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Tough On Crime Policies Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 5427 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Generally, there are two approaches in dealing with offenders, incarceration and rehabilitation. These strategies are currently being used in numerous ways with varying degrees of success. Tough on crime stances attempt to influence criminal activity by using a two-pronged approach. First, tough on crime stances deter criminality by guaranteeing longer sentences or mandatory minimums if an offender is found guilty of committing a crime; second, tough on crime stances attempt to reduce offenders' probability of recidivating by extending their sentences which allow offenders to mull over their crime and take advantage of any rehabilitation services offered.

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Policies that have rehabilitation as their goal seek to treat individual offenders and prepare them for reentry into society often by using psychological counseling, job training, or educational services as tools. Given the increase in all correctional populations - juvenile, local jails, state and federal prisons, parole and probation - rehabilitation theories and strategies have gained more support from the general public as well as in policy formulation circles.

The question that has become the impetus for our research is in what ways will reducing juvenile recidivism lessen the financial burden of adult correctional systems? Given the current state of the economy, calls for fiscal responsibility in the criminal justice sector abound. Instead of contemplating the merits of changing sentencing guidelines or de-privatizing federal prisons, we will focus on analyzing existing literature and theories in order to evaluate viable alternatives to incarcerating juvenile offenders.

Why focus prison reform on juvenile rehabilitation strategies? First, across their life span, juvenile offenders tend to commit crimes at a lesser frequency than their adult counterparts. According to a recent National Institute of Justice report, reported juvenile crime rates tend to be distorted and even inflated given that a greater proportion of juveniles compared to adults tend to co-offend, that is offend with one or more of their peers (McCord and Conway, 2005). The report contends that there are fewer incidences of crime than are indicated by individual crime rates, which also misrepresents the depiction of recidivism in juvenile offenders (McCord and Conway, 2005). According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Juvenile Offenders and victims: 2006 National Report, among juvenile offenders who were convicted of assault prior to the age of eighteen-years-old, only 22 percent of the youths reported committing a subsequent assault when interviewed at ages 16, 17, 18, and 19. Furthermore, only 27 percent of these repeat offenders said they had committed an assault as a juvenile (16-17) and an adult (18-19). [2] 

Second, despite evidence that implies the ineffectiveness of tough on crime stances; U.S. law appears to be headed in a direction that prefers to adjudicate juvenile offenders in adult criminal courts and house them in adult correctional facilities. In 1979, 14 states had statutes that required the automatic transfer of juvenile offenders of certain crimes. By 2003, 31 states had such statutes (Redding, 2008). This approach not only dismisses the psychological differences between juveniles and adults, but exacerbates the problems it aims to rectify - namely the proliferation of offenders from juvenile to adult criminality. [3] There has also been recent evidence showing that juveniles who are tried as adults appear more likely than their young adult peers (age 18-24) to be incarcerated for lesser offences and tend to receive longer sentences for more serious offenses (Kurlychek and Johnson, 2004).

Third, by focusing on the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders we can reduce the future financial burden associated with the incarceration of repeat adult offenders. In 1996 the annual average cost of incarcerating a juvenile was estimated to be $35,000 to $64,000 a year. [4] As of 2007, the average cost of incarcerating an adult in a state penal system was $25,000 a year. According to Marc Mauer, if the amount of time served by inmates was reduced by 32 percent, a state prison system could save $150 million for every 20,000 inmates. [5] Currently, "One in every 31 U.S. adults is in the corrections system, which includes jail, prison, probation and supervision […] "(Lambert). Given the current state of the U.S. economy, a decrease in both the number of persons incarcerated and the amount of time served would save a substantial amount of money which could, in turn, be allocated to other areas of the budget.


