There are a number of different facets of the criminal justice system to take into account when attempting to effectively reduce the rate of offender recidivism. Several different methodologies have been enacted by various correctional facilities during different time periods to address this pertinent issue. An examination of the research of George Bridges and Sarah Steen, Daniel Mears et al., Cassia Spohn and David Holleran, and Joan Petersilia indicate that some of the most critical determinants in regards to these methodologies include differences in rates of recidivism for those incarcerated vs. paroled, difficulties incurred by correctional officers due to inmates struggling with aspects of mature coping, and attributions that relate to whom a parole board chooses to issue parole to. A synthesis of the findings of these authors demonstrates that the most effective way to prevent offender recidivism is to present inmates with the crucial skills and resources that they will need to cope with life both inside and outside of correctional facilities. Doing so will allow them to build a proper foundation so that they will not need to commit more crimes.
Parole boards consider a number of different factors when determining whether or not a particular individual should be given parole. Their primary concern, of course, is to protect the surrounding community that such an individual would live in, which explains board members' preoccupation with recidivism and any harm that may occur due to it. When determining whether or not to parole someone, parole boards principally utilize various elements of an individual's past behavior in attempts to try to predict future ones. Chief among these considerations is an individual's track record while in prison, as well as the initial charge that incarcerated him or her. These factors help parole boards to calculate culpability, the likelihood of recidivism, as well as constraints that may affect the overall prison organization that such an individual is held in (Huebner & Bynum, 2008, p. 909). Organizational factors include "criminal history, institutional risk scores, and institutional behavior" (Huebner & Bynum, 2008, p. 910). By providing corrective measures and to help individuals deal with potential problems related to these issues, inmates can gain the skills necessary to avoid recidivism by constructing a positive life for themselves once released.
The specific rehabilitative forms of imprisonment should relate to the pair of factors the criminal justice system analyzes when determining the risk of recidivism: those that are internal and those that are external attributions. Internal attributions are ones that pertain specifically to an individual and are reflected in his or her personality, temperament, and past behavior. Examples of internal attributions include propensities (such as towards violence) and other aspects of a person's nature that a review of his or her past record can elucidate. External attributions are generally deemed as more mutable than internal ones, and include factors such as surrounding environment, people one is around, as well as employment and other factors that can potentially change at any given time. Ideally, rehabilitative programs in prisons should be targeted towards these external attributions, since they are the most amenable. Rehabilitative measures such as the provision of vocational training can provide a positive effect for these attributions.
There has been a substantial amount of research linking race to the criminal justice system, as well as race as a factor in both sentencing and probation and parole offered to criminal offenders (Huebner & Bynum, 2008, p. 910). These members of the prison population would therefore benefit the most from programs specifically tailored to address the social deficiencies (such as poverty, low job rates, and broken homes) that can result in their anti-social, deviant behavior. When regarding both external and internal factors for African-Americans and white offenders, most criminal justice personnel (including probation officers) are more likely to believe that internal attributions that typify African-American offenders render them more of a threat than those for white offenders. Similarly, these personnel seem to regard that white offenders have a greater propensity for changing their external attributions. Therefore, African-American juveniles tend to receive harsher punishments than their white contemporaries, which inherently exacerbate the high recidivism rate for this group (Huebner & Bynum, 2008, p. 908). This information is useful in providing a target group with which to aim rehabilitative programs in prison towards.
It is also interesting to note the role that resource deprivation and racial segregation play in influencing rates of recidivism for recently released prisoners. This fact is largely attributed to the conception that oftentimes, these two aspects of social ecology are intrinsically related since "racially segregated areas are often marked by high levels of joblessness, mortality, and marital disruption, as well as by the presence of dilapidated housing and poorer schools" (Mears et al., 2008, p. 307). In many ways, joblessness, high incidences of mortality, poor schools and poor housing are the very definition of resource deprivation, which is why to truly reduce the rate of recidivism among this population subset that incurs the greatest risk, one would need to provide rehabilitative programs to address these specific issues. Providing these inmates with vocational training and proper equipment to prepare them for the job market would significantly lower their recidivism rate.
This fact is corroborated by a study conducted by Mears et al. which found that recently released prisoners within a sample population in Florida demonstrated high rates of recidivism when they were released to racially segregated communities with a dearth of resources (p. 322). This information proves that resource deprivation accompanies racially and socially isolated areas of the population, and that these two social ecological factors influence the rate of crime and recidivism for people living in these areas. This study is demonstrative of the fact that if people in these type of communities perhaps had access to greater resources, that they would not be overly represented in the criminal justice system. But since they do not have these resources at home, it would significantly influence their rate of recidivism if they could gain these resources in the prison system and have something to utilize positively when they were released.
An examination of recidivism rates for criminal activity related to narcotics, including both substance abuse as well as the illegal trafficking of illicit street drugs, shows that those who receive probation for such offenses have a drastically lower recidivism rate than those who are incarcerated for similar offenses. "The Effect of Imprisonment on Recidivism Rates of Felony Offenders: A Focus on Drug Offenders," which was prepared by Cassia Spohn and David Halleran, unequivocally states these findings after conducting scholarly research into this area of study (p. 329). This study's findings have a host of implications about the very nature of the criminal justice system and its heavy reliance on incarceration as a corrective measure. This study implies that present methods of incarceration actually do not rehabilitate individuals, but merely renders them in a social, psychological, and economic state to commit further crimes and to become more of a noxious influence on society as a whole. Consequently, the efficaciousness of current crime control policies, which frequently look to incarcerate individuals, is not very effective at all and should be abandoned for more rehabilitative measures that train individuals to successfully cope with life without committing crimes.
Other researchers have noted the relationship between the rates of recidivism and a lack of effective rehabilitative programming within the criminal justice system (Petersilia, 2004, p. 8). What is interesting about the transition from the penal system as being one of corrections to one based on punishment as a deterrent for crime is the lack of efficacy that correctional officers encounter when attempting to effect "total power." It would appear as though correctional officers should have no problems achieving total power in a prison setting, since they are the only ones armed and have myriad technological advantages at their disposal. However a more prolonged look at the nature of power actually suggests otherwise, and offers reasons for a number of limitations on the authority of correctional officers. Essentially, correctional guards can merely suggest to inmates that they follow a directive -- the inmates have the decision as to whether or not they will do so. Although correctional officers can physically make an inmate do something, the system of rewards and punishments in the penal system has been undermined by a lack of rewards. All too often, there is not a significant enough difference in the punishment afforded a prisoner vs. The reward of adhering to a correctional officer's command. In addition to rewards and punishment, there is a general dearth of the usual compulsion to follow a command on the part of inmates, who simply do not have that sense of obligation to a corrections officer that usually follows adherence to a command. All of these factors represent limitations to corrections officers' attempts at total power, which merely underscores the fact that the current punitive ideology of the prison system…