Overhaul of Our Prison System Term Paper

Pages: 9 (2453 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice


We might assume that at least juveniles would far better, but Louisiana prison officials had to be ordered to report abuse, to install video cameras and to investigate allegations of violence (Staff writers, PAGE). In the California juvenile system, more than ten assaults of one kind or another occur every day (Broder & Almelda, PAGE). We can incarcerate children and youth, but we apparently cannot protect them afterwards.

Some of California's youth facilities are particularly counter-productive to allowing a young person to reform into a productive and contributing young adult. At the facility in Whittier, CA, those who cause trouble can leave their cells only for education or counseling, and these services are provided in steel cages (Broder & Almelda, PAGE). According to Broder and Almelda (2004), currently those with psychological problems receive no counseling. They suggest that overmedication may be relied on to control the youth. Gang violence is so severe that the facility may be locked down for days or even weeks, and educational classes are often cancelled (Broder & Almelda, PAGE). Not surprisingly, the rate of attempted suicides is high, and in one month two were successful (Groom, PAGE).

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Some of the tactics seem brutal and designed to demean the youth. Those in solitary confinement may be served their meal "blender" style -- that is, a bologna sandwich, an apple, and some milk are put in a blender, with the resulting mess served to the offender with a straw (Marciniak, 2002). For this level of care and systematic abuse the state spends about $80,000 per year on each youth in juvenile facilities, and recidivism is close to 90%, making California's juvenile system a dismal failure (Broder & Almelda, PAGE).

Effect on Society

TOPIC: Term Paper on Overhaul of Our Prison System Assignment

We do have one measure of whether our policy to increase the number who go to jail has had any positive effect on our society. There has been a clear trend toward less violent crime in the United States, including in its large cities (Marciniak, 2002). Interestingly, Canada has seen the same decline. However, in Canada, they have not changed either arrest practices by their police or in sentencing. This strongly suggests that while crime clearly has diminished, our changed policies toward incarceration are not the cause (Ouimet, PAGE). That may fly in the face of common sense to some, but that is the value of looking at research as well as reasoning things through. In fact the United States has had the most significant decline in crime since World War II (Ouimet, PAGE), but by looking at Canada's statistics, we can't use increased incarceration as the explanation, because there is no rational explanation for why it occurred in Canada as well.


The research shows that our prison population has skyrocketed, that many of today's prisoners have serious psychiatric problems that are not being met, that the cost of running prisons is high, that even with a ratio of one employee to every two inmates we cannot keep prisoners safe from one another, and that for all this expense and increased prison time, it has not reduced the crime rate. The conclusion has to be that our current approach to incarceration doesn't work well.

Given the startling statistic that 80-90% of inmates have some significant mental illness, and that 60-70% of them have a serious problem with substance abuse, therapy for those problems could be an important modification for today's prisons. Some prisons have found that done right, they have been able to provide therapy groups that allowed the prisoners to learn to function better (Groom, PAGE). However, most prisons either do not have therapy groups available, do not address the particular needs of inmates, or randomly choose inmates who are required to attend (Sigurdson, PAGE). All three factors will diminish their effectiveness (Groom, PAGE).

In spite of all the additional punitive measures applied, particularly longer sentences and less chance for parole, the rate of recidivism has increased, not decreased (Marciniak, 2002). What we're doing now isn't working. Several states, including California, New York and Illinois, have explored alternatives to sending non-violent offenders to prison and attempt to send those who need it to treatment centers. However, due to diminished residential mental health centers and the limited number of substance abuse centers, they find this is not always possible. (Marciniak, 2002) However, it does seem reasonable that looking at the factors of mental illness and substance abuse, along with controlling inmate violence and ending hostile treatment of juvenile offenders might result in better outcomes than the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach implied by the increased incarceration rates. We must protect society not only while convicted felons are locked up but also after they return to society, by giving them a chance to learn to function better than they did before.


Broder, John M. And Monica Almelda. 2004. "Dismal California Prisons Hold Juvenile Offenders." New York Times, Feb. 15. Accessed via the Internet 4/8/04.

Groom, Bill. 1999. "Handling the triple whammy: serious mental illness, substance abuse, and criminal behavior. Corrections Today, July.

Kay, Amanda. 2002. "The Agony of Ecstasy: Reconsidering the Punitive Approach to United States Drug Policy." Fordham Urban Law Journal, 29:5, pp. 2133+.

Lewin, Tamar. 2001. "Little Sympathy or Remedy for Inmates Who Are Raped." New York Times, April 15. Accessed via the Internet 4/8/04. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/15/national/15RAPE.html?ei=5070&en=0f17dbe7046c71c3&ex=1083124800&pagewanted=print

Marciniak, Ed. 2002. "Standing Room Only: What to Do About Prison Overcrowding." Commonweal, Jan. 25.

Ouimet, Mark. 2002. "Explaining the American and Canadian Crime 'Drop' in the 1990's." Canadian Journal of Criminology, 44:1, pp. 33+.

Sigurdson, Chris. 2000.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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