Prisons and correctional facilities in the United States have changed from rehabilitating people to housing inmates and creating breeding grounds for more violence. Many local, state, and federal prisons and correctional facilities are becoming more and more overcrowded each year. If the Department of Corrections (DOC) wants to stop having repeat offenders and decrease the volume of inmates entering the criminal justice system, current regulations and programs need to undergo alteration. Actions pushed by attorneys and judges, in conjunction current prison life (including solitary confinement), have intertwined to result in mass incarceration. However, prisoner reentry programs haven’t fully impacted positively to help the inmate assimilate back into society. These alterations can help save the Department of Corrections (DOC) money, decrease the inmate population, and most of all, help rehabilitate them. After inmates are charged with a crime, they go through the judicial system (Due Process) and meet with the prosecutor to discuss sentencing.
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Prosecutors are getting less and less reluctant to tag on felony charges. David Brooks is a professor Yale University and teaches criminal justice. David Brooks explains that prosecutors “have gotten a lot more aggressive in bringing felony charges,” stating that felony charges carry a longer prison sentence than misdemeanors. When a felony charge is used, the judge can give any term sentence because the “mandatory minimum” sentencing will be voided. Mandatory minimum sentences are the least amount of time that a convicted inmate must serve for his sentence. In the past, minimum sentencing laws were useful due to the fact that crime rates were decreasing, however, since the rise in crime has started to rise drastically, mandatory minimum sentencing laws have had a negative effect on inmate term length. Brooks analyzed the laws and influence it had on the prison system, he noted that the laws created “a throw away the key culture, with long and pointless destructive prison terms.” It shows that once an inmate enters the legal system, it becomes harder and harder for the inmate to be released on time because the long sentence term is counter productive. As more and more cases enter the legal system, prosecutors are pushing for plea bargains, which means the prosecutor has complete control of the term that should be served. By having inmates enter the plea bargain, the case doesn’t go to trial (violation of due process), and inmates serve longer terms and overcrowd the correctional facility (Brooks). Prosecutors and attorneys tag on “felony” charges when discussing charges and sentencing lengths in order to have the person plead guilty without having to go to trial. This violates the due process of law and doesn’t give the convict a proper trial. The unnecessarily long terms establish a negative mindset in the convicts and exemplify that long terms with no opportunities creates a kind of ground that leads to destruction and violence towards COs (Correctional Officers) and other inmates for power. David Dirrol is the director of sentencing commission in Ohio and released a submitted a report to Ohio’s Department of Justice stating that their prisons were massively overcrowded. Dirrol’s report stated, “in 2011, Ohio prisons held 50,461, 6½ times the number held in 1974.” In only thirty-seven years, Ohio’s prison population spiked by almost seven times the amount it previously did. By analyzing the report, most of the convicted people had plea bargained terms that carried longer sentences then the original crime would usually receive. When inmates act out, COs feel threatened, or their sentence calls for it, inmates are required to go solitary confinement.
In today’s correctional prisons, solitary confinement isn’t the term used anymore; it is now called segregated housing. According to the United Nations justice branch, nearly eighty thousand people are locked up in solitary confinement. Inmates are housed in eight feet by eight feet cells for twenty-three hours a day with only one hour for “recreation” time (Grassian). The eighth amendment in the United States Constitution states that the government can’t give an inmate a cruel punishment, however, many inmates are serving extended periods of time in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a major factor that factors into the overcrowding of prison, but moreover, it is nothing more than torture. A study conducted by psychiatrist Stuart Grassian found that solitary confinement only has negative effects on inmates. Many of the inmates suffered from “severe confusional, paranoid, and hallucinatory features, and also by intense agitation and random, impulsive, often self-directed violence” (Grassian), in which the inmates never demonstrated such symptoms before entering solitary confinement (Grassian). By being confined to the cell for 23 hours a day, the inmate experiences medical conditions such as paranoia and hallucinations due to the fact that their mental state starts to deteriorate when excluded from social interaction and confinement. After examining one of the inmates in solitary confinement, he concluded that “most commonly manifested by a continued intolerance of social interaction, a handicap which often prevents the inmate from successfully readjusting,” meaning that the inmate’s social abilities are severely hindered to the point in which he or she won’t be able to sustain basic interaction among other people (Grassian). Courtney Semisch is the senior researcher for the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Courtney Semisch’s research identifies that only the United States and Scandinavia use solitary confinement as a punishment on a regular basis. The United Nations is currently proposing a law that prohibits use of solitary confinement as a punishment for longer than fifteen days. In order for the inmate to function properly in society upon reentry, programs outside the prison system are established to help inmates acquire a job and a place to live, basically, a backbone support program.
