The reason why criminals are sent to prison is to reform and discontinue their criminal life. However it does not always work that way. The Pew report indicates that cases of incarceration including recidivism continue even with incarceration (6).
Incarceration therefore does not yield the results that are hoped for with regards to reformation. Although incarceration offers some degree of deterrence the results are not long lasting. Imprisonment is one of the ways in which society punishes offenders. Prison terms are issued depending on various factors.
Role of prisons
The nature of the crime committed is one of the greatest determinants. Other factors are background of the crime and offender and case specifics. The prison system reflects the legal values and system in that crime are placed in categories and depending on the crime the prisoners will be sentenced. Prison terms accompany felony crimes but other crimes may receive prison term or other punishments like fines. Much of what determines how much time an offender spends in prison depends on the state where the offender is tried.
Prisons have been in existence in a long time but more recently there are new centers coming up that offer incarceration while at the same time offering other service. These centers are like boot camps, detention centers for the mentally unwell and juvenile centers. This type of incarceration has been adapted to deal with the unique needs of the prison population. They aim at positive rehabilitation of the offenders and are a balance between punishment and care.
Another purpose that prisons serve is the opportunity to get justice for society. When people commit crimes they owe the society for their wrongs whether it is murder, theft or forms of corruption. Because of the crimes they need to pay in terms of time taken away from society. They therefore miss on certain privileges of being in the world. However the whole experience is supposed to teach them something so that they do not commit crimes anymore.
The structure of prison is made in a way that should allow prisoners to retain their dignity. It is not meant to give inhumane mistreatments. Phillips states that prisoners are still valuable to society and determined as such should be helped to self actualize (33).
Today there exist concerns about the role of prisons in the justice system and if really prisons are serving their purpose. The high costs of keeping prisons running has intensified questions about the effectiveness of prisons.
If they are working as they should, shouldn’t there be fewer criminals in prison? And are the aims of incarceration being achieved? Given the growing numbers of prisoners and cases of recidivism, these questions pose serious concerns about the future of prison systems. Crimes seem to continue with or without incarceration.
Reasons for recidivism
Significant numbers of prisoners find their way into prison because of drug related crimes. Once they leave prison the very circumstance they were living in before incarceration are still there. As a result many of them engage in drug use and in time they are involved in crime that lands them in prison. The cycle may keep repeating itself until the offender recovers from the addiction to drugs.
One of the reasons why recidivism is though to occur is because many of law breakers are given prison term when other methods might be useful in addressing the reasons as to why the criminals engage in crime. In many instances drug and alcohol abuse have been attributed to petty crimes. As a result those who have drug abuse problems will continue to be sent to prison while their addiction problems are not being addressed.
The justice system has not concentrated on the criminals but rather seems to be more concerned with getting offenders off the streets. The problem is that they keep reappearing once they leave prison. Intervention programs would be more beneficial so that the reasons behind crime can be addressed. That is why according to the Pew report; more states are opting to invest in better programs in prison than in capacity (17)
Wilson after conducting a study to evaluate incarceration costs in Oregon states that there is a direct link seen in the number of crimes and incarceration. Wilson concludes that it is only when methods of reducing crime are implemented that there will be fewer prisoners and also consequently cases of recidivism will diminish (4).
The study revealed that the rates of increased prison terms make little change to the crime rates, although they do decline. As a result other means of reducing crimes should be used instead of dependence on prison terms as a crime fighter.
According to Wilson, the reason why prison terms have found favor before is because they can assist to minimize crimes by containing the criminals as they undergo reformation (2). This does not reflect aspect of justice alone but rather as mere holding of the criminals to prevent them from committing further crime.
This also offers an opportunity to prevent re-offending (4). Another reason is that prison terms serve to deter potential offenders. As a result fewer crimes are committed. This is especially true for violent and sexual crimes. Different states have different measures they use which can increase incarcerations or reduce them. Wilson uses the case of Oregon which through its measures has dramatically increased its incarcerated population by calling, in particular crimes, for longer prison terms (4).
Prisons are supposed to get offenders off the streets but it is not an end in itself. First of all it is supposed to get them into reformation so that they will not commit other crimes. It is during the period of serving time that criminals can be informed about the crimes they commit and given a time to form new socially acceptable behaviors. The new behaviors will help them to get back into society and become productive and cease the life of crime.
Criminals who go to prison, especially for minor crimes, can become frustrated with the prison terms and feel victimized. This is especially likely when the prison terms do not seem to match up to the crime. First time offenders are especially prone to this effect.