The juvenile court system can trace its beginnings to the Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1899. Before this legislation, juveniles as young as 7 years old who committed certain crimes could be tried and incarcerated with adults (McCord, 2001). The initial purpose of this new juvenile system was to provide rehabilitative services as opposed to the castigatory nature of the previous system that did little to differentiate between adults and juveniles. There was a change in the ideological environment and the legislation that followed reflected the notion that persons of a certain age are not fully mature or responsible enough to understand the implications of their actions. The ideological tide was changing in the country, with the vices and ills of juvenile delinquency blamed on societal and structural failures. Within 26 years of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act, every state at the time other than Wisconsin and Maine had a justice system specifically for juveniles (McCord, 2001).

There have been other paradigm shifts during the past century that have changed the approaches taken within the justice system, juvenile or otherwise. As discussed in class, the 1950s were a time when the focus of the justice system was attempting to deal with deviance. The 1960s to the mid-70s represented an era of trying to address the frustration and aggression within offenders that was believed to cause criminality. It was during this time when both the judicial system and the legislature increased their role in the juvenile justice system. Regarded as In re Gault, it took until this landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision for juveniles to be granted the same rights to due process as their adult counterparts in the judicial system. Justice Fortas declared in the 8-1 decision that:

There is evidence… that there may be grounds for concern that the child receives the worst of both worlds: that he gets neither the protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children (Fortas, 1967).

The Legislature's response during this time was Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1968 and the following Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. The first piece of legislation granted Federal funds to states that implemented comprehensive juvenile delinquency plans. The 1968 Act focused on prevention, research programs, training, and rehabilitation. When this act was replaced in 1974, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act also provided Federal grants to states with a 3 year budget authority of $350 million. It also mandated that states participating in the Act "[n]ot place juveniles in any institutions where they would have regular contact with adults convicted of criminal charges." [6] 

The 1980s and 90s brought about another paradigm shift, where criminality was addressed. As demonstrated by Alfred Regnery, administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention under President Regain, this became a time when the ideological shift held that juvenile offenders "are criminals who happen to be young, not children who happen to commit crimes." [7] From boot camps to work release programs, community service to house arrest, juvenile justice has seen various incarnations. Depending on the inclinations of society, the legislature, the judicial system, or any combination of the three, the methods used within the juvenile justice system ranged from heavy emphasis on rehabilitation and education to more corporal and disciplinary types of punishment.

Corrections vs. Rehabilitation

Twenty years ago, states spent slightly more than $25 billion collectively for justice expenditures. By 2006, they were spending nearly $70 billion, an increase of 220% over sixteen years (Perry, 2006). The rates of increased spending on justice functions were 153% for local governments collectively, and 260% for the federal government (Perry, 2006). These vast increases in spending were coupled with a decrease in the crime rate per 100,000 persons from 5,803 to 3,808 during that same period of time (Perry, 2006). While crime rates in the country have been steadily declining in recent years, the population of those incarcerated has been antithetically rising. Fewer people are going to jail or prison each year, yet there continue to be greater and greater numbers of people incarcerated. On the surface this makes little sense, yet the incongruity can be attributed to the increasingly longer sentences being given to prisoners.

In his essay, "The Hidden Problem of Time Served", Marc Mauer (2007) notes that the time in which offenders are incarcerated has increased by 32 percent since 1990 (Mauer, 2007). However, Mauer observes, four major conundrums that plague the tough on crime pedagogy. The first conundrum is that time served has contributed extensively to over populated prisons. "Given the 32 percent increase noted above," states Mauer, "this would have resulted in nearly 400,000 fewer prisoners overall even absent any change in the number of people sentenced to prison" (Mauer, 703). Tough on crime stances have served to keep offenders off of the streets for longer periods of time. However, this trend has not reduced the number of inmates incarcerated annually by U.S. prison systems, nor has it seemed to reduce the likelihood that offenders will recidivate.

Second, there is no obvious relationship between time served and reduced recidivism. One might suspect an obvious advantage of increasing the amount of time an offender spends incarcerated to be the decreased likelihood he would return. However, we do not see this in most cases. "The most comprehensive data on recidivism from the Department of Justice demonstrate that while recidivism rates are high […] there is no significant difference among people spending anywhere from one to five years in prison. Only after five years do recidivism rates begin to decline somewhat" (Mauer, 703). These finding suggest that increasing the amount of time served has only delayed recidivism, instead of reducing it.