Reentry programs are designed to help convicted people re-enter society. These programs help them find a place to live, education, and job applications to become self-sustaining. Due to the current regulations and restrictions that the Department of Corrections has implemented on programs available in prison, many convicts haven’t learned the basics to sustain simple life functions nor do they have higher education. Therefore, they haven’t acquired the necessary life skills to maintain a criminal free future. David Muhlhausen has a Ph.D. in criminal justice and is the Heritage Foundation’s leading expert in the field. Muhlhausen analyzed the re-entry programs and found that “in the real world, crime, lack of education, mental health issues, family breakdown and economic hopelessness are all intertwined.” He created a connection between all the factors and how real world situations can lead a person without the basic knowledge of the current standard of living situation back to prison. In a perfect world, these programs sound like they’re a powerful tool have as an inmate who is being released into society, however, we don’t live in a perfect world. Prisoner reentry programs have become less and less useful to convicts because they lack the support infrastructure. In 2008, the recidivism rate for the past five years was at 76.6 percent (Muhlhausen), identifying that 76.6 percent of all inmates release back into society were back in prison. Policymakers need to ensure that programs are evaluated with regard to their impact on the primary purpose for which they have been established (Muhlhausen). Just because a program is established and have people enrolled in them, doesn’t mean that the program is effective or actually benefits the person. Instead of basing the programs success and effectiveness on the population of participants, programs need to be evaluated on the participant’s growth in the community and stability the program serves for the participant. Many programs that say they are effective or just want to “help” the inmate assimilate into society are for profit groups or organizations. Therefore, program effectiveness needs to be evaluated on the success of the inmate in the community, as well as how well he or she is able to maintain their desired standard of living.
On the other hand, there are many people who strongly believe that the criminal justice system doesn’t need to undergo any kind of change. Their belief is that if one does the crime, one needs to do the time, and there as you deserve the conditions in which your prison is in. While this is true, many conditions that correctional facility are currently creating for inmates are counter productive (Gruber). Inmate behavior plays the biggest role to people because it’s the impression that you give them in which they base their opinions on. The major reason that people are against the criminal justice reform is due to the fact convicted inmates have a high rate of return (Muhlhausen). Therefore, people don’t want to waste taxpayer money on correctional facility maintenance and programs for which inmates won’t use or deserve (Gruber). It makes sense, why spend money on someone who committed a crime. However, if you give the inmate opportunity to make a better life for him or herself, tax money use for prison use will decrease due to less people in them. Their behavior is what the people look at when they decide whether or not they really want to contribute to the reformation. While this is true, many of the naysayers haven’t fully identified the reasons for their behavior or returns. If more programs were offered in the prison system for inmates to future education or gain certain job skills, they could become a productive working member of society. The main opposition focuses on why should we help someone who is going to commit another crime as soon as they get out of Prison (Gruber). This is also true, but if we can make prisoner re-entry effective, we can keep people from wanting to commit a crime because he or she has the legal means of obtaining the goal or objective. With the change to prisoner reentry programs, the high recidivism would drastically decrease due to the fact that the programs would be federally funded and supported therefore, inmates would have a higher chance for success.
After all, we are all human, and no one deserves to be tricked into plea bargain due to the prosecutor’s pushing their own agendas, or because of mental issues derived from solitary confinement. Most of all, how is someone supposed to support himself or herself if they don’t have a backbone support from reentry programs. The criminal justice system needs to undergo reformation and address the real reasons to high crime rates and inmate failures to sustain a successful life after the time they served. So who are we to deny a person the right to happiness if they serve their time and want to live a crime free life?
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