Issues Concerning Crime and the Treatment of Criminals Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1602 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Crime & the Treatment of Prisoners

Crime and the Treatment of Prisoners

For the past ten years the crime rate has steadily declined, but most Americans don't know it. According to researchers, people who watch the News on television believe there is a lot more crime than there really is. A popular myth of crime is believed and embraced by most of the public and perpetuated by crime programs, movies, and made-for-television dramas. This myth has been rhetorically constructed through discourse and has sunk deep into the collective consciousness. People talk about it until they believe it, and once embedded in consciousness, a myth is difficult to dislodge. The myth is that violent crime keeps getting worse and worse, that criminals are getting off on technicalities, and that prisoners are treated like guests at trendy hotels with TV sets, golf, and piped-in music.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Issues Concerning Crime and the Treatment of Criminals Assignment

Nothing could be further from the truth. First, violent crime is not increasing. Chavez (2000) reports that violent crime peaked in 1991, "when some 758 violent crimes and more than 5,100 serious property crimes were committed per 100,000 population" (p. 1). Politicians promised to "crack down on crime" with longer jail terms, record numbers of executions, and higher incarceration rates for violent juveniles. But while crime decreased, crime programs on television dramatically increased. Apparently, crime sells. People seem fascinated by dramatic accounts of crime and by stories that center on crime. "CSI" has been such a hit that many spin-offs are already on the air as well, and on cable TV reality shows like "Cold Case Files" and "American Justice" produce programs about true crimes and how they were solved. These so-called reality shows present a distorted picture of police work. Most police officers spend less than 10% of their time on crime solving and the rest on controlling traffic (Bohm, 1986). Many of these programs give the impression that murderers (particularly serial killers and rapists) are everywhere plotting violent deeds and prying on unsuspecting, vulnerable women. Part of the myth is that women are the main victims of crime. It isn't true, but on TV they always are. The myth includes the idea that crime in the U.S. is primarily violent. It isn't. Most people in prison are there for non-violent drug crimes with mandated long sentences. White-collar crime is also great, but under prosecuted (Bohm, 1986). In Uniform Crime Reports "only about 10% of all the crime known to the police is violent" (cited in Bohm, 1986, p. 301).

Another part of the myth centers on separating "criminals" from "law abiding citizens." The two are seen as having a great gulf between them. However, the difference between the two is not so clear cut. Studies have shown that more than 90% of "law-abiding citizens" have done something for which they could have gone to jail (Silver, 1968; Wallerstein & Wyle, 1947 cited in Bohm, 1986). There are probably a few people who have never done anything wrong, but in general, criminality is relative. It would be hard to find a single person who was either all good or all bad. It would not make sense to label a person criminal, for example, who cheats on his income tax, switches license plates from one car to another, gets into a fight, shoplifts, or exceeds the speed limit. All these are criminal acts, but most of the people who do them are not criminals. Likewise, "criminals" are not always so evil as the myth proclaims.

In a series of ethnographic interviews with women prisoners, one woman stated: "If I would've had a car I could have made two years [of community college], I know. But catching the bus, taking [my son] to the day care, catching the bus to school. From nursery to school then from school to work. Oh, my God.... That's when I started [to sell] drugs again, to get me a car so my baby don't have to ride the bus in the rain, in the cold" (Richie, 2004, p. 3). Many criminals are crime victims themselves.

Women prisoners frequently have been exposed to trauma, interpersonal violence, and childhood physical and sexual abuse. According to Green, Miranda, Daronwalla, and Siddique (2005) "a recent review suggests that exposure to traumatic events is nearly universal among incarcerated women with studies showing ranges of trauma exposure to be between 77% and 90%" (p. 134).

Believing in the myth of crime and criminals has implications on prisons and the treatment of prisoners. Prisons have proliferated and with them a "growing punishment industry in this country, suggesting that its main goal is to maintain the dominant social order by concentrating resources and privileges in some groups, thereby marginalizing and criminalizing others" (Richie, 2004, p. 2). No one even pretends anymore that prisons are meant to rehabilitate. They are run strictly to punish offenders. Consequently, the average prison is not at all a safe place to be. Drugs, violence and intimidation are a way of life. Chavez (2000) reports that at least 14% of all male prisoners have been raped during their imprisonment.

Conditions in prisons are horrific. Most prisons are out of date, overcrowded, filthy, rat infested, and poorly ventilated. They are infested with diseases such as Hepatitis C and tuberculosis. Medical care is meager and often non-existent. Since many prisons gave contracts to private companies for medical care, the standard of care has declined because less service brings a bigger profit. Human rights violations abound. Beaudoin, (2003) reports "In many of the ninety cases [of alleged brutality] examined, international standards as well as U.S. law and police guidelines prohibiting torture and cruel or inhumane treatment appear to have been violated with impunity" (p. 14). In California's state prison, for example, guards have shot fifty unarmed prisoners and killed seven of them. Prison guards routinely beat prisoners and subject them to racist taunts. Prisoners are thrown in "the box," (solitary confinement) for months and years on end. Amnesty International reports similar findings all over the country. Jeglic, Vanderhoff, and Donovick (cited in Slovenko, 2005) noted a higher incidence of suicide in prisoner populations than in the general population. Is it any wonder? Jackson (2003) states: "The conditions... are driving prisoners nuts. They're regressing into sub-human monsters without any human contact, and then we're turning them back out onto the streets." In some prisons, TV sets are allowed -- if the prisoner has a relative or friend willing to provide one. Those prisoners without TV greatly resent those who do and violent confrontations are the result.

In a study among prisoners Fernander, Wilson, Staton and Luekefeld reported that "a survey of state and federal prisoners indicates that 83% of state prisoners reported drug use..." (2004, p. 404). Although the increased prison population is mostly due to illicit drug use and mandatory sentences, drug treatment programs are typically not offered. Neither are services to help prisoners with severe mental and emotional problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and abuse-related psychopathology. Medical care for sick prisoners is woefully inadequate and sometimes seriously ill prisoners are refused treatment. In a study of women prisoners, the women expressed their need for substance abuse help, problem solving skills, stress management, and job training (Green, Miranda, Daroowalla, & Siddique, 2005) none of which was available in the prison system.

Prisons in the United States are full of people that society has deemed "throw away." By viewing criminals as "the other," that is, believing in the myth that there are two kinds of people -- criminals and law-abiding citizens -- we are able to forget about the inmates and neglect to investigate reports of abuse and inhuman treatment. Meanwhile, the U.S. is plagued by a recidivism rate of 75%. Those who get out come back again. If punishment solved the problem of crime, these people wouldn't… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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