8. Stage Two Offenders/Correctional Facilities

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.

In chapter seven, we discussed the idea that low-level offenders and those most likely to be susceptible to behavior modification techniques — education programs directed to help them learn more productive behaviors — would be sentenced to stage one facilities. Stage two facilities would offer serious criminal offenders something similar, but with a twist. The facility itself would have levels of segregation.

Offenders would start in general population and based on their attitude, their willingness to change, they would either be promoted or ultimately demoted. Reaching the maximum promotion would earn them the right to enter a Stage one facility and engage in more intensive behavior change programs. Getting demoted to the lowest position will earn them a ticket to a Stage three facility.

An Essay on Future Prison Issues Highlights the Need for Something Radically Different

Years ago, an episode of I Love Lucy provided a very good description of the problem faced by Corrections administrators nationwide.  Lucy and Ethel found themselves working at the end of an assembly line.  Initially, the two women found it fun and were playful.  However, the line began to move faster until the two were racing around trying desperately to keep up:  Product was flying and the women were frantically attempting to keep up with the pace, but doing so was impossible.  If one were to ask a prison Warden in 2012 if he feels at times like the characters from that sitcom, the answer would likely be a resounding yes.  Overcrowding has become the defining issue for Corrections:  This paper will present likely solutions.

Future Prison Issues

The events of September 11, 2001 will be written about for decades.  This was the day in modern history when an entire generation of American’s came together in a way that none believed possible.  This was a day when race, religion, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status meant nothing.  People were simply people and the nation acted like a family for the first time since Pearl Harbor.  When considering the goals of sentencing in Criminal Justice, the nation may do well to remember that people tend to act as if those termed criminal among us do not belong among us:  Convicts are not outsiders, but rather a part of the national family.  As such, these members of society deserve to be treated as family. 

An issue facing the nation after the first decade of the 21st Century came to a close was what to do with the innumerable convicts crowding the prisons.  As of 2012 no easy solutions exist, for although the data supports rehabilitation programs as the best way to reduce recidivism and control crime, the public continues to cry for tougher sentencing proposals.  Hence, this paper will consider the future of prisons in light of critical issues along with possible and likely solutions.

The Future of Prisons

Nationwide, prison overcrowding has become a serious issue for Corrections officials, legislators, and courts.  In 2005, the State of California faced a Federal judge assuming control over the Department of Corrections.  Unable to build additional facilities, the only solution found involved shifting the prison populations to local and county jails.  This, in turn has resulted in local officials refusing new inmates and releasing others much earlier than anticipated.  Hence, the very situation taxpayers sought to avert through mandatory minimums and determinate sentencing guidelines has returned (Muraskin & Roberts, 2009).

Such issues call into question the future of the prison system as it exists in 2012 for many currently recognize that the situation cannot continue as is without some serious changes.  In addition, as much as overcrowding is a problem, this gives rise to additional problems of a more critical nature.

Critical Prison Issues

Any time humans are kept in close quarters there are bound to be problems.  Some of these naturally include fighting, discord, and disease, all of which create serious issues for prison administrators.  In most prisons, large, powerful gangs have developed that control many of the daily activities of inmates within; many manage to operate organized crime outfits on the outside.  This makes a dangerous environment, not only for inmates, but also guards (Morgan Jr., 2009).

In addition to increased violence in prisons, the close contact with other inmates increases the spread of communicable diseases that threaten life and drive up operational costs.  Likewise, longer sentences mean that inmates will age and require additional high-cost medical attention resulting in further cost increases (Pfaff, 2008).

Finally, though touched on above, the problem of costs must be restated.  Nationwide, States, and the Federal government are stretched to a near breaking point with programs requiring massive outlays of funds.  Most simply cannot afford to continue building prisons, nor maintain the current populations and associated costs.  Correctional choices will soon be nothing more than a matter of fiscal solvency (Shaw, 2009).

Solutions to Prison Problems

Solutions are not easy in a society bent on a hard-line approach for soft-on-crime budgets.  As more governments nationwide begin to cut budgets in an effort to remain in the black, creative solutions are required to satisfy an insatiable public. 

