Prisons: Are They Correcting or Assisting Criminal Behavior? Research Paper Example
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Individuals are sent to prison be punished for a crime committed and to be kept away from society. While some criminals are violent sociopaths, and may never be rehabilitated, many criminals can be corrected and taught to improve themselves. A variety of programs are designed to help inmates learn from their mistakes and prepare for release. These programs require funding, and with an imperfect penal system, there are certain elements of prison which may exacerbate criminal behavior. The purpose of this paper is to assess whether prisons are beneficial or detrimental to criminal behavior.
Effects of Prison on Inmates
Ideally, when individuals are sent to prison, they would learn how to improve themselves and better understand the consequences of their crime. Upon completion of their sentence, inmates would be ready to become productive members of society. Inmates who must serve life sentences would still find a sense of peace, even though they must remain in prison.
Unfortunately, this perfect system of punishment and redemption does not exist. The amount of rehabilitation an inmateundergoes often depends on the prison in which they are incarcerated. While some prisons provide programs that help inmates improve, other prisons are brutal facilities designed solely to retain inmates and keep them away from society.
Prison can be a brutal atmosphere for many reasons. The shock of being incarcerated and knowing that one’s basic freedoms are obliterated can be psychologically jarring. Being in prison can wreak havoc on the psyche and many inmates may require some form of therapy to help them to survive the duration of their incarceration. If inmates are treated like animals, then most likely, they will be in a far worse state when they are released.
The loss of freedom not only has a huge psychological impact, but it also takes away basic rights and privelages that free citizens take for granted. According to Turner, the fundamental loss of their freedom denies prisoners the access to the rights of their peers on the outside, such as unemployment and child benefits, and limits the access to or choice of health care providers. While in prison, inmates are not working for wages; yet when they are released, they will have no money available. The lack of income can increase their chances of resorting to criminal activities (324).
Another problem with the lack of income is that inmates often have no means to help support their families. If their partners do not qualify for government assistance, they are left to completely support their children. The physical separation may also encourage inmates to feel that they are free from basic responsibilities. There is a sense of “disenfranchisement during incarcerationhas contributed to a spiral of decline of prisoners having little or noexpectation to perform obligations, such as active parenthood or paying attention to financial burdens” (Turner 324).As a result, their partners may harbor feelings of bitterness, and will have a limited connection with their children.
Turner also reports that prisoners who have special needs or require special education, are often denied access to programs that could provide assistance (323). For example, if prisoners are unable to read and have learning disabilities, they may find it to be more difficult to participate in programs designed to restructure their cognitive behavior. And while healthcare is provided, the fact that they have no choice as to their practitioners or the type of care received can make inmates feel powerless. At its best, feelings of helplessness are to be pitied; at its worst, this could create the need for inmates to overcompensate and act out in forms of violence and aggression.
This lack of having a voice stems into other areas as well. In the United Kingdom, prisoners are unable to vote; this infringement communicates to the prisoners that they are “dead to society” (Turner 324).
Another factor which may make inmates feel less than human is their complete lack of privacy. Turner reports instances where women in labor had to give birth in chains, or inmates have to request 48 hours in advance before making a phone call (324). These acts communicate to the prisoners that they are animals and are not to be trusted (324). Prisoners are constantly being monitored in even their mundane tasks, and this can instill a lack of feeling trusted and may instill a greater desire to rebel. However, Van Groningen (244) notes that when privacy has been provided, serious problems such as contraband, drugs, and escape plans have been the result. The lack of monitoring has resulted in an increase in violent assaults to other prisoners and officers, and even increase in suicide and self-mutilation. When these tragic instances occur, the prison administration is often accused for allowing these problems to escalate. “Once again the dilemma is evident: provision of privacy,a basic human right as recognized by reformers and others alike, resulting indeprivation of basic rights of others in the prison system” (Van Groningen 244).