Next, longer sentences do not deter offenders. Often harsher sentences are thought to decrease recidivism by deterring criminals from committing crimes. "Unfortunately," says Mauer, "such logic conflicts with a long line of criminological research […] any deterrent effect of the criminal justice system is achieved primarily by certainty of punishment, not severity […] most offenders do not expect to be apprehended anyway" (Mauer, 704). If increasing the amount of time served does not influence one to abstain from crime, can we really count it as an effective or efficient strategy in criminal justice thought?

Finally, incarceration is expensive. The real number of persons under direct jurisdiction of the criminal justice system - jail, prison, probation, supervision, increases every year (Reuters). So too does the cost of incarceration. If state governments were to amend or repeal their mandatory sentencing guidelines the government could see a substantial increase in the amount of money available for other areas of their budgets. "In rough terms, at a cost of $25,000 a year to house a person in prison, a 32 percent reduction in time served, would yield savings of more than $150 million a year for a state prison system of 20,000 inmates" (Mauer, 704). In short, increased incarceration time leads to increased prison populations, increased financial obligations and stagnant recidivism rates among adult offender.

A viable alternative to tough on crime policies and longer prison sentences is rehabilitation. As previously noted, in its inception, the criminal justice system's mission statement placed a heavy emphasis on the role of rehabilitation in preparing offenders for reentry into society. In the case of juveniles, "early advocates of rehabilitation believed that juveniles lacked 'criminality' and thus could be 'turned around' more easily than adults" (Harvard, 1974). Throughout the years, however, some would argue that support of rehabilitation has fallen victim to the public's misperception about offenders' ability to transform from the life of crime (Harvard).

Bronfenbrenner Lens

According to the Harvard Law Review, support for rehabilitation being used for juveniles who commit violent crimes stems from the belief that:

Juveniles are more amenable to reform because of their age. In addition, because most juveniles who commit crimes suffer from some kind of emotional or mental disorder, it is difficult to argue that juveniles act maliciously or with the mens rea deserving of punishment. In addition, juveniles have the potential, again because of their age, to make long and valuable contributions to society, bettering themselves in the process.

Policy Alternatives

In 2003 it was estimated that over 600,000 inmates exited prison each year (Kurlychek). Many correctional institutions offer rehabilitation services for these offenders while incarcerated. Our research brought us to compare three different systems: Motivational Boot Camp Program in Pennsylvania, Scotland's Children's Hearing System, and Jamaica's community-based model.

Kurlychek and Kempinen ask how effective such services are in reducing recidivism once an offender reenters society. Current estimates of the recidivism rate count two-thirds of former offenders on prison rolls within three years of their exit (Kurlychek). This study explores the relationship between graduates of Pennsylvania's mandatory 90 day aftercare Motivational Boot Camp Program and recidivism rates. Aftercare programs are loosely defined as programs that seek to help ease the transition from being incarcerated to becoming a free member of society (Kurlychek).

Founded in Georgia in 1983, boot camps are seen as effective incarceration/detention diversionary programs (Kurlychek). Boot camps are based on the military training programs from which they take their namesake. These programs are popular because they often combine education, and substance abuse treatment, with hard work and discipline. However, evaluations of boot camps' effectiveness have been mixed. Much of the empirical research associated with boot camps suggests that although graduates display higher levels of discipline and decision making, they do not fair any better than inmates who did not participate in any rehabilitation services (Kurlychek).

Kurlychek and Kempinen's analysis focuses on Pennsylvania's Quehanna Motivational Boot Camp. This boot camp was chosen because its six-month program features substance abuse education and treatment programs, as well as a 22-week Thinking for Change program which promotes "pro-social skills and values" (Kurlycheck, 369). Also, this program consists of a mandatory education component for offenders who lack a high-school diploma or desire vocational training (Kurlychek).

