Prisons release 650,000 offenders to the public annually and 70% of those exoffenders will commit new offenses within three years (Fields, 2005, p. A4). According to the JFA Institute (2007), “two-thirds of the 650,000 prison admissions are people who have failed probation or parole—approximately half of these people have been sent to prison for technical violations” (p. 1). As prison crowding occurs, prison officials are challenged to keep inmates busy by assigning them to productive tasks and incorporate therapeutic programs (Center for Justice & Reconciliation, 2007).
If criminal justice professionals fail to keep up with programming expectations, program shortages may influence inmate idleness resulting in disruptions, prison violations, and mental-health issues related to stress and depression (Fields). During 2003 and 2004, approximately 900 criminals entered the nation’s jails and prisons each week based on a report issued in April 2006 by the U. S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (p. 1). Jails and prisons in the U. S.
house more people with mental illnesses than many of the inpatient psychiatric facilities, and virtually all correctional facilities experience the impact of this population that is increasing at an unprecedented rate (McCuan, Prini, & Wasarhaley, 2007). During 2006, 41% of inmate assailants were listed under the mental health caseload (Collins, 2006). In 2006, the U. S. Department of Justice released statistics revealing that 23% of state prisoners reported symptoms of major depression. An estimated 61% of state prisoners and 44% of jail inmates who had a mental
health problem also had a history of past violent behavior. In a 1999 report (Dawn, 2007), the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill reported that there are three times as many seriously mentally ill individuals in prison and jails than there are being treated in hospitals. Equally disturbing is that the criminal justice system will have some type of experience with 25 to 40% of the mentally ill in the U. S. population. Inmates with mental illness present additional expenditure problems for prison systems already overburdened by population demands.
The influx has challenged criminal justice professionals to extend their budgets to cover the costs of appropriate programming for every offender in an effort to minimize potential inmate unrest, a situation that leads to assaults and other infractions associated with idleness (Wilkinson, 1998). In 2007, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) reached a population milestone with a count of 50,000 offenders. As the inmate population rises in Ohio prisons, the possibility of inmate assaults may also go up “because overcrowding exacerbates the chronic pains of imprisonment” (Haney, 2006, p. 2). One way to manage
a potential increase in assaults is to keep offenders engaged in some type of community activity and participating in therapeutic programs. Some officials reported that therapeutic programs and community service theoretically should be one of the most effective ways to engage an inmate’s time and energy and keep infractions at a manageable level. DRC views the involvement of inmates in community service and therapy as vital to their release. Ohio prison Director Terry Collins stated that ex-offenders who served as program participants during their incarceration help close the gap between themselves and their communities.
As a result, these inmates are better prepared to function as lawabiding citizens “…because they have stayed in touch with the community and have given something of value back” (Collins, 2007, p. 1). “Very crowded prison systems are difficult to manage” (Wilkinson, 1998, p. 76). As prison crowding occurs, prison officials are challenged to keep inmates busy by assigning them to productive tasks. “Good prison management is engaging prisoners in meaningful activities such as educational programs and work assignments” (Wilkinson, p. 76).
“The most important single factor (among many) that helps to explain the current crisis in American corrections—the lack of effective programming and treatment” (Haney, 2007, p. 76). Although prison jobs such as mopping floors, kitchen duty, and making prison garments occupy inmates’ time, more meaningful community service as a restorative justice measure may be an effective way to address the challenge of prison crowding (Center for Justice & Reconciliation, 2007). “The meaningful aspect is critical because it may help to instill responsibility and a changed attitude about criminal
activity” (Wilkinson, p. 76). Prisons in the United States are facing the challenges of crowding including inmate idleness as it relates to programming expectations. Lack of programming in prison is a serious safety and security threat to the staff, the public, and the offenders. As inmate populations increase, once stable prison systems can become volatile environments and endanger prison staff and the systems they are charged with protecting (Gaes, 1994). When criminal justice professionals fail to keep up with programming expectations, program shortages may influence inmate idleness.
