Why Jails and Prisons Are Not Deterrents to Criminals

This was my second thesis. The teacher chose the topic and it is a great one. I had to shorten it to try and keep it within the page number guidelines, however, I still went over the limit. This is why restorative, rehabilitative, and transformative justice needs to be explored and implemented.

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Reducing Recidivism in Stalkers Diagnosed with Class “B” Personality Disorders by Reagen Dandridge Desilets is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://explorejustice.wordpress.com.

 

Why Jails and Prisons Are Not Deterrents to Criminals

 

Reagen Dandridge Desilets

 

Trident Technical College

13UR CRJ242 Correctional Systems (W02)

July 7, 2013

Abstract

Jails and prisons, while having long been a fixture in criminal justice system, have not been a significant factor in the deterrence of crime and recidivism.  From its earliest existence as a form of detainment until punishment was doled out to its current mission as being part of the criminal justice and corrections function, they continue to be used despite their ineffectiveness. Other interventions, such as therapies, reintegration methods, restitution, rehabilitation and more, may have a greater effect at helping individuals convicted of crimes more than just putting them in a jail or prison.

Keywords:  prison, jail, deterrent, sanctions, interventions, rehabilitation, therapy

In the United States of America, we see incarceration rates that are anywhere from 4 to 32 percent higher than any other nation on the planet, with738 per 100,000 residents (Hartney, 2006). This is despite the criminal conviction rate being only about 332 per 100,000 residents, which is #31 on the list, not #1 (United Nations, 2001). This is an astonishing statistic for a country that claims to protect liberty and freedom of individuals and people are taking notice.  The reasons for this large rate of incarceration vary, from changing politics, media coverage of crime (fair or otherwise), increasing laws (such as concerned with the War on Drugs and “tough on crime” sentencing laws), and more.  The question is does this large rate of imprisonment really stop crime? It would seem the answer is no.

One notable reason why imprisonment fails as a significant deterrent could be that at least a portion of those committing crimes have issues with self-control and seek out instant gratification (Lee & McCrary, 2005). Evidence in studies suggest that the brain activity surrounding instant gratification increases with emotional responses (i.e. dopamine releases); whereas, future planning will stimulate the more rational processes (McClure, Laibson, Loewenstein, & Cohen, Oct. 2004).  The emotional response, if given into, can be the cause of problems ranging from taking on a loan you cannot afford to committing a crime despite knowing the potential consequences. Also, it has been shown that those with self-control problems tend to have overconsumption issues that lead to lower wealth over the long term (Ameriks, Caplin, Leahy, & Tyler, Jun., 2007). This overconsumption and lack of wealth can lead to a cycle that can repeat itself unless more self-control can be learned and exhibited.

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a report that showed a recidivism rate within three years of prison release of 67.5% for felony offenses (Langan & Levin, 2002).  With nothing to help inmates learn self-control, future planning, life and career skills they are released back into a world they cannot cope with in order to stay within the letters of the law and succeed.  These are the areas where corrections policy needs to focus on. News headlines are rife with how corrections agency across the  nation are facing budget cuts, so these much needed services are virtually nonexistent in some places and woefully underfunded in others.  And since American corrections have included attempts at rehabilitation, why risk doing it again when it didn’t seem to work in the past? Perhaps it wasn’t done with the right mind set and in the right areas.

Some ideas that come from across the globe include a prison in Norway. Halden prison treats prisoners the most humane of any prison on the planet (Adams, 2010). Families can stay on site, maintaining the familial bonds that are so necessary for success after release. Are Hoidal, the prison’s governor, said, “We want to build them up, give them confidence through education and work and have them leave as better people.” The Norwegian system would seem to have a very positive effect as their recidivism rates are only about 20%.

In New Zealand, there is a huge focus on the victim and the inmate working together to come to terms with the crime and punishment (Schmid, 2001). With this program, less than 10% have to return to court for not fulfilling their end of the agreement. Perhaps this helps convicts learn empathy for their victims and helps to build more community ties.

Cuba has an extensive focus on rehabilitation and reentry that is greatly assisted with a conditional release program that inmates can become eligible for after serving half their sentence (Political Research Associates, 2005). Under this conditional release, they work off site at jobs out in the community, building skills and contacts, as well as being able to have unsupervised visits with family twice a month. This program’s recidivism rate is about 15%.

Laws are another area that can greatly reduce jail and prison populations. There are many countries that do not criminalize vices (drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc.). Aside from the percentage of the prison population that is there just for nonviolent vice crimes, there is sure to be a number of violent offenders there because of the nature of the black market of vices (gangs, abusive pimps, organized crime, etc.). Perhaps a change in laws decriminalizing vices will help reduce the prison population and help make available budgetary resources to help with things like addiction in a non-prison setting.

It seems there are many things to be considered and tried; however, so long as the focus on retribution in the criminal justice and corrections systems remains priority, this may not be easily attainable. Revenge hardly serves justice but when the majority of a nation’s people demand it, there is little that can be done successfully until something dramatic happens to begin to open hearts and eyes to the problems facing us.

References

Adams, W. L. (2010, May 10). Norway Builds the World’s Most Humane Prison. Retrieved from Time Magazine: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1986002,00.html

Ameriks, J., Caplin, A., Leahy, J., & Tyler, T. (Jun., 2007). Measuring Self-Control Problems. The American Economic Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, 966-972.

Hartney, C. (2006, Nov.). US Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective. Retrieved from National Council on Crime & Delinquency: http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/factsheet-us-incarceration.pdf

Langan, P. A., & Levin, D. J. (2002, June). Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994. Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rpr94.pdf

Lee, D. S., & McCrary, J. (2005, June). Crime, Punishment, and Myopia. Retrieved from National Bureau of Economic Research: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11491

McClure, S. M., Laibson, D. I., Loewenstein, G., & Cohen, J. D. (Oct. 2004). Separate Neural Systems Value Immediate and Delayed Monetary Rewards. Science Vol. 306 no. 5695, 503-507.

Political Research Associates. (2005, May). The United States versus the World. Retrieved from PublicEye.org: http://www.publiceye.org/defendingjustice/pdfs/factsheets/9-Fact%20Sheet%20-%20US%20vs%20World.pdf

Schmid, D. J. (2001, August). Restorative Justice in New Zealand: A Model For U.S. Criminal Justice. Retrieved from Fulbright New Zealand: http://www.fulbright.org.nz/publications/2001-schmid/

United Nations. (2001, June). Sixth United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1995 – 1997. Retrieved from United Nations: http://www.unodc.org/pdf/crime/sixthsurvey/publication_by_variable_screen.pdf

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