According to King, states should thoroughly conduct analysis of their justice system to find out if the benefits of using certain measures are real (254). In doing that, the states can be able to use measures which are proven to be beneficial and can be financially supported well by the states.
Maintaining the prison systems has become increasingly expensive. They should therefore be used if they can be justified to bring the results that society wants (254).
King states that to avoid the large number of prisoners the country need to decide whether it can continue to dedicate required funds into the prison system. If the funds are cut there will be elimination of amenities and services that are necessary in prisons (255). However, as eliminating the services may be difficulty the other viable solution is to reduce the number of prisoners.
One of the areas in which the justice system is challenged in addressing the aims to reduce recidivism is in juvenile prisoners. This is because juvenile have the most potential to avoid crime life and reform their lives. Accordingly, there are ways in which recidivism can be measured and appropriate action taken. Particularly for juvenile the goals are to minimize cases of recidivism, increase programs that are helpful in assisting juvenile and ensure programs and services for the youth are well supported.
There have been recommendations that have been made in regards to incarceration to ensure that the future of the justice system is secure and that prisons play the role they are supposed to play. According to Gottschalk, this is especially important to the African American and Hispanic population since they have the highest population in prisons (669).
One of the recommendations according to Gottschalk is that the fiscal pressures ought to be placed within the right context before they are adjustments are made (670). This is because in some states, although the number of prisoners may arise with longer prison terms enforced, the states will benefit from reduced crimes and the budgets will reduce (670).
Prisons will be less crowded when they are reserved for serious crimes. Many of the prisoners commit crime under the influence of some drugs which has led for calls to deal with drug addiction within the prison population. According to Gottschalk, if crimes attributed to drug addiction are reduced, there will be less prisoners in prison and fewer cases of recidivism (680). This approach is particularly adaptable to non-violent criminals. At the same time the society will be kept safe while the offenders undergo rehabilitation.
The current programs for rehabilitation have not been adequate to deal with the problem of addiction. Phillips in their book agrees with the ides that prison should not be a place of condemnation for prisoners but a place from which they can emerge as better persons and citizens (199). From the letters of the Dhamma brothers, it is clear that prisoners have high hopes for themselves. A system that does not recognize this or use it for reformation is wasting resources (200).
The budget cuts in incarceration systems has meant the services that would be most beneficial to prisoners. These include vocational training, drug abuse programs and education. Unfortunately these services present the prisoners with the best opportunity for better lives after leaving prison. It is these programs that the government should dedicate more funds to if lasting changes are to be made in the justice system. Punishment alone will not reform prisoners.
Gottschalk also recommends early releases of prisoners who show good behavior. This will decongestant prisons and petty criminals can have an opportunity to leave prison early and avoid getting entrenched in crime. Supervisions can then be conducted outside prisons. This will additionally keep records on criminals and assist them with what they need to stay off crime. One assistance could be drug programs for relapse addicts or assistance with getting jobs.
Gottschalk states that those who commit crime for the first time have better chances to avoid a life of crime if they do not reoffend (284). Unless the first timers engage in violent crimes their sentences could be capped. The three strikes measure has been responsible for increased prisoners. The role that the measure was meant to play has taken time to show the benefits. Because of crowded prisons states are coming up with ways in which they can reduce prison populations.
For first time offenders the more they are kept away from hardcore criminals the better. This is because prison environment plays a big part in how those inside perceive themselves and their behavior. If prisoners are recruited into gangs and develop gang mentality it will increase their chances of reoffending once they get back into society. It is therefore critical that the prison environment does not aid in creation of gangs and learning of criminal activities.
In order to reduce the impact of heavy penalties against crime, the new reforms could be used to sentence afresh prisoners who committed crimes under the influence of drugs. The move would reduce prisoners and leave more funds for those left behind to engage in programs aimed at rehabilitation. Consequently those who go through the programs and leave prison will have a better chance of avoiding recidivism.
Additionally there could be changes to way parole violations are addressed. In instances when no crime is committed, those paroled could be spared prison term. In this way only real crimes will be used to send offenders to prison. It will avoid paroled individuals from giving up and getting more into crime when they feel that they will always be in the system.
Factors affecting recidivism
According to Delbert, the factors that contribute the most to crime especially for juvenile are lack of education and poverty (83). Lack of education has been associated with bad decisions and especially for those who start crime at a young age.
Most of juvenile offenders lack in good education, as a result they may engage in crime without an appreciation of the impact that criminal record will have on their future. As a result, when they get a criminal record they find it harder to get jobs. Having no steady means of income often leads to more crime as they try to maintain themselves.