Turner (324) states that prisons are complete societies unto themselves. Turner (331) reports that inmates have their own societal structure, with a hierarchical gangs, languages, and even altering their sexual behavior. Everyday objects such as foil in candy wrappers becomes a “valuable trading commodities due to their alternative use as aids in drug-taking (Turner 331). Turner (331-332) states that despite all the attempts to rehabilitate criminals, they experience a “civic death” during their incarceration.
Turner elaborates that it makes no sense that prisoners are tried to be re-integrated back into society, when they are completely separated from it. She critiques the implementation of a system which expects them to belong to the outside, despite being physically removed. Turner states that “despite anintent to generate a sense of duties and obligations, the prisoner continues to bepositioned as altogether ‘less than ideal’, a subjective identity that, moreover,inflects their perception of themselves (324). Inmates are constantly being reminded of their failures. Low self-esteem, like feeling powerless, can lead to overly aggressive behaviors.
According to Van Groningen, a major problem is that the prisons do not teach inmates how to relate to the outside world. The isolation makes prison to be “an unhappy place of apathy, loneliness, and paradoxically, of constant heightening tension and inevitablepsychological and physical assaults” (241-242).When the facts are considered, providing programs to help inmates rehabilitate becomes all the more necessary.
Strategies to Provide Positive Rehabilitation
There is no question that strategies should be aimed at helping inmates rehabilitate while they are in prison. One way to help inmates feel human is to keep them connected with their families. Turner describes the program StoryBook Dads and StoryBook Mums. This program provides inmates with the ability to record themselves reading stories and expressing love to their children. That way, their children can know their parents and feel loved. It also instills in inmates a sense of responsibility and connection to their children. If inmates know that they have a family waiting for them, they may be more likely to focus on skills which would engender self-improvement.
Focus groups can offer inmates a form of therapy and can promote better communication skills. In these groups, inmates have a chance to learn from one another and make connections which help them to resolve social problems. Therapists also have a chance to work with inmates and discover if they require additional help.
Educational programs designed to help inmates achieve a high school diploma, or even to read and write, can be provided to help them find employment once they are released. Inmates may also even obtain work experience while in prison. Even though they receive no wages, this experience will help them enter the workforce and reduce their chances of resorting to criminal behavior for income.
Involving prisoners in community service may help them not only to rehabilitate, but may also help to prepare them for reentry into society. Helping to serve others can help inmates heal their feelings of anger and resentment. The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is a program where inmates offer personal counsel and advice to civilians. While exposing vulnerable individuals to convicted criminals does have the potential to be dangerous, these activities may help inmatesfoster positive feelings of community and not to feel so completely isolated from society. Turner also describes other activities which prisoners give back to society, such as caring for animals or the elderly. Some inmates may engage in public speaking and use their stories to prevent others from making similar mistakes.
The isolation inmates experience can create the need to rebel, and acquiring contraband materials, such as alcohol and cell phones is one way of accomplishing this. Since inmates are separated from society, it is often important that they be provided with opportunities to engage in “normal” activities such as reading celebrity gossip magazines, keeping up-to-date with sports, such as football(Turner 330).
If so many problems can be so easily corrected, then it is curious as to why so many prisoners are having difficulty with rehabilitation. One of the biggest answers is money.Van Groningen states that is a mistake to solely blame the inmates. He feels that the responsibility should fall on the “management anddeployment of the staff and resources of the establishment that accommodatethe prisoners” (241).
However, blaming the prison administration is not accurate. Prison officials can only work with the budget they are provided. The difficult economy is necessitating that finances are reduced from certain programs, and prisons often fall at the bottom of the list. Cadue (68)discusses how financial problems in Connecticut, Texas, and Kansas may threaten programs designed at rehabilitating inmates. These endangered programs help “high-offenders” with job training, substance abuse counseling, and mental health treatment. Cutting these programs is not just hurting inmates, but is hurting communities as well (Cadue 69).Caduereports that in Connecticut, the governor wanted to shut down one of the state’s 18 prisons to save money. This has the potential to be very dangerous. Overcrowding inmates leads to increased hostility and violent assaults. And since the prison officers are likely to be extremely outnumbered by inmates, this can escalate to situations of extreme violence.
