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The Proper Place of Prisons in the Modern U S Criminal Justice SystemResearch Paper

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Criminal Justice -- Prisons -- Discontinuing Prisons

In its simplest sense, a prison is merely a building where people are kept as punishment for a crime. However, in American jurisprudence, a prison is the primary form of punishment with the purpose of deterring criminals from committing future crimes. Experience and studies have shown that the use of prisons as a deterrent is a failure. In fact, prisons are plagued with a host of negative effects, including but not limited to overpopulation and high recidivism rates. Following the hard-earned belief that "In order for the United States to significantly reduce its reliance on incarceration we will need to rethink our approach to crime and punishment" (Byrne, Pattavina, & Taxman, 2015), many experts believe that individual and community rehabilitation should be the new goal and aim of corrections. Though prisons should not be completely discontinued, they should be relegated to a far less important place in corrections. Rather than stubbornly relying on a system that is a known failure, prisons should be discontinued as the primary source of punishment and individual convicted offenders should be punished and treated more suitably in the community through alternative sentencing structures.

B. Body

1. Background

As early as 1932, criminal justice experts were decrying the failures of the prison system. Sanford Bates, the first director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, reviewed and followed the findings of the Wickersham Commission. The Wickersham Commission was the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, appointed by President Herbert Hoover in 1929 to determine the causes of crime and recommend public policy for dealing with crime in America. Noting that criminal penalties are ideally focused on reforming and humanizing criminals, Bates asserted the Wickersham Commission's conclusions that the U.S. prison system was outdated, inefficient and an abject failure at protecting American society (Bates, 1932). Bates also examined the research of Dr. and Mrs. Sheldon Glueck, famous criminologists who focused on juveniles and found that 60% of an eastern state reformatory's graduates relapsed into crime (Bates, 1932). The Gluecks' research and conclusions were praised as convincing evidence of the reformatory system's failure.

Commencing in the 1970s the United States' criminal justice system was fueled by a punitive war on drugs and war on crime, shifting toward the ideas of custody and control, and resulting in an enormous number of incarcerations in the United States. Though the United States has less than 5% of the world's population, it imprisons almost 25% of the world's incarcerated population (Kubrin & Seron, 2016). Kubrin and Seron also noted that legal scholars depict the history of U.S. criminal justice policy as the decline of rehabilitative ideals and the shift toward the extraordinary growth in incarceration (Kubrin & Seron, 2016). Fortunately, the American public's very punitive beliefs about drug offenders softened in 40 years (Klingele, 2015), particularly as America increasingly realized that our severe policies were ineffective and even counterproductive. Consequently, there was a movement toward "evidence-based practices" by using "what works": focusing on lowering prison populations and their related financial and human costs by using deterrence-based programs and new methods of supervision (Klingele, 2015). Commencing in 2009, there was a noticeable downward shift of U.S. imprisonment patterns. Furthermore, in the 2011 case of Brown v. Plata, the U.S. Supreme Court held that prison overcrowding qualified as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Following the Supreme Court's lead, California has made a concerted effort to significantly reduce the number of incarcerated criminals. This prison downsizing effort is regarded as one step toward lessening the role of prisons in the U.S. criminal justice system.

2. Analysis

a. Recidivism

One of the key concepts of criminal justice is recidivism, which helps the system assess its success/failure. Recidivism is a punished/rehabilitated criminal's relapse into criminal behavior, usually gauged by the individual's re-arrest during a fixed period of time (Byrne, Pattavina, & Taxman, 2015). Chronically high recidivism rates are the bane of the criminal justice system and experts have struggled to understand the underlying causes in order to effectively address the recidivism problem Researchers have developed at least two hypotheses about high recidivism rates. The first notes that due to "status frustration," offenders with fewer life achievements have a higher risk of reoffending. For example, offenders without high school diplomas or their equivalents have a 0.75 higher rate of recidivism than do offenders with at least high school diplomas or their equivalents (Byrd & Grattet, 2016). Furthermore, incarceration can prevent offenders from attaining further life achievements, thereby making it likelier that they will reoffend due to status frustration.

