In the USA, correction is a term that refers to the punishment of offenders, and it has been a matter of controversy and national conversation for a long time. The issue continues to be one of social and political significance in the US and dominates the political discourse every election season with various politicians expressing pro-corrections or anti-corrections views or supporting reform. Corrections in the US have a long history starting from the colonial days. This practice continues to transform to fit various historical scenarios and needs of the society. There have been various types of correctional systems in the US, some of which are no longer in use due to their historical obsolescence. This essay is an analysis of the corrections system, its goals, and best strategies that can be used to arrive at its objectives.
History of the Corrections System and Varying Approaches to Corrections by Era
America is one of the leading nations regarding the rates of incarceration in the world with most institution operating above their capacities. According to Alexander (2010), several factors have influenced how America and other nations carry out corrections: religion, the American Revolution, classism, and human rights. The earliest forms of corrections used a number of methods to ensure that individuals conformed to the society. Among other things, authorities would use these methods not only to punish offenders, but also shock the public into conformity. This period covers most of the ancient world up to the 1800s (Weissman, 2009). The aforementioned methods included quartering, public amputations, and public hangings.
The first modern era is also known as the Pennsylvania era. It formed mostly during the colonial days and after independence in places like the state of Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas (Abadinsky, 2009). Religion explicitly influenced this. The main aim of the Pennsylvania system was to confine the wrongdoer, so that they may engage in self-retrospection on their wrongful behavior (Abadinsky, 2009). Because of the long time this system needed, as well as the fact that it needed solitary confinement for every prisoner, it was not deemed efficient enough and the authorities eventually abandoned it.
The second one was the Auburn era. During this era, the main aim was to break the spirit of the inmate. The methods of doing this included the use of hard labor and constantly overworking the prisoners (Abadinsky, 2009). For most of the century in the US, this was the ideal method as it as it was cost effective, and in most cases even profitable as the institution could turn a profit from prison labor (Abadinsky, 2009). This was done through either leasing the prisoners to private enterprises for a fee, which the authorities would agree on with the businesses beforehand. The contract system sold the services of prison inmates to businesses. The state also utilized prison labor. In this system, the state and its agencies would sell or use prison made goods.
The Big House Era was to follow in the 1930s and 1940s. While the prisons still had Auburn-style structures, the inmates did not provide any labor to the prison or its authorities (Abadinsky, 2009). Prisonization was the method through which prisoners learned to live in confinement.
In California, there was a movement to abandon the penal part of the prison system for the correctional structure. later, this idea spread nationwide. Thus, the Corrections Era was positivist in nature and aimed at reforming and rehabilitating, rather than punishing wrongdoers (Abadinsky, 2009). However, the increase of riots in prisons, such as the one that happened in Attica, led to doubt its efficacy. The doubts about the Corrections Era brought about the Just Deserts Era (Abadinsky, 2009). In this era, the presumption was that the sentence should fit the punishment. In this era, longer sentences and punishments are common, such as solitary confinement for twenty-three hours a day. Some people see these methods as overly harsh.
Description of the Participants of the Corrections System and Their Roles
There are various officers who are involved in the correctional process. The first is the correctional officer. The role of the CO is to control and monitor inmates, in particular, their movements and activities (Jewkes, Crewe, & Bennett, 2016). It is their role to ensure that prisoners adhere to the facilities’ guidelines and rules. In this way, they ensure the security of the facility, the inmate's officers, and inmates.
The second one is the correctional sergeant (CS). These people are usually in charge of the custody work as well supervision of correctional officers (Jewkes et al., 2016). Thus, they ensure the safety and security in the facility. They also control, direct, and monitor the movements of the inmates. However, their duties might vary depending on the correctional facility which they work in.
Correctional Lieutenant is the officer who is responsible for security. These people usually work in shifts (Jewkes et al., 2016). Usually, they also oversee the correctional sergeants. Correctional Sergeants are also in charge of possible emergency situations in facilities (Jewkes et al., 2016). In return, the correctional captain supervises the lieutenants. Moreover, they are also in charge of the security of the entire facility and custody issues.
