Prior to the 1960s, criminals were all handled similarly and the way in which probation and parole was handled had become a regular routine. However, during the 1960s, the makeup of the typical offender began to change. The corrections system began to recognize the need to manage certain groups of offenders differently. Offenders with the tendency for violence, a history of sexual assault, a physical problem, mental illness, or infectious disease are among the group classified as special offenders, along with juveniles and the elderly (Seiter, 2011). These groups of people require treatment outside of the normal approach to corrections (Seiter, 2011). These offenders financially strain the prison systems at both state and federal levels but must be treated with individualized care in order for rehabilitation to be effective and successful, and for the elderly, the True Grit program has proven to be beneficial to their overall health and wellbeing while incarcerated.
Special needs, mentally ill, and substance-abusing offenders require specialized treatment in order to be effectively rehabilitated. This can affect the state and federal prison system in many ways. The increase in juvenile, female, and elderly inmates has created a more diverse prison population and affects state and federal prisons by creating the need for a more diverse corrections staff. A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998 (Horowitz, 2013). Prisons reportedly house more mentally ill patients than hospitals, and mentally ill inmates are generally incarcerated for crimes of survival that possible could have been prevented (Horowitz, 2013).
They require extensive supervision due to their tendency to be suicidal, specialists to diagnose and administer treatment, and medications to stabilize them. Substance-abusing offenders make up the majority of the prison population as a study examined 75% of prison inmates were involved with drugs or alcohol at the time of arrest (Cropsey, 2008). Substance-abusing offenders burden the prison system by having an estimated 95% recidivism rate due to relapse (Cropsey, 2013). This can be due to the lack of drug treatment programs available and the access to drugs in prison. These offenders require drug and alcohol abuse counseling and specialized medical care for drug-related illnesses. Juvenile and elderly offenders require segregation from other inmates and elderly inmates may experience accessibility issues and require low energy recreational and work activities (University of Phoenix, 2014).
Though the specialized care needed for special offenders can be a financial burden on the prison system, it is necessary to satisfy the goals of the corrections system. If inmates are not properly treated, this will only lead to a revolving door in prison in which inmates constantly are shuffled back and forth in and out of prison. The treatment and counseling services that an inmate participates in can effectively help them to rehabilitate and transition into productive citizens in the community upon release. Most drug and alcohol abusers commit crimes only when under the influence or to obtain their next high (Horowitz, 2013).
Also, mentally ill inmates are too often incarcerated while awaiting trial instead of being placed in mental hospitals or treatment centers that can nurture the healing process and administer medications that can place them in a stable mental state. If these groups of offenders received the treatment that they require in order to be productive, they will go on to live law abiding lives outside of prison.
Elderly inmates often have mobility issues, suffer from mental illnesses more common with age, and spend a majority of their time in the prison infirmary. True Grit is a program that originated in The Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, and aims to provide a reason for geriatric inmates to get up in the mornings. The program benefits the prison system in that all resources it requires are allocated through donations and no prison funds are utilized, it has decreased geriatric infirmary visits, decreased the need for psychotropic medications prescribed to its participants, improved the general wellbeing of its participants, and has reduced the fear of dying alone in its participants (Harrison, 2006).
The True Grit program provides a structure living environment for elderly prison inmates and allows them to participate in recreational activities that improve the mobility of their bodies and engage them in a social and nurturing environment. The program also helps participants apply for early compassionate release and adds humanity to the prison system by giving inmates hope.
The population of special offenders in prisons has grown at a steady rate. As a result, the need for more individualized care and treatment programs tailored toward their needs has grown as well. Each group of special offenders requires different treatment and approaches in order to be successful candidates for law abiding citizens once released and the treatment they receive while incarcerated can directly impact their success rate. It is financially expensive to administer the programs necessary for the treatment of special offenders but it is also cost affective to treat and rehabilitate whether than risk increases in recidivism rates for ignoring their needs.
There are programs available to assist each group and encourage them throughout their treatment and among them is the True Grit program that encourages the elderly inmate population to live fuller lives even behind prison bars and has led to a decrease in the need for medical care and use of psychotropic medications. Programs like it should be utilized more often to obtain similar results and therefore foster the goal of corrections of rehabilitating and decreasing recidivism rates.
Cropsey, K.L. (2008). Specialized Prisons and Services: Results from a National Survey. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2350234/ Harrison, M.T. (2006). True: An Innovative Program for Elderly Inmates. Retrieved from http://www.aca.org/fileupload/177/prasannak/Stewart_dec06.pdf Horowitz, A. (2013, February 4). Mental Illness Soars in Prisons, Jails While Inmates Suffer. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/04/mental-illness-prisons-jails-inmates_n_2610062.html Seiter, R.P. (2011). Corrections: An Introduction (3rd ed.). Retrieved from The University of
Phoenix eBook Collection
University of Phoenix. (2014). Special Offenders [Multimedia]. Retrieved from University of
Phoenix, CJA234-Introduction to Corrections website.