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US Prisons Review and Recidivism Prevention

There will always be offenders in any given society however organized the said society could be. This necessitates the establishment of places where such individuals can be isolated from other people and helped to reform their characters and show what is wrong and what is right. This is what has come to be known as a prison. Prison is many a time viewed as a place where persons experience the dullest moments of their lives behind bars. However, their sole purpose is supposed to help such people drop their bad habits and live normal lives like other people when the time comes for them to mix freely with other people. This research paper will focus on prison life in American prisons and the strategies to decrease recidivism once the inmates are released from prison.

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The United States of America has the highest population of prisoners in the whole world. About half of all the prisoners on the surface of the earth are found in the United States of America (Allen & Simonsen, 1998). This also implies that this country has the highest number of lawbreakers. It is however debatable whether the imprisonments contribute towards their rehabilitation because there are still high rates of recidivism among the former inmates. These high rates have in most cases led to suspicion of ex-inmates in the event of a crime. The result is that the ex-inmates are ever afraid of experiencing hostility from policemen. According to Glaser (1964, pp. 206), many prisoners have misgivings of suffering harassment from the police in their life after prison.

There are many tangible reasons for the existence of prisons in the US justice system. The major reason is to take care of the welfare of the society especially their security and freedom of movement. It is unlikely that any single soul will dare to walk down the streets if it is packed with all kinds of criminals from thieves to murderers. The criminal activities of criminals affect the lives of other people either directly or indirectly and this is why they have to be put away if they people are to lead a normal life without any interference. A criminal on the loose is a social threat and for that case, needs to be segregated for the sake of the upright citizens who have nothing to do with crime (Clemmer, 1940).

The second reason that prompts the need for establishment is the need for the personal correction of the criminals. As much as the criminals offend society in one way or another, they still must be part of it. This makes it a wise step to help the criminals to rehabilitate their manners before they are allowed to be part of society again. Rehabilitating their ways will also assist the reformed criminal in perceiving life as a normal person and enjoying it in a manner that he would not have done so in his or her previous state. Prison is therefore not a place for subjecting punishment to the wrongdoers as many would think but a place to get meaningful transformation and positive change of character (Clear, 1994).

The current situation in American prisons is much better than the prisons that existed a few years back. History has it that earlier American prisons were in a pathetic state. Not only were the prison premises located in remote premises but prison attendants were in most cases illiterate and unaware of the wider goals of criminal penology. Prisons were understaffed to the extent that hostile inmates were chosen to look after the others. On the contrary, modern prison management has been professionalized. Prison management in America is currently not seen as a light job as was the case in the past, but as an official profession like any other. The leaders in the present American prison system are literate individuals who freely mix with the public and political leaders. Among some of the major changes in the prison system include reviews that are sponsored departmentally, investigative services including internal affairs, and open communication lines between staff, management, and the inmates. All these achievements could not be deemed as achieved during the last century when people shuddered at the mere mentioning of the term ‘prison.’ A major improvement has been that public criticism against faults in the current prison system is welcome and acted upon with immediate effect. Prison leaders in the current prison system are highly educated, trained, and accountable unlike in the past when these positions were occupied by political supporters of big people and were awarded as gifts (Amtmann, Berryman, & Fisher, 2003).

Recidivism among former inmates has been on the rise over the past few years. This shows that prisons do little to extricate the prisoners from their conditions. A repeat of the same mistake is direct evidence that the inmates merely while away time in these prisons but learn nothing that could help them cope up with life in the outside world without having to indulge in criminal activities. A question arises on how effective the corrective mechanisms of the American Prison system are. It is estimated that after only three years after their release, 67% of former inmates are re-arrested and another 52% are re-incarcerated. Ironically, the very correction strategies cost Americans about $60 billion each year. The inmates are released while they are ill-equipped to live productive lives. We are forced to conclude that these systems simply “punish’ instead of ‘correcting’ the inmates. These are two different things because while the former does nothing to change the situation of the inmate, the latter molds the fellow into a productive member of the society (Cressey, & Irwin,1962).

Various programs have been put forward to help in combating recidivism. However, the most effective one so far has been education. Many scholars have conducted studies and come up with a conclusion that prison-based education could be the only possible solution for the high rates of recidivism in the United States of America. Compared to the other methods of combating recidivism such as shock incarceration, boot camps, and vocational training, prison education is far more effective in reforming the inmates’ character. The method is not only the most successful but also the most cost-effective. The Federal Bureau of Prisons sponsored research where it was established the overall rates of recidivism generally reduced with an increase in the participation in the educational program by inmat6es while in prison. It was found that with the increase in the number of completed prison education programs, the recidivism rates considerably went down. This points to the fact that prison education should be given much attention as the only way of fighting the extremely high recidivism rates (Clear, 1994)

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Another method of dealing with recidivism is vocational training. This method is however less effective as approximately 25% of prisoners are enrolled in vocational training while in prison (Seiter, 2008). This is because the prisoners are only taught important skills during a part of their period in prison. Education therefore only takes a section of their time. Consequently, they learn so little that cannot be of much use to them in the outside competitive world. There are however cases of a drop in the recidivism rates after the inmates have undergone vocational training while in the prisons.

