The United States of America currently has about sevenmillion people incarcerated or under probation. In view of certain factors,this is quite an astounding number for many reasons. America is a verydeveloped country and a world leader in every aspect, yet our crime rate of 734of every 100,000 people is behind bars, is far away from any of the other similarlydeveloped nations in Europe and East Asia.
In fact, our prison numbers are comparativeand even more than those of the Russian Federation and Sub-Sahara Africancountries like South Africa respectively. But even worse, our incarcerationrate is the highest in the world. Thereis an obvious discrepancy, why has the very high incarceration rate increasedwhile the high crime rate has been dropping since the 1980’s. A theorydeveloped to explain this unexpected outcome identifies the problem as the’professionalization of crime.’ This theory states that prisoners actuallyleave prison with abilities that allow them to become better criminals whenthey are released, rather than being reformed. Experts believe aspects ofprison life such as violence and need for protection, or even allowingprisoners to mingle can lead to this professionalism and helping criminals passknowledge and making them more knowledgeable, thus making the system moreineffective. The professionalizationof crime does not occur in all criminal cases, but there is no doubt that it istaking place within the US prison system. Due to the fact that there is no wayto measure how skilled a criminal is before or after they have left prison,specialists who have attempted to study this topic have always found mixedresults.
In addition, even if a social scientist were to quantify the level ofskill, it would still be nearly impossible to select a potential criminal, andstudy him before, during, and after incarceration, yet there are some peoplewho have come up with quantifiable ways to measure this. Theseserious shortcomings of our current correctional system will be analyzed in anevidentiary context in the subsequent texts as well as steps we can take to fixthis maladjusted system that have worked in the past. There is no unobjectionable answer as to why people becomecriminals. Different types of crime fluctuate based on certain economicfactors, for example, theft crimes rise and fall with unemployment rates.
Signsof criminal activity sometimes start with factors such as birth into situationsof physical, mental, sexual, or substance abuse, criminal activity, divorce,head injuries, poverty, and ignorance (quite the epidemic nowadays). None ofthese precursors directly cause crime. The majority people who suffer into oneof these disadvantages do not become criminals.
Sometimes, criminals come fromless expropriated livings, which begs the question, “What does cause criminalsto act?” In clinical psychologist Dr. Stanton E. Samenow’s book ‘Inside theCriminal Mind’, he rebuts a portion of the conventional thought of portrayingcriminals as victims of their parents. Criminals are defined by how they think,and how their logic, or lack thereof, differs from law-abiding citizens. Criminalsare manipulative, usepeople as they please, fancy themselves in control, con others successfully,posture as tough guys and do not like to work hard at school or regular jobs.They thrive on intimidation and stealth.
They struggle taking criticism,yet have no trouble distributing it. They usually do not engender their victimswith pity. They have little remorse until they are caught. This cycle on keepsrotating when these selfish, usually young people bully others, get high, sell drugs, steal, gamble, rob stores,join gangs, rape andparticipate in violence, thrill seeking, intimidation and depravity. Drugs,intoxicants, theft, gangs, sex, violence or some combination of them helpcreate new age slaves. Criminals feel disposed to disobey the law for their ownself-centered reasons. Prisons are supposed to act as a deterrent to criminalactivity, yet too oft do not. Being an unpleasant institution, potentialoffenders should be so afraid of going to prison that they do not commit crimes.
But it doesn’t work that way. That’s how law-abiding citizens think. Thecriminal mind works differently, with significantly less foresight andconscience.
Criminals enjoy the excitement of risk, do not anticipate capture thoroughly,and instead focus on what they want in the short term. By one computation, only1.2% of burglaries result in the burglar going to prison. A low risk ofpunishment increases more and severer crime. Successful burglars celebratetheir accomplishments and strive for more. Good deterrents are certain, severeand swift, which is usually the exact opposite of prison. Probation or youthfuloffender status often being granted or crimes are not even prosecuted.
