Prepping the President: Ethical Analysis and Future Policy Initiatives
Suggesting the Use of Rehabilitation in Corrections
The President of the United States has just scheduled a town hall meeting entitled, "Criminal Justice Ethics: Today's News and Tomorrow's Solutions." Many of the country's most interested individuals in the field of criminal justice's present ethical issues are attending the meeting and expect to be informed on the status of some of the most innovative and future-leaning criminal justice policies that the country currently utilizes. In prepping the president on the topic at hand, significant attention must be paid to the use of rehabilitation in corrections, which has proven itself effective in rehabilitating criminal offenders in a way that allows them to regain a productive life for the remainder of their sentence and beyond. In viewing the status of criminal rehabilitation as well as the programs and policy considerations which are in place today, the president and the public will see the benefits of such programs and likely support the use of such programs in the future.
Factual Background and Relevant Public Policy
Prisoners make up a far greater percentage of the United States than the average individual may know. As of the start of 2012, the United States had 2.2 million behind bars, which raises the question: "What are we supposed to do with them?" Since the start of the American legal system hundreds of years ago, government and criminal justice officials have sought out ways to ensure that during a prison sentence, an inmate is reformed as much as possible in order to ensure they have seen the error in their ways and have placed an eye on the future. In attempting to ensure that those individuals who commit crimes will eventually be allowed to return to their own lives outside of a prison cell, many individuals in the field have sought to put into place rehabilitative programs in prisons in American prisons. Such rehabilitative measures have been suggested and enforced by the government for many years, since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Prisoner Rehabilitation Act of 1965, which set the ball in motion. In essence, the act worked to "facilitate the rehabilitation of persons convicted of offenses against the United States" (Long, 1965, pp.1). This act further sought to end the process of merely sending inmates from prison to prison for established periods of time, for instance allowing a prisoner to spend the first 10 years of his sentence in a maximum-security prison and then transferring him (deeming good behavior) to a lesser level prison for the last 2 years of a sentence, and instead allowing prisoners to use good work ethic and behavior as a motivation for task-based rehabilitation.
The new bill authorized the Attorney General of a state to transfer a prisoner from a prison to residential community treatment centers, to grant them brief periods of unescorted leave under emergency circumstances or for purposes related to release preparations, and to permit them to work in private employment or participate in community training programs while continuing as prisoners of the institutions to which they are committed (Long, 1965, pp.1). Generally, in the nearly 50 years since, these programs have proved beneficial to many prisoners as well as to the prisons in which they are enforced. Additionally, society has generally come to terms with these programs, understanding that a prison sentence is by no means indicative that all prisoners are essentially monsters who deserve no shot at a new life after being paroled. Many of the crimes for which true rehabilitation for rejoining the world are offered are not violent crimes and allow for paroled inmates to go into the workforce immediately upon leaving prison. The main basis for such rehabilitative programs is to ensure that these inmates can find jobs, are assisted in doing so and maintain the types of support that they will need in order not to relapse again into a life of crime.
Today, the government and federal sentencing guidelines note that a prison's purpose is to "provide retribution, to educate, to deter and to incapacitate," and in order to do so, rehabilitative programs are used for those prisoners who meets the qualifications of being placed into such a program (Grover, Lane and Santos, 2012, pp. 490). The model of rehabilitation for prisoners has changed partially from 1965 to 2012, and the Prisoner Rehabilitation Act has been lost to the Second Chance Act of 2008, under which the country still operates (it was revitalized in 2011). The Second Chance Act (which is still effective despite funding cuts) was signed into law on April 9, 2008 and is heralded as a bipartisan effort representing state and local government, law enforcement, corrections, courts, service providers and community organizers (SCA, 2008, pp. 111). Generally, the rehabilitation process for a prisoner works like this: state and federal prisons receive funding from the government in order to administer an evidence-based approach to reducing crime and improving public safety through reentry programs such as:
Employment assistance and job-skills training
Substance abuse treatment
Individual group mentoring
Victim support (SCA, 2008, pp. 112-13).
The debate has long existed as to whether such a rehabilitative agenda should be used as opposed to a punishment-based agenda, and in actuality, the success rates for rehabilitative tactics pushed by public policy initiatives have been considerably low. In fact, out of every ten parolees who leave prison, four of them are arrested and placed back in prison within a span of only three years (Latessa, et al., 2012, pp. 775). However, proponents of the Second Chance Act and all it has to offer pose the question, "What would this rate be if rehabilitation wasn't used?" Such a question proves one that is valid for any debate. Being an inmate in a prison is punishment in itself, and it can be assumed that in utilizing nothing but punishment in order to deal with the offending crime itself and then every other issue that came up within the walls of that prison, a prison following government policy only to punish will breed inmates who are far more angry and likely to reoffend upon their ultimate release. In understanding this issue from both perspectives, one can pinpoint the strongest arguments on each side. However, in further examining the utilitarian structure upon which the United States can be generally seen as relying upon, it would appear that rehabilitation practices in prisons are really the best way to attempt aiding an already-dismal circumstance.
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory stating that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes overall happiness or the utility of an individual. Generally, American society has thrived on this belief, telling its citizens to reach for the stars, work in employment that you love, appreciate and value family and friends, and always strive for excellence. As such, many of us go through our lives seeking out what makes happy and successful people within the realm of humanity. In viewing rehabilitation of prisoners as an ethical goal which involves planning and focus in order to achieve the greater good for individuals and society, a utilitarian view can be seen. As the country sets its goals for success rates in this area of public policy, it seeks to prioritize the wishes of society and the wishes of inmates beyond the realm of confinement. As such, the utilitarian approach to goal planning in this realm of policy necessitates a focus on maximizing the benefits of rehabilitation to the entire community served (Levack, 2009, pp. 347).
Such a utilitarian view has generally seen the quality of life in such a society for individuals with disabilities as generally low and less valued from a utilitarian lens, and many may argue that a status as a criminal can be construed as a disability. However, rehabilitation professionals within the realm of criminal justice have found that they need not be hesitant when considering utilitarianism as a framework for rehabilitation of any individual as this process may receive higher success rates with the acceptance of a utilitarian approach.
For years, philosophers and criminal justice experts alike have looked for ways to include utilitarian ethical standards into the prison system. Take for example noted philosopher, jurist and social reformer, Jeremy Bentham, whose models for the utilitarian prison "The Panopticon," are still noted in the criminal justice field today. Jeremy Bentham followed the belief that people's actions should be taken in the effort of resulting in the least possible human suffering for the greatest number of individuals, which led him to his design of the Panopticon. The Panopticon was a prison design that was constructed in a manner so that prison guards or watchmen could view the actions of each and every prisoner in a particular area without that prisoner being able to tell that he was being watched, allowing the prisoner to have a higher state of utility rather than one that is lowered by knowing they…