"The program is divided into three two-month phases that gradually reduce the structural controls on inmates, allow for greater personal freedoms, and require escalating levels of self-discipline" (Kurlycheck, 370). Inmates are evaluated based on increased usage and mastery of the skills learned in each phase of the program. In 2002, a mandatory 90-day residential aftercare component was added for graduates of this program. This "provision was intended to provide 'a structured reentry program that includes a detailed prescriptive program for each inmate, a minimum of three months of residency in a structured, supervised residential facility, orientation to the community, involvement of families and the parole agent, cognitive behavior therapy, job readiness skills, job acquisition, and drug and alcohol follow-up service'" (Kurlychek, 370). In addition to the residential program, participants are required to in an outpatient program for a length of time equal to that which they spent in the residential facility.

This study's sample consist of 720 (N=720) offenders, 383 from the pre-90-day aftercare group and 337 from the post-90-day aftercare group (Kurlychek). Participants were given a Boot Camp Evaluation survey prior to and after exiting the program to gauge their perception of the benefits associated with the program. The survey used to measure offenders' perceptions of the benefits associated with the program used a 5-point Likert Scale to measure attitudinal changes in: "(1) Beneficial Expectations, (2) Self-Control, (3) Decision-Making, (4) Drug Problem Recognition, and (5) Desire for Help" (Kurlychek, 371). The study scales used by Kurlychek and Kempinen consisted of six subscales; impulsivity, task orientation, risk-seeking, self-centered, temper, and physical activity. Combined, the two surveys allowed for comparison between the experimental and control groups upon entrance and graduation from the boot camp.

Results of this study show that "the two-year cumulative failure rate for graduates receiving aftercare was approximately equal to the one-year failure rate for graduates not receiving aftercare" (Kurlychek, 376). Similar trends held up at each check point; after the first month 1 percent of the control group compared to only 0 percent of the test group recidivated. Comparably, after one-year, 21 percent of the control group and only 16 percent of the test group had been rearrested. At the two-year mark, 33 percent of the control group and only 22 percent of the test group had failed.

These findings suggest that offenders who receive rehabilitative services while incarcerated, and aftercare services follow their release, will be less likely to recidivate than those who do not receive any rehabilitative services. Current juvenile law "neither serves the best interest of juveniles nor effectively reduces juvenile criminal activity" (Harvard, 1964). In studying Scotland's Children's Hearing System and Jamaica's community-focused model of juvenile detention we hope to discover more effective ways of adjudicating and rehabilitating juvenile offenders.

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Scotland emphasizes juveniles' welfare in its justice and adjudication system. In order to accomplish this goal Scotland created a separate hearings entity which deals solely with children's hearings. The Scottish welfare approach is rooted in the Kilbrandon Report (1961) which maintains the significance of keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system by dealing with children, their parents, and victims in an informal setting. The advantages of such a setting are that time is not a hindrance in deciding the proper criminal and rehabilitative course of action to successfully treat juvenile offenders. (Harvard) "In essence what the Kilbrandon recommendations achieved was the separation of the judgment of evidence (or the 'adjudication of the allegation issue') from the judgment of welfare (or 'consideration of the measures to be applied')" (Harvard, 1979).

The result of these goals is a juvenile justice system which tries to avoid sending children to juvenile correctional facilities at all costs. In order to achieve this goal Scotland heavily involves offenders' community in all phases of hearings process. This is possible by separating offenders' adjudication from sentencing, whether that is in the form of incarceration or community service. This is achieved by adhering to rigorous guidelines which hold children's welfare at heart. Even in cases in which an offender is tried in adult court, sentencing is often transferred back to juvenile court in an effort to balance the components.

In all hearings a volunteer citizens' panel decides the fate of convicted offenders. "Because a citizens' panel reviews a child's disposition every twelve months and significant latitude is 'accorded to those who have been supervising the child, the process gives citizens' panels the duty and opportunity to make adjustments, thereby giving at least some meaning to the goal of 'individualized justice' ' (Harvard, 1980). Volunteer panels are constructed to resemble the demographics of offenders' communities and panel members are selected for their knowledge of child development and the laws associated with each case. Most importantly, each panel includes a member of the offender's race.

