Tori Kelly Corrections

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Downsizing American Prisons

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Tori Kelly Corrections

  1. 1. Tori Kelly<br />29 October 2010<br />Corrections in America<br />Dr. Donald McCoy<br />ERAS OF INPRISONMENT KGA #1<br />U.S. IMPRISONMENT<br />THEN, NOW, AND IN THE FUTURE<br /> <br /> Introduction<br />“Go to jail! Go directly to jail and do not pass go or collect $200.” While it’s not a monopoly game, imprisonment in America has undergone dramatic improvements, from dark cold cells and torture, to today’s modern facilities and humane treatment. The following eras demonstrate the treatment, punishment and monitoring of offenders. Much of what occurred in the early nineteenth century, the Reformatory Era, Industrial Prisons, period of transition, and the Modern Era effect today’s prison system. Currently there are over 2,000,000 inmates, many who aren’t violent offenders, overpopulating the American prison facilities. This has put a great financial strain on the economy. New correctional policies and alternatives to mass incarceration are needed in the future penal system, as we analyze U.S. imprisonment, then, now and in the future.<br /> Early 19th century<br />According to Allen (2010), the most significant and constant dilemma in American corrections has always been, what to do with criminals to keep them from contaminating our society. The middle ages imposed torture as a means of punishment and penitence. The nineteenth century adopted the concept of group punishment, rather than focus on the individual. This led to the beginning of mass imprisonment of convicts.<br />The Pennsylvania Prison System had small dark cells, required total inmate silence, and labor within the cell. By 1833 these were torn down and larger cells were built, to include enclosed exercise yards. During these early years of incarceration, escape and reintegration into society with a new identity was not that difficult to achieve. <br />The Eastern Penitentiary was square, with cell blocks surrounding a central rotunda, like spokes on a wheel. This ensured continuous maximum security and separation of inmates. This system also required silence, solitary confinement and labor within the small cells.<br />The Auburn System was designed quite differently, with smaller cells designed only for sleeping or punishment, with wings consisting of two to four tiers called cell blocks. This system started a new style of discipline, where inmates work and eat together, but still remain silent and are required to walk in marching formation wherever they went.<br />Crofton and the Irish System adopted a new “marked system”, where prisoners could earn freedom by hard work and good behavior, known as an “intermediate sentence”. This involves three stages, giving prisoners the opportunity to shorten their prison term. First, was solitary confinement, along with monotonous work inside their cell. Second was assignment to public labor. Finally, prisoners were placed in an intermediate (medium or minimum) prison. There, prisoners work without supervision, moving freely in and out of the community, known today as a trustee. Continued good behavior and obtained employment, allowed prisoners a “ticket of leave” which was a supervised conditional pardon, and today is known as parole. This was Crofton’s first effort to create a system called “Conditional Liberty”. <br /> The Reformatory Era<br />The unforeseen consequence of incarceration was overcrowding. The Reformatory Era, from 1870-1910, addressed this issue by deciding what model of prisons to build to help solve this problem. The first Reformatory, built in Elmira, New York in 1876, was intended for adult felons, but instead was used for youths and felons ,aged sixteen to thirty, serving their first prison term CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010). <br />Reformatories had modern sanitary appliances and a lot of natural and artificial light. Inmates now had to wear uniforms and maintain grooming. Prisoners could receive manual training, mostly in metal and woodworking. They had access to a library, religious services, exercise equipment and recreation amongst one another. This era was the most pivotal change in American imprisonment since dungeons and inhumane treatment of prisoners CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010). <br />After the Civil War, the South suffered devastation to the penitentiary system. It had been virtually wiped out. One attempted solution was to lease out the entire convict population to contractors for cheap labor, known as the lease system. What prisons there were didn’t conform to the improved facilities or treatment. Eventually, leasing was replaced by prison farms until the practice was eradicated by the mid 1920’s CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010).<br />Industrial Prisons<br />The major premise of this era centers on using prisoners to perform labor needed to keep facilities self-containing. This was an extension of the early factory workshops. Soon, this system began to show profits and was considered to be a sound operation. It was also considered an important factor in prisoner rehabilitation: preparing them for the workforce after they served their sentence CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010).<br />In 1935, the Ashurst-Sumners Act required that all prison products shipped out of state be labeled with the prison name. By 1940 this act was amended to prohibit interstate shipment, which caused punishment and custody to once again be the purpose of imprisonment. This era posed another significant problem: the prison population increased by 174% from the beginning of the twentieth century until 1940 CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010). Prisoners were not only bored, but also overcrowded.