Manyconvicts never see a prison until they arrive. Inmates often sleep or just sitin their cells. Many convicts even enjoy going to prison as it gives them anopportunity to conduct a reunion as many of their comrades in crime are thereas well. Confinement is definitely not swift, either in the judicial process orin the sentence itself. Prisons are usually very bad places to be, but the realizationof possibly going there fails to deter massive numbers of crimes and criminals.As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
Criminals do not always know or cannotor will not compute the number of years they are likely to serve for a givencrime. They do not usually believe they will be caught, as they are invincible.When they arrive behind bars, offenders often think they are the victims, thatthey got a raw deal in life, were dealt a bad set of cards, and there isnothing they can proactively change or do, that they would plan better nexttime, that prison is a mark of accomplishment for a gangster like them,etc. For a criminal’s first crimes, we most often opt for probation, juvenilecourt or youthful offender status. Inconsistent aspects of the criminal justicesystem involve the decision whether to grant probation or send someone toprison at each of several junctures, as it often depends on the judge. Finesare meaningless for criminals without money or property and can furtherperpetuate the system, so only one hard punishment now exists.
Convicted felonseither go to prison or receive a very light punishment: probation, which manyfail anyways. Though many receive probation, do not learn their lesson, offendagain, and eventually go to prison. The need for a resolution for intermediatesentences was highlighted in Graham v.
Florida, a Supreme Court decision, wherea juvenile received probation for his first offense of armed burglary withassault or battery, and for his second offense of home invasion robbery, gotlife-without-parole. Young offenders sometimes have to rack up one or twofelonies as an adult before they go to prison. Convicts regret committing thatvery last crime, the one that sends them to prison. Deciding whether to punishwith a feather or a sledgehammer does not give criminal judges much flexibilityand does not very harshly dissuade individuals from continuing this ill-advisedactivity. Arguably the most important factor for why is violent crime.
Over half of all prisoners are highschool dropouts and the vast majority of those are males. Males between theages of 16 and 28 commit an overwhelming amount go the violent crimes,including first degree murder. The most basic leading cause is male aggression.45% of all murder victims were 20-34 years of age, and considering the humanbrain does not fully develop until 28, this makes sense, as younger convictsare much more likely to fail their parole than their older counterparts.
Once criminals are in jail, there are a multitude ofdisincentives that 1, prevent the inmate to succeed in the main goal of the correctional system is to reform prisoners,to help them realize what they did was wrong and that to do it again would be amistake and 2, because of those systemic failures, continue to commit crimes,and therefore continue to be arrested. Idealists originally thought penitentiary facilities wouldmake prisoners penitent, leading to religious conversions and eventualrehabilitation. To accomplish this, they did the worst thing they could do:they isolated prisoners in a very bad environment.
Sometimes prisoners had tokeep silent, another form of solitary confinement. Cutting off prisoners fromsociety made it difficult for inmates to keep their sanity or cope on theoutside. Prisoners lost feelings of self-worth. While appropriate punishmentpromotes pro-social, law abiding cooperation in normal human society,punishment that completely removes individuals from any cooperative. Theall-powerful pro-social forces of school, family, church, employment andcommunity were abandoned, subtracted from the process. Prisons rewardedinactivity with food, clothing and shelter, but pro-social activity was nearlyimpossible to have or reward inside the cell.
Concentration on specificprisoner behavior became logistically and financially prohibitive. Altruisticpunishment and the cooperation it supports work best in smaller groups, butthose small groups were abandoned in favor of huge groups. Inprison, personal possessions are removed, family rescinded, sexual desirefrustrated. The sex ratio at its most forbidding for normal sex is often 100percent of one sex versus zero of the other. Sexual deviancy increasestherefor, and life is generally unpleasant. Sanity depends on mental toughness.
Pagan, satanic, racist, and occult texts are statistically much more popularthan outside prison. Mike Tyson was quoted saying, “When I was in prison, I waswrapped up in all those deep books. That Tolstoy crap- people shouldn’t readthat stuff.” While his attitude toward classical literature may be misguidedand ignorant, the point is made. Inmates are desperate and looking for anythingthey can. Many inmates consider, or attempt suicide and self-mutilation.
