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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Essay on Management of Prisons and Jails

Prisons are one of the oldest institutions in the world.  It has been in existence for centuries and will continue to exist in the future.  Prisons play an important role in the criminal justice system.  It is an institution that helps in the rehabilitation, reformation and treatment of first-time offenders.  It is also an institution that punishes offenders who are beyond rehabilitation, reformation and treatment. 

Analysis of the current conditions inside penal institutions will reveal that the goals and objectives of prison are not being attained.  Until today, there is no concrete proof that prisons can deter crime.  It is even harder to find proof that prisons help in the reformation and improvement of the offender.  As a result, despite its long history, there are critics who argue against it and propose its abolition. 

One of the reasons for the perception that the prisons are no longer serving their purpose is the existing prison condition in the United States.  Prison condition in the United States today is marked by violence, sexual abuse, overcrowding, and inhumane treatment.  In this system, prison officials imprison inmates for long periods of time not taking into account the capacity of our prison to handle the increasing number of inmates.  According to Jeffrey Smith (2005), a commission tasked to study the present prison condition in the U.S. found that inmate population has quadrupled in the past two decades to more than 2 million. 

Common sense will reveal that if prisoners increase in number without a corresponding increase or expansion in prison facilities, there will be overcrowding.  The problem is that rate of increase of inmates is not matched a corresponding rate of increase in penal institutions.  More inmates mean overcrowding in jails.  When there is overcrowding, a number of problems will result such as violence, sexual abuse, and spread of various kinds of communicable diseases. 

When there is overcrowding incidence of violence rises.  According to Smith (2002), in the 12 month period alone between 1999 and 2000, more than 34,000 assaults were committed by prisoners against other inmates and the umber of prisoner assaults against staff in that period was 27 percent higher than the previous 12 months.

When there is overcrowding management is extremely difficult paving the way for sexual abuse and rape. According to the Department of Justice, in the 2004 alone, an estimated 8,210 allegations of sexual violence were reported by correctional authorities -- the equivalent of 3.2 allegations per 1,000 inmates and youths incarcerated in 2004 (“Almost 2100 sexual violence incidents took place in the nation’s correctional facilities during 2004”).

Male rape is not only a common thing inside prisons, as for female prisoners, the enemy is not their fellow prisoners but much worse.  They are the male prison guards and correctional staff.  The problem of sexual abuse among women prisoners is much worse precisely because of their sheer number. 

There are strategies that can be used to improve prison conditions.  It must however be emphasized that the involvement of prison and corrections officials is not enough to provide solution to this problem.  In fact, it requires the help of the representatives in Congress in order to improve the conditions in prisons.

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One of the first solutions is to reduce prison population.  Prison officials say that one of the reasons why there is so much abuse and violence in prison is because the current prison population has made it extremely difficult for prison officials to ensure safe, secure and cost-effective prisons.  The trend of overcrowding in prisons which started in the late 1970s and early 1980s has continued until today. 

Reducing prison populations cannot be effectively done by constructing additional prison facilities as some prison officials are trying to do.  It is based on the idea that the bigger the prisons are the more inmates in can accommodate.  This short-term solution however does not approach the problem at the right perspective since it does not address the problem directly at its roots. 

Essentially, the main reason behind prison overcrowding is the lawmakers’ aggressive policy on crime.  Drug offenders are being placed in prison in an effort to get rid of drugs on the streets.  Repeat offenders are given longer sentences in an effort to punish them more severely.  Juvenile offenders are being placed under the jurisdiction of adult courts in an effort to rehabilitate and reform juvenile offenders.  The ‘tough on crime’ seeks to impose harsher sentence so that offenders may be discouraged from committing crime.  The approach has really failed in the sense that it never reduced crime rate but only worsened the problem of prison overcrowding. The Bureau of Justice once conducted a study on the re-incarceration rate of criminal offenders.  The result of the study showed that 67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983 (“In a 15 State study, over two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested within three years” 2002). 

Needless to say, the solution lies on the side of the lawmakers who must adopt a different strategy on this problem.  The strategy is to reduce the number of prisoners.  This can be achieved by abolishing California’s three strike rule or other equivalent law.  The transfer of jurisdiction among juveniles to adult courts should also be discontinued. 
Instead of focus on prisons, it is about time that the government should turn its attention to probation and parole programs.  Probation is the rehabilitative model which allows offenders to be placed on community supervision as a substitute for incarceration.  Parole on the other hand, is a system where inmates are conditionally released to community supervision after serving a prison term. Parolees can be re-incarcerated if they violate the conditions of their parole. 

