Corrections Current Trends, Innovations and the Future Term Paper

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Current Trends, Innovations and the Future of Corrections in the United States and Abroad

One of the unfortunate ironies of living in the "Land of the Free" today is the fact that the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. This paper provides a review of the relevant literature to identify current trends, innovations and the future of corrections in the United States and in foreign countries. To this end, a personal perspective and thoughts on the future of corrections in the United States is followed by an overview of the major problems in the current system. A series of recommended specific actions to resolve these major problems is followed by an assessment of some of the future trends and innovations in privatization, parole and probation, community corrections, dealing with increasing numbers of juvenile and female offenders as well as coping with overcrowded jails and prisons. Finally, an analysis of innovations being used in foreign countries is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Personal Perspective and Thoughts on the Future of Corrections in the United States.

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On the one hand, the future of the corrections industry in the United States is very bright indeed and all signs indicate this will continue to be a growth industry well into the 21st century. On the other hand, the fact that the corrections industry is a growth industry is a very troubling sign that all is not well in America and there is no consensus on how best to reverse these ugly trends. After the prison population in the United States topped two million, Hunt (20070 observed, "Not only was this exponential increase in incarceration unusual, but research quickly revealed it to reflect the pernicious questions of race, class, and political disenfranchisement that have animated North American history" (p. 68).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Corrections Current Trends, Innovations and the Future Assignment

One obvious solution to reversing the current trend to incarceration is to simply make the criminal acts for which the majority of nonviolent offenders are being imprisoned legal. In other words, since many criminal offenders are being imprisoned for drug-related charges, it would be a straightforward matter to legalize drug use and trafficking, thereby eliminating the crime altogether together with the concomitant need for incarceration. Clearly, this is a matter of social choice and America has made its choices: "As a nation, we have chosen to frame substance use problems in terms of a criminal and medical model. We approach the problems through policies aimed primarily at drug supply reduction and, to a far lesser extent, at drug demand reduction with, perhaps, the belief that the deeper social ills will be healed if we can eliminate all nonmedical drug use" (Brocato & Wagenor, 2003).

In fact, some observers suggest that because there has never been a human society that did not use drugs, it is folly to try to criminalize this behavior and even worse to punish those who do use drugs. As Hunt emphasizes, "Less than 25% of the prison population is there for violent crime, less than one percent for homicide. More than half the population is there for drug-related crimes" (p. 69). This view can be taken to the extreme by imaging what would happen if millions of Americans suddenly became criminals subject to imprisonment because they drank coffee (which contains caffeine), smoke or chewed tobacco (which contains nicotine), or owned firearms (which can kill). Therefore, the argument goes, by making drugs legal, the United States would free up the resources being devoted to prosecuting and incarcerating millions of Americans for drug-related activities that could be better used elsewhere. This approach is commonly known as the harm reduction model. According to Macmaster (2004), "Based on a public health model of social problems, harm reduction seeks to eliminate the negative consequences of phenomena for the members of a society without necessarily eliminating the phenomena" (p. 356).

Inflexible sentencing regimens such as the "Three Strikes" also contribute to the existing prison overcrowding problem, and longer sentences mean that private prison providers can look forward to many years of continued growth in the "Land of the Free." For example, in her essay, "Sexual Abuse of Women in United States Prisons: A Modern Corollary of Slavery," Smith (2006) reports that:

Prisons have become the primary economic development project in many communities, providing economic growth and stability to economically marginal communities. Private prison concerns such as Wackenhut and Corrections Corporation of America are publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and build prisons not just in this country, but around the world. Prisoners are seen as a commodity that these corporate entities house as a service to states. In many states, the most powerful labor unions are police and correctional employee unions. (p. 571)

According to Dolovich, both CCA and Wackenhut became profitable by the late 1980s, and by the mid-1990s, these two organizations collectively controlled 75% of the American private prison market that stood in excess of 90,000. Certainly, most people would agree that it would not be reasonable to legalize many existing criminal behaviors just to avoid having to incarcerate people, but it is also reasonable to suggest that the existing inflexible sentencing approaches are causing more problems than they are solving. It is also reasonable to conclude that because the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country today, America must be doing something better in terms of identifying criminal elements in its society or other countries have adopted more progressive approaches to dealing with the same types of problems, and these issues are discussed further below.

Overview of Major Problems in the Current Correctional System.

Perhaps the most serious major problem facing the current correctional system in the United States is overcrowding. In fact, it is reasonable to assert that overcrowding is the basis for many of the other serious problems being experienced by the correctional system today. For example, Katz (2007) emphasizes, "While politicians, academics and media analysts debate the significance of that fact, there are very real signs that the burgeoning national prison population is becoming an increasing problem for federal and state detention facilities. At a time when the U.S. has the world's largest prison population, the national debate over prison overcrowding has never been more intense" (emphasis added) (Katz, p. 3). In this regard, in her recent essay, "The Disappearing/reappearing prison," Hunt (2007) reports that, "Not only does the United States have the world's largest prison system, it has the world's highest rate of incarceration, estimated to be the highest rate historically of any society except slave-holding societies. In all, while the United States has 5% of the world's population, it holds roughly 25% of the world's prison population (9.2 million)" (p. 68).

Likewise, Cochrane, Melville and Marsh (2004) note that in spite of some recent improvements in conditions in some prisons in the United States, there remains a dearth of constructive and educational activities for the majority of inmates in the facilities due in large part to the massive increase in prison population. These authors report, "Many prisoners spend longer alone in their cells and consequently less time working outside of them. Other pressures come from the longer periods served in prison and from the overcrowding consequent on rising numbers - so while many prison cells may be better equipped than in the past, this is perhaps scant consolation if prisoners spend ever-longer periods of time in them" (p. 198). Clearly, substandard conditions remain a major issue of concern and controversy for prisoners and therefore work against the smooth operation of prisons (Cochrane et al.).

At the federal level, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reports that the current inmate population in federal correctional facilities is 201,117 (Quick facts, 2008). A breakdown of this population in provided in Table 1 below.

Table 1.

Current Federal BOP Inmate Population.


No. Of Inmates

Total population:

Total sentenced population:

Inmates in BOP facilities:

Inmates in privately-managed secure facilities:

Inmates in other contract facilities:

Source: Quick facts, 2008 at p. 3.

At both the federal and state level, though, minorities continue to be disproportionately represented in the prison population (Hunt). While the incarceration rates for women remain less than for their male counterparts, this population is also growing in numbers relative to the larger American society (Dolovich).

Recommendations to Resolve Major Problems in the Current Correctional System.

Some of the tenets of the harm reduction model discussed above could be useful in addressing the alarming overcrowded conditions in the nation's jails and prisons. According to Macmaster (2004), there are five assumptions involved in this approach that must be taken into consideration in formulating new laws dealing with drug use in America to help reverse the current trends to incarceration:

Substance use has and will be part of our world; accepting this reality leads to a focus on reducing drug-related harm rather than reducing drug use;

Abstinence from substances is clearly effective at reducing substance-related harm, but it… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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