Some such solutions include the privatization of Correctional facilities as has been done in California and Louisiana (Chan, 2009).  Other solutions rely simply on the addition of bunk-beds and use of space, such as gymnasiums built during the rehabilitation period of the 70s and early 80s.  Another solution, as mentioned above in the emergency case in California, is to send inmates to local and county jails (Muraskin & Roberts, 2009).  However, these solutions do nothing to curb overcrowding but simply shift the problem elsewhere; in time, the problem will simply explode in the faces of legislators and prison officials who will then be hard-pressed to find viable solutions.

The Return of Community Corrections?

Some recommend the complete abolition of prisons with a commensurate return to community corrections (Shaw, 2009).  However, this seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, for most researchers recognize that although the current system has serious problems, it can be fixed (Pfaff, 2008).

The repair most often cited is that the system needs to find a balance between the liberal attitude that society is to blame and the conservative attitude that the criminal is to blame.  Many are finding middle ground, recognizing that if society is to blame, criminals, as part of society, must share equally.  Hence, the demand for probation and parole officers is expected to grow as more governments seek to prevent criminals from returning to prison.  Society expects ex-cons to become productive citizens again.  Through a combination of community corrections and stiff sentences for those who refuse compliance with social standards of law many believe that recidivism can be reduced (Byrne, 2008).

However, community correction’s is not without drawbacks.  One major problem is the shortage of trained Probation officers.  During the period between 1980 and 2010 when governments took a get-tough approach, funding for these professionals declined along with personnel.  As of 2008, governments that had decided to alter their course began placing tremendous workloads on current officers.  This, in turn is causing some to leave the field and others to take simply a tougher attitude toward those they are meant to help, resulting in more going to prison than would otherwise (DeMichele & Paparozzi, 2008).

Another problem in this field concerns the greatly increased number of females in the system.  Although crime rates have declined, crime rates among females have increased.  This is resulting in a large number of female convicts sentenced to probation rather than prison and reports of sexual harassment among female probationers is on the rise (Stevens, 2010).  

In addition, sex offender registration standards have created a multitude of issues, mostly paperwork, for probation officers, increasing an already difficult workload.  One problem involves residency notifications, for every time a sex offender moves to a new area, he or she is required to register with local officials.  A probation officer must follow up to ensure that all registration requirements are in order (Tewksbury, Mustaine, & Payne, 2011).

However, one very positive situation is coming from all these problems associated with prison overcrowding and the shift back to community corrections.  Most offices that oversee community corrections are looking to empirical evidence for answers to problems.  This is a major shift when one considers that the former attitude completely ignored science in favor of simple public opinion.  Community corrections officials are seeking to avert the kind of problems that caused the get-tough shift in the first place; sound advancements in community corrections are the result (Alexander, 2011).

Conclusion

Although an ignorant public continues to collude with spineless politicians to maintain an unworkable prison industrial complex, the sheer numbers of inmates in America is forcing change.  As of 2012, the prison population in America rivals only that of the former Soviet Union and most states are finding that the cost is not worth the benefit.  Hence, most states are turning to community corrections and science to resolve these issues.  In general, politicians are using a back-door approach for fear of angering their constituents, but change is unavoidable.  Whether this change results in sound improvements or not remains to be seen, but all evidence appears to support a positive outcome for society and those members of the social family who have run astray.

What Happens When Someone is Convicted of a Crime?

Something very strange occurs when someone is convicted of a crime, any crime. They are taken to a prison where they are instantly stripped of their humanity and treated as if of no consequence to society. And that same society expects these people to leave that facility after some time and become “productive” members of society, good neighbors, wives, and husbands. But how can they?

The fact is that in most cases, they do not. This is not entirely their fault. Sure, they were incarcerated for a crime, but the penalty is time, not what most get — abusive correctional officers, men and women with little training, underpaid, and at the mercy of power-hungry superiors. That is the reality of the American so-called correctional system.

It is a so-called correctional system because the reality is nothing resembling “correction.” Instead, prisons today are as they always have been — warehouses.

