Generally, recidivism in the justice system context entails the tendency amongst former prisoners or criminals to go back to their criminal lives mainly upon release from prison. In this case, recidivism rates are measured by having a look at the number of former prisoners re-incarcerated within a given time period. It can be noted that in basic terms, high recidivism rates are in most cases associated with increased costs of re-offender arrest and prosecution. Other related costs in this case relate to public safety. In this text, I will concern myself with prison life and the approaches/strategies to bring down the rate of recidivism upon a prisoner's release from jail.
The Purpose for Prisons in the U.S. Justice System
Prisons have an existing obligation enshrined in the constitution to avail to inmates a minimal standard of care. However, it is important to note that in relation to the preparation of prisoners for release, this standard of care is more often than not poorly defined. According to Osher (2007), the correctional responsibility of prisons in most cases comes to an end upon a prisoner's release. Hence the primary purpose of prisons in the U.S. justice system tends to be limited to segregation of offenders from the society. In a broader sense though, the purpose of prisons in the U.S. justice system can be described from a number of viewpoints. In that regard, prisons in this case could be seen as having an underlying purpose of punishing offenders in a way that could be considered just and fair. Further, the U.S. justice system seeks to protect the society from offenders through incarceration. However, it is important to note that this purpose is largely enjoined with the need to ensure that criminals are rehabilitated as they do their time in jail. This assertion is founded on the fact that a vast majority of prisoners serve only brief stints in prison other than life or death sentences. It can be noted that though the protection of society as well as punishment of offenders are largely valid and necessary, the main focus of prisons should be on rehabilitation of prisoners.
Current Conditions in U.S. Prisons
According to the Human Rights Watch (2011), the detention conditions in most prison facilities including those managed by private entities as well as federal and state facilities can only be described as dangerous, degrading and abusive. According to the organization, these conditions are largely as a result of increasing prison populations brought about by sentencing laws which are seen to be relatively harsh. Further, the human rights organization goes ahead to note that deplorable conditions are also informed by resource constraints as well as policies relating to immigrant detention. However, it can be noted that in most cases, prison overcrowding is often the culprit when it comes to the failure of U.S. prisons to meet constitutional standards. According to Reid (2011), "overcrowding is a serious problem in some U.S. jails and prisons, leading to double or triple celling." The author further notes that in some cases, congregate areas are used to house prisoners hence effectively stripping the inmates of their privacy in addition to escalating the spread on both violence and diseases. In a way, this defeats the key mandate of prisons to rehabilitate offenders. It is however important to note that though the current state of U.S. jails is not as deplorable as that of other nations, more needs to be done so as to ensure that U.S. prisons meet the constitutional threshold in relation to fair and just treatment of prisoners.
Programs Seeking to Reduce Recidivism in Modern Prisons: A Review
There are quite a number of programs which have been applied variously in modern prisons in an attempt to bring down the rates of recidivism. These programs include but are not limited to education, substance abuse treatment and a wide range of health services.
When it comes to education, Reid (2011) notes that "44% of women in state prisons have neither graduated from high school nor received a GED." If this is the case, then it is clear that prisons in the U.S. have large numbers of inmates with little education. In most cases, individuals who end up in jail could have had issues which affected their educational progress. These issues include induction to drug use at a relatively young age as well as economic challenges. It is therefore important to note that when prisoners are given a chance to pursue free education, then it is highly likely that upon release such individuals could lead a more productive as well as successful life as their chances of gaining employment are enhanced in this case. Hence in a way, the relevance of prison education programs in the reduction of recidivism cannot be overstated.
Further, modern prisons also utilize drug treatment as a way of reducing recidivism. The reasoning here is that if inmates are herded away from their addiction to drugs and alcohol, then their reintegration into the society is made much easier. Indeed, according to Barkan and Bryjak (2011), drug treatment is one of the most effective approaches when it comes to the reduction of recidivism. The authors also note that in most cases, programs which seek to utilize strategies seen as punitive have no impact on recidivism reduction. Programs seen to be utilizing punitive strategies include but are not limited to boot camps and intensive or excessive supervision.
Another program which has been proven to work as far as the reduction of recidivism according to Barkan and Bryjak (2011) is the cognitive behavioral therapy. In this case, the goal is to enhance the moral reasoning as well as problem solving capacities of inmates. Closely related to drug treatment is the provision of other health services, most particularly mental health care services. This is especially important given the findings that approximately 12% of women in prison suffer from psychiatric disorders regarded as being severe (Reid 2011).
Rehabilitative Programs in Prisons: A Brief Overview
According to Clear, Cole and Reisig (2010), "rehabilitative programs aim at reforming the offenders' behavior." According to the authors, there are those who are of the opinion that the painful nature of imprisonment can be seen as being reformative in itself. However, quite a number of scholars question this view. They claim that there is no way prison life can be considered sufficiently reformative (Clear, Cole and Reisig 2010). The need to enhance the reformative nature of a prisoner's prison activities is however indisputable. The question that remains in this case is which rehabilitative programs should be embraced by prison authorities. For instance, should the programs offered be vocational or behavioral?
Some of the programs proposed by Clear, Cole and Reisig (2010) include but are not in any way limited to psychological programs, behavioral therapy, social therapy and religious programs. When it comes to psychological programs, the emphasis is on treating the inherent causes of criminality be they mental or emotional. It is however important to note that in this case, the assumption is that the criminality of the offender is largely informed or brought about by mental or emotional issues. This according to Clear, Cole and Reisig (2010) is one of the rehabilitative programs that have withstood significant challenges from a cross-section of critics. Critics of the rehabilitative program in this case include Thomas Szasz. In most cases, those criticizing the approach have claimed that criminal behavior cannot be explained in its entirety using mental illness.
Another common rehabilitative program in prisons is behavioral therapy. In this case, the assumption is that the way an individual responds to environmental problems is what either makes him deviant or non-deviant. Hence in this case, it is an individual's behavior that needs reformation and not his emotions or mind. Hence, the approach here is to adapt behavior through the identification as well as alteration of the environmental conditions which give rise to the behavior seen as a problem. When it comes to social therapy as yet another rehabilitative program used in prisons, the goal is basically the creation of an institutional environment that enhances or reinforces behavior and attitudes at a pro-social level. According to Clear, Cole and Reisig (2010), this "approach assumes that true change occurs when offenders begin to take responsibility for the social climate within which they must live." Hence in this case, efforts are not spared in the development of a personal culture which enhances not only the desired social attitudes but also reinforces a law-abiding lifestyle.
Religious programs are the other significant prison rehabilitative programs. As Clear, Cole and Reisig (2010) note, religious programs are in one way or the other different from the other rehabilitative programs. It can be noted that for quite a while, religious programs have been part and parcel of the prison services. However, for the most part, such programs were considered as offshoots to prison life rather than planned rehabilitative programs. Clear, Cole and Reisig (2010) are of the opinion that the…