A second hypothesis about the cause of high recidivism rates is that prison may actually encourage recidivism by creating an ironically positive relationship between imprisonment and crime. There are several theories for this phenomenon. One theory holds that prison is regarded as "crime school" in which antisocial and criminal behaviors are honed and hardened (Byrd & Grattet, 2016). A second theory holds that reoffending may be a conscious choice in which the offender determines that the pros of crime outweigh the cons of imprisonment (Byrd & Grattet, 2016). Both the lack of life achievements and the acceptance/encouragement of criminal behavior feed recognized criminogenic needs and can serve to concretize antisocial/criminal behavior in prison (Schaefer, 2016).

Whether driven by the "crime school" theory or the "criminal pros and cons" theory, the fact remains that more than 500,000 offenders are annually returned to their communities with little or no understanding of recidivism's underlying causes (Byrd & Grattet, 2016). Armed with their theories about recidivism, many criminal justice experts assert that recidivism can be lessened if/when offenders are given opportunities to accept prosocial values/behaviors and reject antisocial values/behaviors, achieving positive effects and respect aligned with prosocial identities. These opportunities are derived through strengths-based approaches designed to give prospects for offenders to cultivate pro-social self-concepts (Byrd & Grattet, 2016). Development of these positive cognitive motivations ideally empowers offenders to redefine themselves according to new prosocial lifestyles, actions and feelings rather than by old antisocial/criminal labels. This positive redefinition of the self encourages offenders to redefine their futures rather than justifying their pasts because their pasts need not dictate their futures. Several strengths-based rehabilitation programs currently attempt this pro-social relabeling; however, further study is needed to evaluate their effectiveness.

b. Realignment

Realignment, another key concept in modern criminal justice, is the shifting of punitive/rehabilitative responsibility from one criminal justice sector to another. In the case of California, significant realignment is occurring by dispersing prisoners from state prisons to county jails. This has the dual effect of reducing prison overcrowding and shifting the cost/burden of punishment/rehabilitation back to counties (Byrd & Grattet, 2016). As a result, counties that were previously eager to send felony offenders to state prison may now be hesitant to imprison because they must bear the cost/burden (Byrd & Grattet, 2016). California's Public Safety realignment, commenced in 2011, is deemed revolutionary in its substantial shift of responsibilities from the state to the counties. Here, the state transfers the burden of managing revocations and minor felony convictions to local courts, jails and probation systems. This approach does not merely negatively affect counties, however; it also empowers counties to use greater discretion in employing new practices for incarceration and post-release supervision. The shift allows local judges greater state resources for intervention programs and local population rehabilitation. To date, California's realignment system has not been sufficiently studied to determine its effectiveness because current available data derives solely from the prison- release population. It is hoped that future broader data encompassing offenders treated through California's realignment system will give a clearer picture of that program's success.

c. Global Revolution

Viewing the United States' criminal justice system in global context provides valuable information and examples of what works, what does not work and what criminal justice experts from other nations may contribute to solving other countries' crime problems. In International trends in prison upsizing and downsizing: In search of evidence of a global rehabilitation revolution (Byrne, Pattavina, & Taxman, 2015) the criminal justice systems of 20 countries are examined and compared. Though 17 of those countries persist in increasing prison populations despite decreased crime in most observed categories, 3 countries have opted for decreasing incarceration as crime decreases. The Russian Federation, South Africa and Pakistan have all reduced the number and rate of incarcerations. Meanwhile, the United States shows a relatively modest increase in prison population and incarceration rate. Examination of these 20 countries reveals that approaches to crime must be rethought because even substantial improvement in the quantity/quality of prison programming will not essentially change the lives (and therefore recidivism risks) of prisoners. Faced with this fact, there is a new global trend toward recognizing the strong links between community development and crime, as well as the need for rehabilitation of the offender in both the prison setting and in the community setting. Furthermore, examination of trends, successes and failures has led Byrne et al. to a suggested set of changes in policies, programs, and personnel, including:

i. New… [END OF PREVIEW]

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