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Why do people do what they do? Why after being punished for one crime, do offenders retrace their steps and repeat the same offense again? Is it because it is all they have ever known? Why do people use drugs? Is it to escape the reality of what is actually going on in their lives? After becoming an offender of the law, what can be done to prevent the same thing from happening again? Will treatment help rehabilitate a drug offender? Will incarceration be more productive? Some of these questions we may never completely understand. Research study upon research study has been performed to help answer these questions over the years. Substantial progress has been made to understand how to help rehabilitate drug offenders instead of tossing them in prison and using it as a means of punishment and detoxification. In my research I will attempt to answer some of these questions and more in order to draw a conclusion to the question, "Incarceration v. treatment- which one has the largest effect on recidivism rates in the U.S.?"
What is incarceration? Incarceration is defined differently depending on the type of crime committed and the type of charge. With Federal charges, the imprisonment is defined by levels. Level 1 is the least secure and level 6 is the most secure. With State charges, security is defined by minimum to maximum security. Minimum security would house more of your non-violent criminals. Minimum security detainees are allowed to be housed in dormitories, and also allowed to obtain outside work projects under prison supervision. Maximum security is a different. Maximum security prisons have 1-2 person cells. Inmates are completely confined 23 hours of the day and are only allowed one hour of exercise. Unlike minimum security, maximum security prisoners are closely monitored. So-called "Super max" prisons have the highest level of security, housing serial killers, convicted terrorist, and the most dangerous criminal (Hall, n.d, p. 1).
Home incarceration (house arrest) dates back to the turn of the 20th century, but became standard in 1983. There are several types of home incarceration. GPS devices are electronic ankle or wrist monitoring device used to track an offender's location in proximity to his/her home by global positioning system technology. Other devices use radio signals. Should an offender breach the court-mandated boundaries, authorities are alerted through a signal that trips an alarm. For people convicted of alcohol related crimes a device that measures blood alcohol content is used. Operators make random or scheduled calls to the individual. A full color video camera is installed at the person's home to record the person blowing into the breathalyzer as the operator watches. After blowing into the blood alcohol measuring device, the person raises the unit to the camera to show the operator the numeric blood alcohol measurement. Violators are dealt with accordingly (Boyle, n.d, p. 1).
As I go a little more in depth, I will ask another set of questions. What is drug addiction? What is drug addictions treatment? According to most medical professionals, drug addiction is a treatable disorder. Treatment that has been altered to an individual's requirements can learn to control their condition and live normal and productive lives. In most cases, the more treatment received the better the results. There are several different types of treatment. My personal favorite is pretrial release. Pretrial release is a combination of rehabilitation and house arrest. The offender/patient is required to be present for weekly rehabilitation classes, produce negative drug screens weekly, and remain in the home during required hours as requested by the operator as a prevention of drug use. This method is generally used for first offenders as an opportunity to have charges reduced if the offender has proven that they have been rehabilitated and can remain rehabilitated. Pretrial release terms usually last 3-6 months for misdemeanors and 6-9 months for felonies. Therapeutic communities also known as inpatient rehabilitation, is a long term treatment usually 6-12 months of residential therapy, after care, and may also include medications to assist in reduction of the desire for drug use. Outpatient rehabilitation does not include medications. Patients may visit a clinic or treatment facility on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Off-site rehabilitation may include a 12 step program such as Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and some others self- help groups. Also, treatment programs while incarcerated or imprisoned may be available in certain areas.
What is recidivism? Many may have never even heard of the word recidivism. In the U.S. the term is usually associated with the Criminal Justice System. Recidivism is defined as a repetitive behavior, usually negative. The behavior is unacceptable and morally questionable and repeated despite punishment or training. (S.E. Smith). Recidivism may also be used when speaking of substance abusers and alcoholics.
Since 1996 the recidivism rate in the United States has risen. In the United States now, nearly 70 percent of prisoners who were released from prison were re-arrested within three years. According to the United States Department of Justice, several studies have been done on recidivism, breaking them down into different categories. These categories were property offenders, drug offenders, and public order offenders. From my research, study shows that 73.8% of property offenders re-offend, 66.7% of drug offenders re-offend, and 62.2% of public offenders re-offend.(Bartley, July 8th 2010, para. 2) (Figure 6.3) As you can see, 50 percent of all original offenders re-offend within three years. Recidivism is a very touchy subject with some people. When recidivism is brought up in some communities, the residences believe that recidivism happens because the law is not being upheld and thus lose faith in the system. When in all actuality it is not the upholding of the law that is a problem at all. It is the type of treatments given for the type of crime and it is ineffective. These reactions may harm the operation of the judicial system.