Volunteer panels base their decision on "findings from social workers, school officials, children's homes, and psychiatrist" (Harvard, 1981) and other factors relevant to each case. Scotland is able to maintain such informal proceedings because its juvenile justice policy assumes that, with maturity, instances of juvenile criminality will diminish. "The system thus doe not accuse and label, but rather encourages the growth and social development of the child" (Harvard, 1981).

Options for confinement and incarceration if the Scottish system "include placement in foster care, children's homes (community-based residential facilities), or List D schools (watered -down versions of juvenile correctional facilities)" (Harvard, 1981). List D schools are intended to modify behavior in ways that will be beneficial to society, educate, and improve the physical wellbeing of offenders. Unlike U.S. juvenile correctional facilities, List D schools are absent of bars and cells. The focus of List D schools is on providing an environment as similar to normal society as possible.

Unlike statutory law in the United States, Jamaican statutory law is void of judicial discretion. Under Jamaican law, upon arrest, juveniles are placed in a Place of Safety (POS). By placing juveniles in a POS, juveniles are not subject to the dangers of being held in adult holding facilities. Once adjudicated, offenders are often placed in juvenile correctional facilities similar to Scotland's List D schools.

Jamaica has three juvenile correctional facilities on the island. The Harvard Review focused on one, the minimum-security facility for boys at Rio Cobre. According to the article, Rio Cobre is essentially a "home away from home" (Harvard, 1983). The mission of such facilities is to provide juvenile offenders with a structured environment in which boys are "free to grow and learn" (Harvard, 1983). Rio Cobre is home to fifty-eight minor offenders. The boys housed here receive the same educational training as their "free" counterparts. Sameness is stressed so much so that offenders even wear similar uniforms to their free peers. Outside of education, offenders are taught skills such as "woodworking, welding, farming, and tailoring" (Harvard, 1983).

The main difference between Jamaica's juvenile correctional facilities and those of the United States is that offenders participate directly in the community in varied activities from athletics to academics. This enables the boys to transition back into society more seamlessly because they see that they continue to have a place in society although they are currently separated from their communities. Although legislation is currently being pursued that will allow persons, for whom detention is the best option, over twelve but under eighteen to be tried as adults, the focus of such legislation will still hold the ideals of normalcy and detention centers as a "home away from home" at its core.

America's counterpart.

It is important to take from this study the ideas that children and adults are not identical, in the crimes they commit nor mental makeup. Thus, we must adjudicate and treat offenders differently than we do adults. Accordingly, the strengths of Jamaica's and Scotland's judicial correctional systems are that they attempt to maintain as much normalcy in the lives of incarcerated juveniles as possible, and they separate, at least, the sentencing aspect of juvenile corrections - if not the entire process, as in Scotland - from the adult system. Because of this separation, they are able to assess their correctional system on a completely different matrix than their adult systems.

Policy Implications

Intro paragraph

Tough on crime stances have become the norm in juvenile justice policies. Most assume that public support for tough on crime policies is overwhelming. However, Nagin et al, ask if public support for punitive policies is a result of heightened media coverage of extremely violent crimes committed by juveniles, lack of understanding of the cost and benefits associated with rehabilitative policies compared to incarceration, or genuine belief that incarceration is the most effective form of punishment for juveniles.

Nagin et al, assesses public support for rehabilitative policies by measuring respondents' willingness to pay for rehabilitative instead of punitive legislation. Assessing the public's willingness to pay for various categories of policies is important because "policymakers often justify expenditures for punitive juvenile justice reforms on the basis of popular demand for tougher policies" (Nagin et al, 5). The authors note that numerous studies have found that the public supports policies that favor rehabilitation instead of incarceration in juvenile justice. However, punitive answers to juvenile offenses are often more costly and less effective than rehabilitative responses. Furthermore, tough on crime stances, particularly those that house juvenile offenders with adult offenders, may lead to increased criminality among juveniles. (Nagin et al)