<br /> Period of Transition<br />From 1935 to 1960 was a period of great prison turmoil. Administrators could no longer provide work for inmates, which created a lot of tension and riots. Other contributions to rioting were substandard personnel; enforced idleness; lack of professional leadership and professional programs; excessive size and overcrowding of institutions; and unwise sentencing and parole practices. Prison gangs began to emerge, creating even more conflict.<br /> FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, through his war on crime, gave America the super maximum prison, Alcatraz. It was constructed to house the most hardened criminals such as Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde. Plastic ID bands were used in Alcatraz to count and recount inmates, and track their whereabouts. Prison administrators became obsessed with security and community protection by extensive use of locks, head counts, and internal control of inmates CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010). <br />Despite these efforts in dealing with bored inmates through the use of control, prison riots continued to be an unmanageable problem during this era, and the Supreme Court created pressure for reform.<br /> The Modern Era<br />By about the 1960s society also focused on a great pressure for change in corrections. Due to WWII, violent and nonviolent demonstrations, presidential assassination, and the civil rights movement, more violent prison riots and disorder ensued. Due to continued public pressure, leadership and funding by the federal government were given to correctional administrators at the state and local levels. This enabled them to create, implement, and evaluate new standards, policies, and practices. However, media and politicians created inaccurate stereotypes of offenders, resulting in decreased efforts toward rehabilitation (a prevention ideology) of convicts CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010). <br />Inmate security and control improved in this era however, making it very difficult to escape. With advancement in computer bank data, it was even more difficult to start a new identity. This created frustration among prisoners who used riots to express their desire for reforms and changes in rules and conditions. <br />Prisoners began to use riots to express their desire for reform as well, focusing more on individual rights than prison conditions. This was a reflection of what issues existed outside the prison walls, and how social behavior and conditions influence inmates CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010).<br /> Prisons Today<br />The cruel and unusual punishment of the early nineteenth century raised issues in the public eye, which lead to more humane treatment still in effect today. Change was often a result of prison riots in almost every era of imprisonment. Today, prison policies can be changed through inmate council, grievance procedures, conflict resolution, or inmate prison committees. Some systems have ombudsmen, who are officials that represents prisoners’ complaints and seek solutions to them. Administrators have learned over the years that the more diverse the correctional staff is the less turmoil and conflict there will be among inmates CITATION All10 l 1033 (Allen, 2010). <br />Mass incarceration that began in the Pennsylvania Prison System has grown astronomically. Due to the ease at which inmates could escape and reintegrate into society with a new identity, more security, lockdowns, and head counts exist today, which were first introduced in the Eastern Penitentiary System. <br />The Auburn System, which introduced inmate congregation and use of cells only for sleeping or punishment, still exists today. The Crofton and Irish System which let prisoners earn freedom by hard work and good behavior, helped mold our current system of early release and parole. Rehabilitation through labor, introduced in the Industrial Era, has had a positive impact on reducing recidivism of inmates. <br />With the introduction of the super maximum prisons of the Transitional Era, more were built and still exist to house the most serious criminals. We still use the plastic I.D. bands that this era adopted, in order to keep track of inmates. The improvement of inmate security and control, which began in the Modern Era, makes it nearly impossible to escape maximum and super maximum facilities. <br />One serious problem that still exists today is overcrowding. Over the last 28 years the prison population has increased more than 365%. “The United States now locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world (Jacobson, 2005, p.8), with more than 2 million currently incarcerated. This is a result of the war on drugs, fear of crime implemented by politicians, the “get-tough approach to crime”, and the media. Allen (2010, p.37) states that “new ideas and programs are badly needed, as the contemporary corrections field appears to be under considerable strain.”