Thesuicide rate for USA prisoners is five to 15 times greater than that of thegeneral population. Unfortunately, prisoner programs and chaplains exist thanin prior years. The freeworld isolates and for the most part abandons prisoners with long sentences.Many prisoners do not receive any visits from friends or family, especially asthe sentence continues. Solid barriers separate the prisoner and any visitorsduring visits. Social isolation harms the prisoner’s self-esteem, as rejectionoften does and leaves them vulnerable and mucheasier to learn the criminal ways inside the prison. The use ofsegregation or solitary confinement has increased markedly, inconsistent withthe already rising prison population as a whole, worsening outcomes andsignificantly increasing expense to the prison system.
It costs, on average, 11million dollars every year to operate its solitary cells. Solitary confinementalso known as isolation, punitive segregation, disciplinary segregation,segregated housing, causes psychiatric harm in a variety of ways, especially tothose with previous mental illnesses. Solitary confinement can cause psychoticdisorganization, self-destructive behavior, delusions, panic attacks, paranoiaand an inability to adapt to the already disparate general prison population.Hypersensitivity, rage, aggression, plus memory, concentration andimpulse-control problems also can stem from segregated housing units.
Intolerance of social interaction is one of the more common results. America’sSuper-Max Prisons improve safety for correctional staff and are essentiallyjails within prisons, increasingly concentrating dangerous inmates in solitaryconfinement instead of dispersing troublemakers throughout the system.Prisoners typically receive only one hour per day outside their Super-Max cell,often alone. Nelson Mandela knew men in prison who preferred half a dozenlashes with a whip to solitary confinement. Mandela wrote that the absence ofhuman companionship is most dehumanizing. Modern psychiatrists agree withNelson Mandela. Harvard psychiatrist Stuart Grassian said our systems ofsolitary confinement, “deeply offend any sense of common humandecency.
” When one reads the names of a few famous criminals housed insolitary confinement, sympathy is removed, which is why our society permitsthis clean version of hell with little remorse or second thoughts. Though, is solitary confinement the wrongpunishment for murder? Many argue not, as it is the worst crime possible in oursociety which has a value on life, after the third trimester that is. JeanLewis, mother of murdered son, Scott, is a member of the NationalBoard of Trustees for ParentsOf Murdered Children, knows firsthand the horridnightmare of murder of a close personal relative. For most, nothing could be further from the truth. Prisons are revolvingdoors for recidivists. The number released is about equal to the numberimprisoned. Every year, a large and poorly disciplined American releasedprisoners – over 700,000 ex-cons – goes back to the streets, many to make theworld worse. 75 percent of convicts will return to jail in America.
Releasedprisoners also carry extremely high rates of communicable diseases, AIDS, HIVinfection, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, hepatitis C andtuberculosis, often undiagnosed, into their communities, families andneighborhoods which causes further hurt. Released convicts face many re-entryobstacles, most do not make the transition successfully, and huge numbers are recycled back into prison. Prison obliterates your earningspotential. Being a convicted felon disqualifies you from certain jobs, housing,or voting. Mueller-Smith estimates that each year in prison reduces the odds ofpost-release employment by 24% and increases the odds you’ll live on publicassistance. Time in prison also lowers the odds you’ll get or stay married.Being in prison and out of the labor force degrades legitimate skills.
People that are convicted of drug crimes can’t even gethousing anymore. The correctional system now wants these people to integratethemselves back into society, but there does not seem to be a way to. If theyapply for a job, they will most likely be turned down because of their criminalpast. They cannot do their civic duty and go vote. There are currently twelvestates which reserve the right to completely deny any felon the right to vote,even if they have served their whole term. There are nineteen states that dostill require convicts to serve out all of the probation and parole, a policywhich could leave released prisoners in public for years without the right tovote .When they apply for housing, they are denied because of their felonstatus. How are ex-convicts supposed to reintegrate into society when theycannot find a job, or even a place to live? They may have family to turn to, butthat cannot last forever.