The Community Corrections Officers (CCO) or the Corrections Officers (CO) interact with inmates on a daily asis. These people are in charge of the day to day welfare and issues pertaining to the inmates (Jewkes et al., 2016). They classify and manage issues such as education and work programs and, in cases where an inmate has served their time, work with them on release preparation (Jewkes et al., 2016). They also provide the services to the inmates who are on community supervision. The Correctional Unit Supervisor manages the housing unit (Jewkes et al., 2016). This includes the supervision of Community Correctional Officers. They are also in charge of the custody staff like sergeants.
Impediments, or Issues, Faced by Corrections Administrations When Running a Prison
There are various challenges that the corrections officers face as they run a prison facility. First, the current prison system is a gathering of various types of people. They include those serving short sentences, those on medium terms, and those sentenced to a lifetime in prison (Alexander, 2010). There are also sick ones and healthy ones. This presents a problem as it is hard to control such a diverse group of people. There is a possibility that those serving short term sentences end up more radicalized as a result of interaction with others and become prisonized. Thus, the officers have to ensure that they balance these competing interests each day.
Another issue affecting the corrections is underfunding. The government has already closed down some facilities, and it continues to underfund others. This means that there is less money for training, equipment, and even staff. This results in a lower correctional officer to inmate ratios, which might be dangerous for the officers and inmates.
Correctional officers are now also more threatened by litigation. Instances where inmates sue the facility or the officers for infringements of their rights are on the rise. This poses not only a professional risk for the officers, but also a financial one, as the suits tend to be for large amount of money. Most facilities and officers offer a settlement rather than go through the entire jury process, so this encourages other inmates to pursue litigation.
Rights of Prisoners
Like all human beings, inmates have certain rights provided by the UN conventions. This issue is especially pertinent because due to incarceration, prisoners do not enjoy some rights, such as liberty. However, according to them, they still deserve most of their fundamental human rights.
The first right prohibits prison authorities from subjecting prisoners to cruel and unusual punishments. This right is supported by the Eighth Amendment (Alexander, 2010). The eighth amendment does not define what cruel and unusual means. Later, case law has expanded the explanation of the right to include prohibition of torture, violation of the basic dignity of a person, and abuse. Inmates also have a right to be free from any form of sexual harassment or sex abuse (Alexander, 2010). These include molestation, rape, and other unwelcome sexual advances. This prohibition covers both the personnel and fellow prisoners.
Inmates also have a right to complain about the conditions of the incarceration center. They can do this directly by addressing prison authorities. However, they can also go to the courts to let judges decide the validity of their claims (Gottschalk, 2006). However, the Prison Litigation Reform Act restricts the rights of prisoners to sue the prison authorities by sanctioning prisoners who bring frivolous or malicious suits to the courtroom and requiring all inmates to exhaust all internal channels in the facility before going to court (Alexander, 2010). However, while this has severely restricted the rights of the prisoners to sue, it has not diminished it completely.
While the Constitution guarantees rights through the First Amendment, these rights are only valid as long as they not infringe on the rights of other inmates or change their status as inmates (Alexander, 2010). For instance, while one can enjoy their freedom of religion, the prison authorities have the right to open their mail.
Inmates also have a right not to be discriminated against on any grounds including religion, race, and age. Some of the required services that fall under the auspices of rights include the rights of the disabled persons, medical care, and mental health care (Gottschalk, 2006). All inmates who are disabled have the right for reasonable accommodations. Inmates also have the right to medical attention. However, this right is limited, since the required standard is adequate only, That means that many facilities do not have to provide the best care available. In practice, it can also be below the standard for those not imprisoned.
The law also requires that prison authorities provide the inmates with food and clothing. In Hamm v. DeKalb County, the court explained that inmates should have food, which is reasonably adequate. The court further explained that well-balanced meals are required by the law. Furthermore, in Farmer v. Brennan (1994), it was explained that the provision of clothing is also mandatory.
