.

The many of the fundamental details which compose the individual's pre-prison experience, as enumerated by Van Ness and Strong (2006), have been linked to recidivism (e.g., job skills and work history, substance abuse involvement, criminal history, demographic profile, family characteristics). Mellow and Greifinger, (2006) asserted criminal thinking and behavior are bred and influenced by the "institutionalized forces" and "social influences" such as inadequate educational systems, lack of affordable housing, unemployment and underemployment, and inaccessibility to affordable healthcare (in Severson, 2011, p. 330).

Published studies have linked job skills and work history, substance abuse, demographic profile, and criminal history to reoffending (Garland et al, 2011; Phillips, 2010; H. Miller & Miller, 2010; Morani et al., 2011; Severson et al., 2011) and associated substance abuse, attention-deficit disorder, schizophrenia, and panic disorder with early life stress (Heim & Nemerhoff, 2001 in Dawson and Woon, 2010). That early life stress could encompass physical, mental abuse, or a combination of variables of neglect and/or abuse (e.g., lack of positive, nurturing family support or environment, violence or exposure to violence, familial mental health issues). Major pathways to substance abuse, as summarized by Wormer and Bartolas (2007), included victimization such as trauma, childhood abuse, and intimate partner abuse (in Spjeldnes & Goodkind, 2011, p. 318).

Behavior is shaped by the environment and social context within which an individual interacts. Troubled people are often labeled as "abnormal" (Link et al., 2004 in Comer, 2008) or "deviant" when they stray from societal norms and may gradually acquiesce and learn to play the role assigned to them (Comer, 2008). A family characteristic provides a wealth of particulars which may illuminate the hows and whys of the individual's criminal pathway. Where they lived, how they lived, family substance abuse issues, and physical and/or mental abuse or neglect are all variables relating to the social and emotional development of the individual. According to the family systems theory, abnormal functioning individuals are likely to be produced in certain family systems (Comer, 2008, p. 55).

The in-prison experiences endured by each individual vary dependent upon how the individual acts within and reacts to the diverse characteristics, rules (both social and institutional), and dynamics of the population housed and working within the prison or jail environment. H. Miller and Miller findings suggested program participation is as strongly related to reentry success as criminal history is (2010), while findings from Phillips suggested program clients were more at risk for having difficulty transitioning if they had committed a violent crime but were less at risk across other factors, including being female, having at least a high school education, and being older (2010, p. 359). Other research indicates treatment saves taxpayers' money by reducing crime and drug use and improving psychosocial functioning (Lipton, 1995; Lurigio, 2000 in Phillips, 2010, p. 360).

Offenders do better after release, as research has indicated, when strong support networks exist in their communities (Kubrin & Stewart, 2006 in H. Miller & Miller, 2010). Spjeldnes and Goodkind (2009) suggested successful transition for offenders and their families can be measured by social activities, mental and physical health, employment and the levels of stability with family. Often hampering a successful transition, particularly for seriously mentally ill offenders, is pre-release planning. If the pre-release planning is done too late and the offender is released without a treatment plan the risk of deteriorated well-being and reoffending increases (Spjeldnes & Goodkind, 2011).

The effectiveness and smoothness of transition from prison or jail to the community may offer reentry offenders a more successful community integration. Accomplishing the task will be bold responsibility for researchers, policymakers, and other shareholders in the communities across the United States.

Preparation for release into the community may be of great significance to the success of transition for many prisoners. In Phillips (2010), study participants identified specific program elements as helpful in substance abuse treatment which included a feeling empowered to change, social support from peers and staff in the treatment programs, assistance in changing thought patterns, and programming to address other areas of need other than substance abuse (p. 18). Empowerment to change can begin from the moment the individual receives their sentence in the form of programs offering adult education (high school diploma/GED), advanced education, job skills, as well as mental and physical health and wellness opportunities. While planning for release and post-release, strengthening family relationships are vital to successful reintegration (Hairston, 1998; La Vigne, Visher, & Castro, 2004 in Spjeldnes & Goodkind, 2009). Comprehensive reentry service preparation for men and women beginning at sentencing was recommended by the Urban Institute Roundtable (Roman & Travis, 2004). The group of criminal justice experts argued the reentry plans should be individualized and based on each offender's particular risk factors (e.g., level of risk, need, and gender) (Andrews et al., 2006; Bobbitt & Nelson, 2004 in Spjeldnes and Goodkind, 2009). Individualized service plans with supervision strategies and "service systems" that involve the offender's family members and support group.

Providing psychosocial counseling to prepare the one-day-to-be-released individuals on what to expect and methods to cope with a changed world may provide guidance and assistance to the transition process.

For some offenders who have been incarcerated for a number of years, the world may be vastly different than the one they lived in previously. People change, children grow up, and life goes on in the real world whereas, for those incarcerated, their view of the world has not been allowed to evolve with the changing times.

The reintegration process does not stop when the individual is no longer under community supervision. It may continue for months if not years as the returning community member strives to assimilate into a new experience. The use of aftercare programs and support groups may offer some assistance to the on-going battle to stay focused and on track for some individuals and their support network.

What do we want to do about the state of our criminal justice system? Do we want a system that warehouses those who run afoul of the law? Do we punish or rehabilitate those incarcerated in our jails and prisons? If we choose the rehabilitation of offenders, we must formulate a plan on when to implement the rehabilitation process as well as how.

Anthony Papa received two concurrent sentences of 15 years to life for his first offense under the Rockefeller drug Laws' mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines after being set up and arrested in a drug sting operation in 1985 (Peet, 2005). Described by Peet (2005) as an "accomplished artist and ardent activist," Papa received clemency after serving 12 years in New York State's Sing Sing Prison in 1997 and "uses his art to promote prison and Drug War reform" (p. 176). Responding to a comment about prison having been a positive impact on his artistic development and rehabilitation, Papa responded "…Rehabilitation exists only if you have the programs available to someone to take advantage of, to turn their lives around" (p. 177). Regarding whether or not prisoners are concerned with rehabilitation, Papas said, "…If prisons were meant to rehabilitate, every step of the way would be rehabilitative in value and therapeutic" (p. 179).