Kansas’ problems are even greater than Connecticut’s. Cadue (70) reports that Kansas lost its community residential bed program that provided temporary housing for severely mentally ill offenders. This program ensured that mentally ill inmates remained on their medications, while reentry staff helped the offender connect to community services. Kansas also lost funding for its prison’s educational programming. This program would have provided illiterate inmates the opportunity to learn how to read, so they would have been better able to participate in cognitive retraining. Literacy would have greatly help inmates find employment when they are released. Finally, Kanas cut a large number of positions for correctional and parole officers, making its prisons extremely dangerous.
On a positive note, Texas appears to be handling its prisons very well, despite a poor economy. Cadue (69) reports that Texas has a high retention of correctional and parole officers, even providing its officers with a salary increase. Texas provides mental healthcare and drug treatment to inmates, along with providing work and educational opportunities (Cadue 70). It appears that Texas understands that inmates need help in order to improve themselves.
Sadly, too many states tend towards behaviors similar to Connecticut and Kansas. This overcrowding and underfunding does not produce rehabilitated citizens. It produces anger and resentment, leading inmates down a slippery slope to commit even more criminal behaviors.
It is so important to rehabilitate prisoners while they are incarcerated because not only will it teach them to be functional members of society, they will also be less likely to return to a life of crime. This is very difficult, because they are often released back into their old neighborhoods, where they will be exposed to the temptations which led them into a life of crime.
If inmates can be taught how to work, it will be less likely that they will resort to illegal activities which will cause them to wind up back in jail. Kubrin and Stewart state that although nearly two-thirds of inmates surveyed in Chicago worked for money prior to incarceration, 60 percent reported that a significant portion came from illegal activities, and 29 percent reported that nearly all of their income was obtained by illegal means. Even though finding employment is important to stay out of prison, only 44 percent of inmates in this 2003 study were employed while they were incarcerated and only 14 percent of the inmates had a job ready for them upon their release (168). These statistics show that many inmates either do not possess the skills to obtain employment, or have no understanding as to why these skills are necessary. If it seems like they can generate more income by performing illegal activities, why would they waste their time with actual work?
To successfully create reform, interrelationships must be first formed between the criminal justice agencies and the communities they serve. Van Groningen (245)elaborates how societies must first establish what they want to do with their criminals. Does the society want to focus on rehabilitation or punishment? They must then decide how they will carry out these tasks. A lack of cohesiveness makes it difficult to obtain financial resources and political support prison reform. What is known is that if prisons focus on rehabilitation, then inmates will have a chance at a better life. If prisons focus on punishment, this can increase the chances that inmates may develop more aggressive behavior.
To answer the question if prisons are beneficial or detrimental to criminal behavior is entirely situational. However, the evidence shows that while theoretically prisons are able to successfully rehabilitate most of their inmates, the reality shows that prisons all too often encourage criminal behaviors. While isolation from society is most commonly accepted as part of the punishment, prisons are too inconsistent about how to prevent inmates from re-offending once they are released. The lack of funding fails to provide inmates with the help that they need in order to understand their behaviors and become productive members of society. The overcrowding and understaffing creates a hostile environment where violent acts are likely to take place. Inmates incarcerated for minor offenses may be caught up in the prison culture and end up to be very dangerous individuals. Unless communities re-evaluate what a prison is for, prisons will continue to contribute to criminal behavior.
Cadue, Cheryl. “Budget Cuts Challenge Progress Made by States and Elicit Even Smarter Reforms.” Corrections Today (2010): 68-71. Print.
Kubrin, Charis E., and Eric A. Stewart. “Predicting Who Reoffends: The Neglected Role of Neighborhood Context in Recidivism Studies.” Criminology. 44.1 (2006): 165-97. Print.
Turner, Jennifer. “Criminals with ‘Community Spirit’: Practicing Citizenship in the Hidden World of the Prison.” Space and Polity 16.3 (2012): 321-34. Print.
Van Groningen, John. “The “Other Side” of Prison Reform.” Aust &Nz Journal Of Criminology. 12. (1979): 241-46. Print.
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