Alternative Forms of Corrections, Including Methods of Rehabilitation and Reintroduction to Society
There have been many suggestions to use other forms of corrections other than the prison system, which many see as full of problems and ineffective. These methods include establishing community-based centers the focus of which would be mediation (United Nations, 2007). This willl reduce the work that the police and other persons have to do, especially in cases of misdemeanors.
Community mediation should accompany restitution. Restitution seeks to assure the payments of compensation to victims of crimes (United Nations, 2007). This would ensure that the compensation covers the victim's losses to the extent specified by the law. Fines are already commonplace in the criminal justice system. However, their scope should widen so as to cover a wider array of criminal activities in a bid to reduce or eliminate incarceration.
Another method is suspended sentencing. The person who committed a crime promises not to break any laws again (United Nations, 2007). This is the least punitive method of corrections as there are no sanctions on the wrongdoer unless they break the law a second time in a set period. Probation is one of the most used methods of incarceration (Abadinsky, 2009). It can be unsupervised where the offender is required to report to probation officers at certain times (Abadinsky, 2009). Commonly, probation officers supervise it.
Lastly, there should be decriminalization of some offenses. Moral laws are ineffective as it is impossible to deal with moral problems using the law (United Nations, 2007). The government should decriminalize laws such as the ones that cover non-commercial gambling, selling and buying of illegal drugs, and other societal ills, such as prostitution. Reducing the role of criminal justice system in such instances would greatly reduce the number of people in prison.
Alternative Strategies to Incarceration with an Assessment, Both Pro and Con, Showing Their Worth as Related to Traditional, Incarceration Strategies
These are established to provide court-supervised drug treatments and community supervision to people with drug problems. Its advantages are that they are more effective in dealing with drug offenders (Gunnison & Helfgott, 2011). They also reduce the costs associated with incarceration. However, they are prone to abuse as some people would repeatedly offend if they know there are no risks of prison time.
Probation and Community Corrections
Probation avoids incarceration but restricts the freedom of the offenders. Its conditions include meeting with the probation officer on a regular basis (Weissman, 2009). The conditions can also include random drug tests. These programs let the offender be with their family. They are also saving taxpayer's money. However, this method is prone to abuse. It is not rare for the offender to be caught breaking probation terms.
Electronic Home Monitoring and Home Confinement
Electronic home monitoring and home confinement restrict the freedom of the offender to their home except when they are at work or the court. The authorities know where the offenders are at any particular time. Weissman (2009) explains that this has the advantages of not separating families and helps reduce crime. Home confinement can, however, be expensive to maintain because the authorities have to monitor hundreds of people.
These can be used when the sentence is very short. They hasten in the reduction of crime, while also reducing the number of inmates who undergo the prisonization in incarceration centers (Gunnison & Helfgott, 2011). They can also be used to reintroduce people who have served time to the society at large. On the other hand, a halfway house may seem like an inadequate form of punishment for some crimes, such as murder.
This involves unpaid work that the offender does for a non-profit organizations or a civic one. According to Weissman (2009), this method helps in the building of community relations while also helping the offender remain with their family. On the other hand, some people would consider it counterintuitive to release offenders into to the society before they serve prison sentences.
Mental Health Courts
These cater for people with mental issues, mental disabilities, personality issues, dependency on drugs, etc. and place them on court-supervised mental health programs. These assist in helping a group in which incarceration would not have the required effect. Additionally, they also assist in the treatment of people that the prison system would neglect otherwise. Alternatively, this system is prone to abuse by mentally healthy offenders.
The essay sought to explore the corrections system, its goals, and the best strategies that can be used to arrive at its objectives. The corrections system has evolved from amputations and public beheadings to the Pennsylvania system, Auburn era, the Big House era, and then the Corrections phase. However, it has not shifted to the just-deserts view yet. There are many officers in the correctional system who all face challenges such as litigation and inadequate funds, which leads to fewer officers who are adequately equipped and trained. The inmates maintain the rights that are consistent with being in prison. They also have the right to complain about prison authorities and facilities. Other than imprisonment, the society can also use methods such as community mediation as correction methods. Lastly, the alternative strategies to incarceration include home confinement and mental health courts.