Research shows that in 2006, over 5 million adult men and women (4,237,000 were on probation and 498,200 were on parole) were under Federal, State and local probation or parole jurisdiction.  It may appear that the probation and parole is being offered to a large number of inmates.  It is worth noting herein that considering this number there is only 1.8% growth in the probation and parole population.  According to the US Department of Justice, the average is 2.2% since 1995.  If the average of growth is only 2.2% and for 2006 there was a significant reduction in the number of inmates who availed of probation and parole, this only means that majority of inmates in the United States are still languishing in jail despite the commission of petty crimes and offenses. 

The second strategy is to allow the early release in prison of elderly inmates.  It is suggested that offenders who have served their sentence for a number of years before they reached the age of 70 years old should be deemed to have completely served his sentence.  If the purpose of prison is to punish the offenders for what they had done in the past then serving the sentence for ten (10) or fifteen (15) until they reach the age of 70 years should be enough.  If the purpose of the prison is to make the criminal offenders reflect on what they had done in the past then the service of sentence for ten (10) or fifteen (15) years should also be enough.  If the purpose of the prison is to make the offender suffer while inside the prison then ten (10) to fifteen (15) years in prison is enough punishment for every individual. 

A 70-year old criminal offender who has languished in jail for several years can no longer make additional reflection on what he had done in the past.  If he had reflected on his past criminal activities most probably the offender had done the same earlier in his life.  It is also possible continuing to place a 70-year old criminal offender behind bars will not serve its purpose since at this age the criminal offender can no longer reflect on what he had done in the past.  Moreover, he can no longer suffer more before he has more things to worry about when he reaches the age of 70-years old such as his deteriorating physical health.  

Placing a 70-year old criminal offender behind bars will also not serve any beneficial purpose to the society.  If there is any person that needs the protection that is him.  He needs medication and constant medical treatment which makes him an additional burden for the state.  The point is that he no longer poses any danger to any member of the society.  He is too weak, too sickly, and too fragile to become a danger to the society.  It is no longer possible for him to commit any crime.  Even if he still wants to commit the crime he will be too old to accomplish his criminal intent. 

The problem of drugs inside prison is widespread.  While government agencies refuse to acknowledge the extent of the problem of drug abuse inside prisons, it exists and will continue to exist in the future unless something is done about it.  Assistant Regional Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections Justin Jones said that there was one situation when an inmate who was scheduled to be executed took an overdose of drugs the day before he was executed which necessitated the revival of the inmate for the execution to push through.  

In view of the strict security procedures inside prison, drug dealers need to be especially creative in hiding their drugs.  In the past, inmates and their relatives have been caught trying to smuggle drugs inside prisons.  Therefore, it is necessary for the warden and the other prison officials to keep a watchful eye over the behavior and activities of the inmates and their relatives who visit them inside prisons.  One of the more common methods of smuggling drugs in the prisons is through the help of family members, relatives and friends who hide the drugs inside their bags and pockets to be secretly given to inmates.  On the other hand, some drug dealers have sought the assistance of prison guards to be able to smuggle drugs in prisons.  For this reason, a number of prison guards have been charged and punished for their involvement in drug smuggling (“Prison Guards Suspected in Plots to Smuggle Drugs”, 2003, p.1).

Other methods of smuggling drugs inside prisons have also been tried and used by many inmates but with different degrees of success.  Among these methods is that in New Orleans Parish Prison, the sheriff and his deputies discovered that the friends and family relatives of inmates sneak drugs inside prisons by hiding them inside tennis balls (“Prison Inmates Use Tennis Balls To Smuggle Drugs Into New Orleans Jail,” 1999, p.1). Prison officials should therefore institute a lock-down on drugs inside prison.  If there are prison officials who are caught being bribed then they should be administratively and criminally punished.  Inmates who are known drug users and pushers should also be closely monitored. 

Since rape in prison can happen either through consent or violence it is important for prison officials to be able to isolate the consenting homosexuals from the other inmates.  Isolating them from other inmates will reduce the possibility of consensual sexual intercourse between them and the other inmates.  For those inmates who use force male rape can be avoided by having a classification system that will group inmates in several blocks. 

In conclusion, the strategies of reduction of prison overcrowding, lock-down on drugs and isolation of homosexuals and institution of inmate classification system are just some of the possible alternatives that prison officials may resort to.  It is suggested that these strategies should be done on a wider scale so that these strategies can be more effective.  

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