<br />The exorbitant cost required to house prisoners puts a heavy burden on the American economy. According to Jacobson (2005, p.48), the cost of one person per year in prison is $20,000. That amounts to $40 billion annually. <br />The most beneficial introduction to the correctional system was that of labor for early release and parole, initiated in the Crofton and Irish System of the early nineteenth century. This concept has reduced inmate overcrowding, boredom and recidivism, promoted rehabilitation, increased supervision of x-offenders, and helped alleviate the cost of life in prison. Unfortunately, argues Jacobson (2005, p. 48-49), current programs have been underused and underfunded, despite proven records of success. The annual cost to supervise one person on parole or probation is only $200. The problem is that the recommended caseload is 30 cases to each officer, but the national average is about 150:1 for probation, and 80:1 for parole. <br />Another problem with supervision of x-offenders is that regulations imposed are so stringent, recidivism ensues due to minor violations and drug use. Also, the heavy case loads officers have to contend with interfere with effective management of parolees. Clearly the current system needs restructuring.<br /> Imprisonment in the Future<br />The major disadvantages of mass incarceration are overcrowding, financial constraint, recidivism, and an aging inmate population. Downsizing prisons will address all these issues. The government needs to redirect funding from excessive incarceration to prevention, rehabilitation, education and post prison management. As Tonry (2004, p.211) points out, a repeat offender convicted of a violent crime, with a history of severe drug and alcohol abuse, and serves a two to three year sentence with intensive substance abuse treatment, stands a realistic chance of controlling his addiction and reducing or eliminating his propensity for crime. Jacobson (2005, p.9), argues that spending money on prevention now will result in greater social justice, reduced incarceration, and less spending on criminal justice and corrections down the road. It stands to reason logically and mathematically that efforts toward reducing crime will decrease the amount of people in prison. <br />Crime reduction is not accomplished by increase in prison use. According to Jacobson (2005, p.39), New York State increased its prison population by 9% from 1992 to 2002 as violent crime fell by 53%. West Virginia increased its prison population by 171% as crime increased by 10%. Money would be better spent on programs that help reduce the crime rate, such as Head Start, self placed education, and job apprenticeship. <br />In order to attack the recidivism rate, government needs to revise probation and parole policies. Jacobson (2005, p.39) contends that “striking increase increases in the number of parolees sent back to prison on technical violations have been driving the size and cost of the current prison system.” Standard conditions that currently exist include having a job, regular reporting, not consorting with other felons, abstinence from drugs, and attending all court-assigned programs. From 1992 to 2002, new admissions to prisons increased by 22% while parole violators increased by 55%. About half of all parole violators are returned to prison. Clearly, the current policies need to be less stringent. Another solution would be to replace prison with community service to lower cost of incarceration. <br />I propose, in addition to prison downsizing, redirection of funding, and revision of probation and parole restrictions, to reduce punitive sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders. Jacobson (2005, p.45-46) agrees that drug laws are the most well known examples of severe sentencing. From 1980 to 2001, 25% of the prison population was for nonviolent drug convictions. Lesser sentences and drug abuse programs would be more economical and effective.<br />Capital punishment is a very controversial issue. Briefly, increased utilization of this policy may not be the best deterrent however; it would help alleviate not only overcrowding but excessive spending as well. While this remains a moral issue requiring much debate, the scope of this paper is only based on the economic aspect.<br />Another factor increasing the rate of prison overcrowding are the baby boomer inmates. Most are beyond the average crime committing age (19-35) and could be released back into society safely. Returning them to family or placing them in nursing homes would be more cost effective use of American tax dollars.<br />Finally, I propose integrating higher education into the prison system for nonviolent criminals. According to Jacobson (2005, p.43), the majority of prisoners are poor and undereducated, resulting in exceptionally low employment levels. While it might seem unfair to those who pay for their own college education, it is more unfair to burden society with the cost to keep these criminals in prison, with the likelihood they will return due to limited gainful employment.<br /> Conclusion<br />The American prison system that began in the early nineteenth century has gone through many changes in order to address issues such as: poor conditions; fair and humane treatment; uncontrolled riots; overcrowding; rehabilitation; post prison management; and exorbitant financial burden. Over the last two centuries, we have learned what works and what doesn’t in order to deal with the complications associated with imprisonment. With prison downsizing, early intervention, shorter sentences, higher education, increased utilization of post prison management, and release of the elderly criminal population, great strides toward economic recovery are possible. <br /> References<br />Allen, H., Latessa, E., Ponder, B. (2010) Corrections in America (12th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Publishing<br />Jacobson, M. (2005) Downsizing Prisons How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration New York, NY: New York University Press<br />Tonry, M. (2004) The Future of Imprisonment Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press<br />

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