In order to assess respondents willingness to pay (WTP) for various policies, the authors use a three pronged contingent valuation (CV) approach with allows for comparison of one's willingness to pay for contending policy alternatives. The advantages of this methodology are more accuracy in gauging respondents' willingness to pay for a specific policy, policy alternatives are more easily compared, it's easier to calculate the estimated perceived value of a particular policy. These statistics are valuable to politicians because policies are often presented in terms of their economic cost to the public, and the publics' willingness to pay for such policies. The authors conducted their study in Pennsylvania because it has one of the lowest juvenile crime rates in the country, but also one the highest violent juvenile crime rates in the country. This dichotomy allows for a valid comparison of respondents' WTP because one would expect respondents to have higher WTP for punitive legislation values in response to Pennsylvania's high violent juvenile crime rate.

The survey structure was the same for all participants except for a question that asked whether they were willing to pay for rehabilitation programs or incarceration programs. The variance in one's willingness to pay was assessed by the following question in regards to rehabilitation:

"Currently in Pennsylvania, juvenile offenders who commit serious crimes such as robbery are put in jail for about a year. Suppose Pennsylvania citizens were asked to approve the addition of a rehabilitation program to the sentence for these sorts of crimes. Similar programs have reduced youth crime be 30%. Youths in these programs are also more likely to graduate from high school and get jobs. If the change is approved, this new law would cost your household an additional $100 per year in taxes."

Following this question, respondents were presented with a contingency question with asked: "Would you be willing to pay the additional $100 in taxes for this change in the law?" If the respondent answered 'yes' they were presented with the following question: "Would you be willing to pay $200 for the same change?" If respondents answered 'no' to the original question, their follow up question asked if they would be willing to pay a decreased value, $50, for the change.

The variance in one's willingness to pay for punitive reform was asked as follows:

"Currently, in Pennsylvania juvenile offenders who commit serious crimes such as robbery are put in jail for about a year. Suppose Pennsylvanians were asked to vote on a change in the law that would increase the sentence for these sorts of crimes by one additional year, making the average length of jail time two years. The additional year will not only impose more punishment but also reduce youth crime by about 30% by keeping juvenile offenders off the street for another year. If the change is approved, this new law would cost your household an additional $100 per year in taxes."

Respondents who received this survey had the same follow up questions as those who received the rehabilitation questions. Respondents were also present with various scenarios involving fictional crime incidents. Respondents who answered that the offender should be sent to jail were asked for how long they believed the offender should be incarcerated.

Results of this survey found that 27.8 percent of respondents who received the rehabilitation scenario were unwilling to pay for the rehabilitation services, however, the rest were willing to be at least $50. Furthermore, 60 percent of respondents who answered the rehabilitation scenario were willing to pay at least $100. In response to the punishment scenario, 40.8 percent of respondents were unwilling to pay for the service. Still, 50 percent of the punishment scenario respondents were willing to pay at least $100 for the service.

Perhaps most interesting of the findings, was that the average WTP for the rehabilitation services was about $20 higher than for the punishment services ($98.10/household compared to $80.97/household). Further, variance existed among the races as well. African-American respondents were more willing to spend on rehabilitation than whites ($102.35 v. $97.52) and less likely to pay for incarceration ($59.31 v. $84.67).

These findings suggest that respondents are willing to pay more for rehabilitative services as incarceration if they offer similar results. This is particularly relevant in Pennsylvania, considering the estimated cost of housing juvenile inmates in 2005 was $306/day or $111,000 annually, the amount saved by using rehabilitative methods would be substantial. According to a 2003 study by the Washington State Policy Institute, the combined cost of instituting a rehabilitative program which consists of multi-systemic therapy, mentoring, and intensive parole would be approximately $10,000 per person annually.

Further still, estimated benefits to costs ratios suggest that rehabilitation will yield a 23.4 ratio, compared to only 3.87 for incarceration. This implies that the perceived benefits of rehabilitation outweigh the perceived cost of providing such a program. However, the difference is quite striking when we translate these findings into actual dollar values. Therefore, politicians sho


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