Inmate idleness can lead to disruptions, prison violations, gang-related activities, and mental-health issues related to stress and depression (Wilkinson, p. 76). Another issue confronting the criminal justice system is the increasing number ofyouth being sentenced to adult prisons (Fields, 2005). Every state within the U. S. has at least one statutory component that addresses the procedure of processing juveniles as adults in criminal court (Wilkinson, 1998). Prison officials also have other challenges. One challenge officials face includes accommodating the needs of state prisoners with symptoms of mania (43%) and major
depression (23%) according to the U. S. Department of Justice (2006, p. 1). A major problem is that inmates with mental health problems are unable to defend their situation so they remain in prison. Although prison officials face the issue of crowding, they are also seeking ways for inmates to become engaged in some type of activity that will keep them busy for the majority of their waking hours. When offenders engage in some type of prison program or activity that helps with their transition from prison to society successful reintegration is possible.
The theoretical framework of community service in the prison setting is the restorative justice model (Zehr, 2002). The restorative justice model advocates that offenders must demonstrate a desire or a goodwill gesture to pay back the public for the misdeed they committed in order to reconnect to their community. Restorative justice is a philosophical framework for responding to crime that focuses on the injury resulting from crime and the actions needed to mend this harm. It focuses on crime as an act against another individual or the community rather than the state.
It is a future-focused model that emphasizes problem solving instead of “just deserts. ” (Carey, 1996, pp. 152-153) Although several justice models exist, the restorative justice model combines the best features of the traditional, liberal, and conservative theories. “Restorative justice has brought an awareness of the limits and negative by-products of punishment. Beyond that, however, it has argued that punishment is not real accountability” (Zehr, 2002, p. 16). By participating as community service volunteers, inmates choose to serve the community. The inmates’ actions demonstrate a desire to
give back and a desire to assume responsibility for their actions. Community service programs have a restorative justice component that considers an offender’s successful transition from incarceration to community integration (U. S. Department of Justice, 2006). When considering the large number of offenders in jails and prisons nationally, the problem demands the public’s immediate attention (U. S. Department of Justice, 2006). Providing offenders with productive activities through programs like community service sends a message to the public that its safety and
security is vital. It is also important to assist inmates in their transition back into the community by engaging them in an activity that keeps them connected to a society that has been offended by crime. Wilkinson (1998) reported that a significant percent of exoffenders that participated in community service while in prison did not recidivate compared to those offenders that did not participate (p. 91). Although community service may have a positive impact on an inmate’s community re-entry, the type of community service program inmates do during their
incarceration may also improve their quality of prison life. Barak, Savorai, Mavashev, and Beni (2001) reported that dogs are becoming a valued therapeutic tool among health-care providers in clinical and non-traditional settings because of the calming affect dogs have on the physical and mental conditions of patients. Community service programs serve a useful role in managing inmate behavior and controlling the frequency and severity of inmate infractions within adult prisons. However, as prison crowding occurs, prison officials struggle to keep inmates busy by assigning them to productive tasks.
Inmate idleness is something that most states are confronted with and while prison jobs such as mopping floors, kitchen duty, and making prison garments keep inmates occupied, these jobs are not enough to satisfy programming requirements to address the needs of rising populations. As inmate populations increase, stable prison systems could become volatile environments endangering prison staff as well as the inmates the systems are charged with protecting. When there are a limited number of prison jobs to address the population challenges, offenders find inappropriate ways to address their own idleness.
The choices offenders make may lead to fights, staff assaults, riots, and other forms of aggression. References Barak, Y. , Savorai, O. , Mavashev, S. , & Beni, A (2001). Animal assisted therapy for elderly schizophrenic patients: A one year controlled trial. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 9(4), 439-432. Fields, G. (2005, January). Congress prepares to tackle prisoner recidivism: Lawmakers plan for bipartisan measures after report offers advice for overhaul. Wall Street Journal, p. A4. JFA Institute. (2007, November). Unlocking America: Why and how to reduce America’s
prison population. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from www. jfa-associates. com U. S. Department of Justice. (2006, September 6). Study finds more than half of all prison and jail inmates have mental health problems. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/newsroom/pressreleases/2006/BJS06064. htm McCuan, R. , Prins, S. , & Wasarhaley, N. (2007). Resources and challenges: Corrections and mental health collaborations. August 2007, Corrections Today: Female Offenders Collins, T. (2006). Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction: Pieces of the
puzzle. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www. drc. ohio. gov/ Dawn, B. (2007). Managing the “other” inmate. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www. corrections. com Wilkinson, R. A. (1998). The impact of community service work on adult state prisons using a restorative justice framework. Division of Research and Advanced Studies of the University of Cincinnati, College of Education. Haney, C. (2007). Testimony of Professor Craig Haney. Prison overcrowding: Harmful consequences and dysfunctional reactions. University of California, Santa Cruz.
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