There is ample evidence that rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism, yet few systems in the nation provide more than a cursory attempt at this goal. Sure, the missions of the various correctional systems nationwide claim to provide rehab to inmates, but a closer examination of these reveal the mission to be a farce, little more than a political sound bite to promote a politician’s career.

If the leadership of the nation wanted to change behaviors and create a more productive society, they would implement a system such as described in this book.

What Would Stage Two Corrections Mean for the Convicted?

When a person is convicted of a serious crime, the jury would have to determine whether it believes the person can possibly be returned to society at some point or is incorrigible. If the jury decides there is no hope of change in the person, that the purpose of sentencing should be to remove the person from society permanently, they will be sent to a Stage three facility. Anyone convicted who is believed to have the potential to rehabilitate will be sent to a Stage two facility.

Once there, they have the opportunity to participate in behavior modification classes, but participation is not mandatory. This would be a situation similar to any existing prison today. The only real difference would be the movement through the ranks. Inmates gain or lose their classification levels and will either graduate to a program designed to ease them into society or will fail the program and be relocated out of the facility and society.

Mental Health Issues and the Convicted

 

One final note is needed in regard to the incarcerated with mental health issues.

In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan shut down federal funding for a joint-state program providing proper care facilities for the mentally-ill. In so doing, all efforts to help the mentally ill would fall to the states. However, the states did not pick up the slack and persons with mental illness were released from the facilities. Quickly, problems occurred, often criminal in nature.

The states’ response?

The prison system. Since that time, the number of persons with mental illness incarcerated in state and local prisons and jails has exploded. At the same time, the number of suicides and serious violations of the 8th Amendment have occurred. When and if the mentally ill do get released, they are often worse than when they entered.

The only way a penal system could be perfected in America is if the leadership takes a serious approach to treating the mentally ill rather than warehousing them.

The Perfect Prison should not contain special units, cells, or any other special anything related to the mentally ill. Those convicted of a crime who have mental disorders should be sent to a very different, very distinct type of facility. Why?

Because prison guards tend to view and treat inmates as “not human.” They tend to treat the convicted as scum. Although the average convict can cope with such abuse, the mentally ill cannot. Those guarding the mentally ill cannot and should not be the same men and women guarding the average criminal.

Until this difference is recognized, any prison system is doomed to failure.

 

References

  • Alexander, M. (Sept2011). Applying Implementation Research to Improve Community Corrections: Making Sure That “New” Thing Sticks! Federal Probation. 75(2) 47-51.
  • Byrne, James M. (May2008). THE SOCIAL ECOLOGY OF COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS—UNDERSTANDING THE LINK BETWEEN INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNITY CHANGE.  Criminology & Public Policy. 7(2) 263-274.
  • Chan, E.  (2010). Prisons for Profit: The Corrections (Contract Management of Prisons) Amendment Act 2009.  Auckland University Law Review. 16() 303-309
  • DeMichele, M.; Paparozzi, M. (Oct2008).  Community Corrections: A Powerful Field. Corrections Today. 70(5) 68-72.
  • PFAFF, J. F. (Winter2008).  THE EMPIRICS OF PRISON GROWTH: A CRITICAL REVIEW AND PATH FORWARD. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. Winter2008, 98(2) 547-619.
  • Morgan Jr., W. J.  (Nov/Dec2009) THE MAJOR CAUSES OF INSTITUTIONAL VIOLENCE.  American Jails.  23(5) 62-70.
  • Muraskin, R., & Roberts. A.R. (2009). Visions for change: Crime and justice in the twenty-first century (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
  • Shaw, R. F.;  (Mar2009).  Angela Y. Davis and the prison abolition movement, Part II. Contemporary Justice Review. 12(1) 101-104.
  • Stevens, K. D.  (Oct2010) Addressing Gender Issues Among Staff in Community Corrections.  Corrections Today. 72(5) 32-35.
  • Tewksbury, R.; Mustaine, E. E.; Payne, B. K. (Dec2011). Community Corrections Professionals’ Views of Sex Offenders, Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification and Residency Restrictions.  Federal Probation. 75(3) 45-50.