In a bid to bring meaningful change unto a prisoner’s life, various prison rehabilitation programs have been established. However, it is of importance to note that the effectiveness of these rehabilitation programs relies heavily on the commitment and efforts of the prison administrators. For instance, it will be a wastage of precious time and the country’s valuable resources if the administrators turn these programs into projects of their advantage. Vague rehabilitation programs will merely strain the country’s economy at the expense of the taxpayer as was the case with the United States of America during the 1970s. The first example that I will give is Religious prison rehabilitation programs. In this program, the inmates are taught different religious beliefs. It is hoped that the recognition of the existence of a sovereign being by the inmates will help in their self-discovery and gradual rehabilitation of behavior. The beliefs are also meant to give the prisoners a positive perspective towards life and raise their hopes of living a better life when they get out of their prison. These religious prison rehabilitation systems have been so successful that some of the prison inmates end up becoming religious leaders (Seiter, 2008).

Other prison rehabilitation programs are the Education prison rehabilitation programs. These programs avail the courses found in universities and colleges to prisoners. They equip the prisoners with the necessary knowledge for a better chance to lead productive lives in the outside world. Simpler training courses are also availed for prisoners who are not capable of earning degrees. The most important benefit is that once outside the prison, the inmates are presented with recommendation letters to help them easily find jobs (Struckman-Johnson, C. & Struckman-Johnson, 2004).

A major problem arises with the re-introduction of the prisoners into society. Some prisoners are unlucky enough to miss out on a suitable re-introduction program and instead jump from the prison onto the streets. Those who undergo re-introduction into society programs go through three steps. In the first step, they are visited while still in their respective prisons and given spiritual and moral guidance. The second step involves their control and restoration once they are released from the prisons. Their needs are identified and availed to them to avoid a repeat of their past mistakes. The last step involves the sustenance and the support of the ex-inmates to help them cope up with the highly competitive world. Re-introduction programs have played a major role in the reduction of recidivism rates (Hassine, 1999).

The public needs to be protected upon a prisoner’s release. This is why measures have been taken to ensure public safety should the released prisoners decide to go back to their former criminal activities. The most appropriate technique is by availing enough employment opportunities to them. A daily job will keep a former prisoner ever busy and the outcome will be minimal or no cases of recidivism (Abbott, 1982).

In this part of this article, I will give my views on what should be done to protect the public and ensure that prisoners do not re-offend. The most effective way would be to set up separate industries for the employment of ex-inmates after they are released from prison. Working together as a common group will motivate them and make them want to beat other industries that are run by people with clean records (Hassine, 1999).

In conclusion, the U.S prison system has played a major role in the reformation of the characters of former inmates. The prison system has been coming up with new methods to fit into the evolving world and has thus been effective in carrying out its duties. The high number of prisoners in American cells points to the fact that this country has strict laws and regulations. There is however a call to the prison system and the government to discard ineffective rehabilitation systems and concentrate on the one that is likely to bring forth the desirable results (Struckman-Johnson, & Struckman-Johnson, 2004).

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Reference List

Abbott, J. H. (1982). In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison. New York: Vintage Books.

Allen, H. E., and Simonsen, C. E. (1998). Corrections in America: An Introduction, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Amtmann, J. Berryman, D. and Fisher, R. (2003). Weightlifting in prisons: A survey and recommendations. Journal of Correctional Health Care. 10 (1): 109 – 118.

Clear, T. R. (1994). Harm in American Penology: Offenders, Victims, and Their Communities. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.

Clemmer, D. (1940). The Prison Community. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Cressey, D. R., and Irwin, J. (1962). Thieves, Convicts, and the Inmate Culture. Social Problems. 10(3): 142–155.

Glaser, D. (1964). The effectiveness of a prison and the Parole system. Indianapolis: Bobbs-merril.

Hassine, V. (1999). Life without Parole: Living in Prison Today, 2d ed. Edited by Thomas J. Bernard, Richard McCleary, and Richard A. Wright. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

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Seiter, R.P. (2008). Corrections: An Introduction (2nd Ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Struckman-Johnson, C. and Struckman-Johnson, D. (2004). A comparison of sexual coercion experiences reported by men and women in prison. Journal of International Violence. 21(12): 1591 – 1615.

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