The graph above gives you a little more insight into the staggering amount of recidivism in the U.S. I was very astonished as I did my research to the amount of offenders that re-offend not just once, not just twice, but three, four, five, or more times. In My opinion there is some tactic that is not as effective as it has thought to be in the past. I have contacted my local law enforcement agency, Alexander County Sheriff Department. They directed me to the Alexander County Resource Center where I spoke with Anita F. Price about recidivism in the county. Mrs. Price informed me on several different topics: Juvenile, Adult, Male, and Female. According to her knowledge, Juveniles are generally a one-time offense in Alexander County. Adults, both male and female, are roughly the same. Both need to start completely over after a drug offense which may include changing of all friends and possibly even location to reassure themselves that they can remain clean and not recidivate. Males committing drug crimes are more so likely to re-offend because it is harder for them to obtain money and drugs if they are unemployed. Women on the other hand do not have as much trouble. So women chose not to use money to obtain their drugs, but instead, use their body's as a form of payment to obtain money and drugs, which just poses a totally different problem to deal with, prostitution. (A. F. Price, personal communication, March 1st, 2011) Since 1990, the number of women inmates has grown at an average rate of 8.5 percent and has increased 92 percent and nearly one-third of women serving time in state prisons report that they committed their offense to get money to buy drugs. Nearly 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers and two-thirds have children under the age of 18. Seventy-two percent of women prisoners with children under the age of 18 lived with those children before entering prison. Do those statistics not just break your heart?
So the debate continues, Incarceration v. Treatment. Which one is right? Which one serves its purpose the best? And still the question, why do people do what they do?
"I am a daughter, a sister, a mother of four children, a classical pianist and teacher, a drug addict, a felon, and inmate #N87420 of the Illinois Department of Corrections. As a person who has run gamut from rehab, to jail, to prison, I speak from personal experience when I say that addiction is a disease and those who are in its grip need help- not prison. It should be treated as a public health issue and not a criminal issue. Communities should take responsibility and become involved in getting and giving education, reaching out to their communities to offer assistance in helping addicts find hope through programs that take a holistic approach to their disease. Addicts need programs that heal body, mind and, most importantly, their shattered spirit". (Schwartz, 2001, p. 1-2)
I now want to take my research to a different level. I have taken it upon myself to find someone who has come thru the Resource Center in Alexander County and ask them a few questions about what they offended for in the first place and what treatment they received, if any, and whether it prevented them from recidivating or if it had no impact at all. I will not name any names for their privacy but will tell you their race, sex and age. First, I interviewed a 20 year old white female. She had been convicted of possession of marijuana. She had come to the Resource Center 3 months prior to my interview. Her mother had died just shortly before her arrest. After speaking with her she lead me to believe that a lot of her problem was dealing with her mother's passing in a negative way. She said "I had never tried any drugs until my mom passed away, then after that my world just fell apart". She had been clean for the 2 ½ months when I conducted the interview. After undergoing an evaluation, and weekly drug treatment for 3 months she seemed to think that she could now deal with her mother's passing in a normal way. She quoted, "I am really glad that I got caught when I did. I did not want to end up a drug user the rest of my life. The treatment I have received here at the Resource Center has been very beneficial to me". The second person interviewed was a 53 year old black female. Being convicted of 3 DWI's, driving while license revoked, possession of marijuana, felony possession of schedule II, and several drug paraphernalia charges, she had been in trouble all her life, mostly with drugs and alcohol. She had never had any very traumatic event happen to make her result to using. She had been incarcerated 6 times. After her last conviction she was given 120 hours at the Alexander County Resource Center. She failed the first 4 drug screens. She told the administrator "I just do not think that I can do this on my own". They signed her up for an inpatient rehabilitation center just outside of Yadkinville NC. She stayed there for 9 months, staying clean the whole time. She has now returned to the Resource Center for after care and has been clean for over 1 ½ years. So as I asked earlier, why do people do what they do? What drives them to be an addict? After they have become an addict or a user, and become an offender of the law, what will help them the most, Incarceration or Treatment?
In conclusion, drug addiction is a disease. With treatment that has been specified for the persons specific needs, the person can learn and be able to control their usage and condition to be able to live normal and productive lives without the dependency of drugs and its environment. Just like someone that has high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or any other internal physical health problem they need medication and most of the time a severe diet change. The same is true with an addict. There may be medication required to assist in helping with the problem along with behavioral changes (mental diet) to change the way they deal with problems and concerns that come their way. If someone is incarcerated for the drug crime they will not be able to learn to deal with the problems that lead them there in the first place. They have no help to assist them in making the behavioral changes (mental diet) to fix what caused them to become an addict. It is after much research and time spent on interviews and conversations with Anita Price and Richard Roberson of the Alexander County Resource Center, it is my best educated opinion to say that treatment (rehabilitation) would be the best option. It gives the offender a way to re-evaluate their lives and what they could do differently.