Instead of makingpeople less prone to commit crimes, prisons increase the likelihood that convicts will commitmore crimes upon the completion of their sentences. Prisons, especiallyovercrowded ones where different levels of offenders are mixed together, are”criminogenic,” they cause more crime. Prisons are, as Jens Soering’sbook title states, An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse.
Prisonsharm people in several ways, but do not make enough of them penitent.Incarceration teaches depravity, affects minds adversely, and then releases itsdamaged products into the free world on their mandatory release date or onparole. Prisons are warehouses for criminal minds. Criminals learn better howto commit crimes, but not how to abandon their selfishness. Solid evidenceproves that returning parolees increase crime rates in theirneighborhoods.
Gangs have established a serious presencewithin prisons across the United States, and because of this the socialstructure is now changing. Ethnically based gangs such as the Disciples, ElRukn, Vice Lords… have taken over the illicit prison economy and destablishedthe entire social system of inmates, forcing a shift from “doing your own time”to “doing gang time”. Gangs now almost seem to force people to interact withthem in prisons, and as one interacts with gangs, one can learn more aboutillegal activity. In addition, allowing gangs to intermingle with each othermay increase violence within a prison, but there is no doubt they will learnmore from each other. Obviously prohibiting prisoner interaction is inhumane;therefore, prisons must create another way to slow the spreading of criminalmaterial. What can be worked on though, is limiting the influence of prisongangs.
Prison gangs have become a huge problem throughout the correctionalsystem, especially when it comes to the sharing of criminal techniques. Gangshave a huge impact in prisons due to the apparent violent life within America’sprisons. A prisoner beginning to serve his first sentence only knows a fewpeople, if any, and is likely to be a loner in prison. This can lead him to bethe target of prison violence or even rape, with no one to come to his aid. Gangs then successfully recruit members in prison fromamong the isolates, metastasizing their anti-social ideas and breeding virulentracism and religious bigotry. This system creates prisonization, which occurswhen the prisoners take on the penitentiaries sick underclass codes, moralvalues and dogma. There is a direct correlation between prison sentence andprisonization influence. VincentSchiraldi, MSW is the founder and president of the Justice Policy Institute andpast president of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, develops thecontext perfectly.
Would-be criminals respond to incentives like regularcivilians. If they sense the cost and risk associated with crime has increasedin a meaningful way, they are more likely to obey the law. That’s why an effective deterrent isincreasing the perceived probability of being arrested. If arrestsincrease 10%, crime falls by 3 to 5%.
The simplest way to increase theperceived probability is to put more police on the street. Florida State’sJonathan Klick and George Mason economist Alex Tabarrok estimate that raising terror alert levelsincreased police presence by 50%. It is not clear if that meant less terrorism,but more police decreased auto-theft by 43% and burglary by 15%.
More policereduce crime, while longer sentences don’t, because of how criminals perceiverisk. Most people commit crime thinking they won’t get caught. Seeing morepolice changes this and increases the perceived cost of committing crime.
The3-strikes rule in California levies draconian sentences on 3-timeoffenders—with near certainty, even if the crimes are fairly minor. It has beenproven that this showed a 17 to 20 percent drop in crime of criminals after thesecond strike. Another alternative to this would be to separate violentand non-violent criminals within prisons. This would simply require division orreorganization of the prison system.
Multiple studies clearly demonstrate theeffects that a violent prison culture has on those who are not violent innature. Creating this separation could create a massive roadblock for theprofessionalization of crime, considering that those who have already committedviolent crime would not be able to intimidate or pass on criminal techniques tothose who have not. We can also offer counseling to prisoners to promotenon-violent conflict resolution. Thereare many things we can do to reduce this systemic myriad of problems in theUnited States of America and bring back these convicts back to employed,productive members of society, instead of lethargic, idle vehicles to promotecriminal activity.
Crime is a serious problem within America, but it appearsthat one of the major challenges in stopping crime is America’s prison system.In order to reduce crime in America policy makers need to consider a seriousrevaluation of the prison system.