To date, there has been a great deal of reluctance to adopt a harm reduction approach in the United States for two fundamental reasons:
The first reason stems from the argument that if harm were reduced for users the result would be an increase in the prevalence of drug use and, therefore, increased harm to society in terms of health care costs and violent crime. Those taking this position present as supporting evidence the fact that improved automobile safety features have led to increased speeding by drivers. In addition, it has been suggested that because drug users are risk takers to begin with, they may increase use or risky behavior to compensate for the harm reduction assumptions that substance use is part of the human condition.
The second reason is based on concerns about "sending the wrong message." If harm reduction were implemented, it might be interpreted as condoning drug use. The fear is that harm reduction would lead to new users and undermine efforts to engage current users in trying to achieve abstinence (Brocato & Wagner, 2003).
Future Trends and Innovations in Privatization, Parole and Probation, Community Corrections and Overcrowding.
In a market economy, privatizing governmental operation just makes good business sense if private providers are able to accomplish these services more cost effectively. As Dolovich points out, "To date, the debate over private prisons has focused largely on the relative efficiency of private prisons as compared to their publicly-run counterparts, and has assumed that, if private contractors can run the prisons for less money than the state without a drop in quality, then states should be willing to privatize" (p. 437). Today, the leading private prison provider in the United States is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which provides federal, state, and local correctional and detention services. This organization, along with its subsidiaries, owns and operates a number of privatized correctional and detention facilities in the United States (CCA, 2008). According to its company profile, "The company owns, operates, and manages prisons and other correctional facilities, as well as provides inmate residential and prisoner transportation services for governmental agencies. It also offers healthcare services, including medical, dental, and psychiatric services; food services; and work and recreational programs" (CCA).
As of December 31, 2007, CCA operated 65 correctional, detention, and juvenile facilities, including 41 facilities located in 19 states and the District of Columbia; in addition, the company also operated three other correctional facilities that are leased to third-party operators (CCA). Further, CCA manages 24 correctional and detention facilities that are owned by various U.S. government agencies (CCA). According to the company's Web site, "CCA founded the private corrections management industry more than 25 years ago, establishing industry standards for future-focused, forward-thinking correctional solutions" (About CCA, 2008, p. 2). This emphasis on innovative approaches to delivering correctional services has been highly successful for CCA. In this regard the company reports, "A commitment to innovation, efficiency, cost effectiveness and achievement has made the company the private corrections management provider of choice for federal, state and local agencies since 1983" (About CCA, p. 3).
According to a study commissioned by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Camp and Daggett (2005) report that, "Proponents of prison privatization have long argued that private prisons can both operate more cheaply and with higher quality than public prisons. In more recent times, the argument has been modified to include the claim that prison privatization brings competition to the public sector and improves operations there" (p. 17). In 2001, the need for additional private prisons was reduced to some degree as prison populations in some states stabilized; however, there was an increase in the overall growth rate in numbers of prisoners to 2.6% in 2002 that compelled policymakers in these states to reevaluate the use of private prisons. In this regard, Camp and Daggett point out that, North Carolina removed inmates from the two private prisons operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in 2000 based on contract compliance issues: "North Carolina officials were concerned for some time about staff positions remaining unfilled at the two CCA prisons in addition to perceived problems with prison security and inmate programs" (p. 19). In 2003, based on his analysis of the state's predicament, the governor of Arizona cancelled plans to build a private women's prison and opted instead to expand an existing state facility (Camp & Daggett).
Unfortunately, these same growth trends are also being witnessed among offenders. According to Eddy, Whaley and Chamberlain (2004), "Over the past several decades, an increasing number of youth have been incarcerated for violent offenses. Existing interventions for serious offenders target the prevention of subsequent delinquent behavior in general, rather than the prevention of violent behavior in particular" (p. 2). The consequences of incarcerating increasing numbers of young people will likely have profound consequences in the future and alternative approaches today are clearly needed. In this regard, Hellriegel and Yates (1999) suggest that, "Juvenile justice and public school systems must work together to effectively meet the needs of this growing population of youth" (p. 55).
In a similar fashion, the increased use of pardons and probation could readily address the growing prison population in the United States, but this approach suggests that the root cause of the problem is not being addressed, but is rather being dealt with in a knee-jerk and piecemeal fashion that is inadequate to address the fundamental issues involved.
Innovations Being Used in Other Countries.
According to Macmaster, the harm reduction approach has been used to good effect in a number of other countries. For instance, this author reports, "Harm reduction is the basis of substance abuse polices and practices in several Western European countries. Harm reduction was originally suggested in the 1920s in the United Kingdom as part of the Rolleston Committee's recommendations regarding drug policy and later emerged as a pragmatic response to a rise in hepatitis C rates related to injection drug use in the early 1980s" (p. 357). Likewise, the harm reduction model has been the basis of drug policy and practice in the Netherlands for nearly three decades. In this regard, Macmaster reports, "The Dutch have used harm reduction since the recommendations of the 1971 Hulsman Report became the basis for Dutch harm reduction strategies in the Revised Opium Act of 1976. Switzerland and Germany also have used harm reduction as a basis for some or all of their substance use policy" (p. 358).
The research showed that today, the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world and these trends show no sign of slowing. Moreover, the research also showed that more women and young people are being incarcerated than ever before, and the initiatives to date such as the "Three Strikes" approach have further exacerbated the situation. In this environment, it is little wonder that private prisons and jails have become a growth industry and that an enormous amount of resources are being devoted to "locking them up and throwing away the key." Although it is infeasible to decriminalize all criminal activities, the research was also consistent in indicating that many of the acts for which a large percentage of American citizens are being incarcerated could be addressed in alternative ways that have been used to good effect in other countries. The harm reduction model provides a useful framework in which such alternative approaches to criminalization and adjudication of these individuals could be developed, and the United States would be well advised to take these steps today before it dooms yet another generation of Americans to life behind bars.
About CCA. (2008). Corrections Corporation of America. [Online]. Available: http://www.correctionscorp.com/about/.
Brocato, J. & Wagner, E.F. (2003). Harm reduction: A social work practice model and social justice agenda. Health and Social Work, 28(2), 117.
Camp, S.D. And Daggett, D.M. (2005). Evaluation of the Taft Demonstration Project: Performance of a private-sector prison and the BOP. Federal Bureau of Prisons. [Online]. Available: http://www.bop.gov/news/research_projects/published_reports/pub_vs_priv/orelappin2005.pdf.
CCA. (2008). Corrections Corp. Of America (CXW). [Online]. Available: http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=CXW.
Cochrane, J., Melville, G. & Marsh, I. (2004). Criminal justice: An introduction to philosophies, theories and practice. London: Routledge.
Dolovich, S. (2005). State punishment and private prisons. Duke Law Journal, 55(3), 437.
Eddy, J.M., Whaley, R.B. & Chamberlain, P. (2004). The prevention of violent behavior by chronic and serious male juvenile offenders: A 2-year follow-up of a randomized clinical trial. Journal…