Failure to get education also affects the rates of recidivism in that juvenile do not understand the criminal system and may not facilitate at their own defense. Many of the juvenile do not appreciate the system and therefore do not know how to defend themselves if they are accused of crime. This leads to high levels of juvenile who are caught and brought to justice.
Delbert also cites that most of the juvenile offenders are part of sub culture that supports crime and which allures to them (85). As a consequence they find it hard to give up crime. The power of pee pressure and the dictates of gangs can undermine the efforts of juvenile who are trying to leave a life of crime. Additionally as the juvenile gets involved in crime they keep progressing from petty to serious crimes which lead to longer prison terms.
With longer prison terms and few opportunities to reform the juvenile soon become adult offenders who are caught up in recidivism (84). The juvenile stage is there seen as very important in that if the offenders are reformed at this time period they will be assisted to avoid a life of crime later on in their lives as adults.
One of the contributing factors to recidivism according to Delbert is the lack of social support for juvenile. This coupled with other factors make it hard for the juvenile to reform. Lack of support especially becomes an issue when the juvenile comes from an uneducated family that is poor. The family members and especially the parents may already be involved in crime or provide little economic support for the children leaving them to fend for themselves.
In this manner poverty becomes a cause of increased cases of recidivism. Poorer families involved in crime in one way or another are also less likely to provide juvenile with the motivation to change life. The defeatist attitude of the parents and sense of hopelessness which permeates make the juvenile settle for a life of crime without feeling that they have other choices. Parental influence is an important factor in crime and it is this factor that perhaps best illustrates the discrepancies between numbers of white and black juveniles in prison.
Children coming from white families get more education and as a result do not find their way into prisons the way children from African American and Hispanic do. One way to give juvenile a chance at a better life and to get them to avoid recidivism is to get them better education, means of social control and social support so that they can give up a life of crime which will greatly enhance their opportunity for a good future (86). Uneducated adults also reveal higher chances of recidivism than their educated counterparts.
Prisons can not fully deal with the issue of crime unless drug abuse and addiction are resolved. In a study of 105 drug addicts conducted by Johnson, et al., addicts often get involved in crime to make money for their drug cravings (186).
Johnson, et al. also found that because the addicts had other needs as well they spent some of the money on food and buying items that they desired (190). Addiction was therefore taken as one of the reasons why people engage in crime and especially to explain cases of recidivism. If drug addicts do not receive treatment, despite their best efforts they will still resort to crimes in order to maintain their drug addiction.
Drugs have also been attributed to broken families which can lead to juvenile crime. Addicted parent s do not attend to their children in a manner sufficient to give social controls, support so that it becomes easier for the youth in families with addiction to join crime. Drug addiction present cases of absent parents which encourages juvenile to join groups which could be gang related or antisocial.
Drug addiction is therefore a legitimate force in causing crime and in encouraging recidivism. Until drug addiction is treated, many addicts will keep finding their way to prisons time and again. In the long run the treatment has more positive results as it doe not only reduce crime but helps criminals to turn their lives around and become productive members of society.
While prisons are necessary in every society there is need to assess their roles and how well they are living up to what they are intended to. In America today thee is general consensus that prisons are not producing one of their roles which is reformation. This is in turn causing other problems including recidivism. It is important to find out ways in which the prison department of corrections can effectively help those who are sent to prison to leave a life of crime.
In addition there is reason to find out why there are so many crimes in society today. With that understanding crime can be deal with in a preventative way. Attention to drug addiction, poverty and lack of education can yield new ways of attacking crime while redeeming the offenders and criminals.
Delbert, Eliot. Environmental Factors Contribute to Juvenile Crime and Violence. In Juvenile crime: Opposing Views by A. E Sadler and Scott Barbour. Eds. San Diego: Green Haven Press, 1997. Print.
Gottschalk, Marie. Dollars Sense and Penal Reforms: Social Movements and the Future of the Carceral State. Social Research. 74. 2 (2004): 669-694. Print.
Johnson, B., Anderson, K. and Wish, E. Day in the Life of 105 Drug Addicts and Abusers: Crimes Committed and How the Money Was Spent. Sociology and Social Research. 72.3 (1988): 185-191.
King, Ryan. Changing direction? State Sentencing Reforms 2004-2006. Federal Sentencing Reporter. 19. 4 (2007): 253-260.
Phillips, Jenny. Letters from the Dhamma Brothers: Meditations Behind Bars. Onalaska, WA: Parayatti Publishing, 2008. Print.
The Pew. One in 100: Behind Bars in America. 2008. Web. 7th December, 2010.
Wilson, Michael. Oregon Calculates the Cost of Incarceration. 2010. Web. 7th December, 2010.