Types of Rehabilitation Programs in US Prisons
Puppies Behind Bars began in a northeastern part of the country in a maximum-security prison for women. With thirteen dogs and twenty-two participants, the program aimed to train dogs to work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as well as the New York Police Department Bomb Squad. Strict guidelines, routines, and frequent education courses on animal care are the core of PBB. The program measures success by a dog’s employment after completing the program. Similarly, the Greyhound Friends of New Jersey rescues retired race dogs that would otherwise be euthanized. Inmates in the program socialize and prepare the dogs to become house pets through training and education programs, as well as direct interaction and care of the animals. Success of the program means that the dog passes the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test to determine adoptability.
Completing the program usually coincides with release from prison. After release from prison, GFNJ staff often give job references to participants, and most quickly find employment working with animals. Both programs offer inmates the chance to improve themselves through work, learning to care for others and taking on responsibility. While the intention of the programs is to serve the animals and community, the prisoners are rewarded simply in participation of the program and personal growth that results in it. Participants of the programs have become less aggressive towards others, and they feel they have overcome their limitations from being in prison and feel ready to re-enter society upon release. Administrators of the women’s programs, Puppies Behind Bars, reports that in a five-year time period, zero of the twenty-two participants were rearrested. (Furst, 2011). The non-existent recidivism rate and employment rates of both programs prove success.
The Tennessee Department of Corrections has utilized a therapeutic community-type of treatment for its drug addicted inmates in eleven of its prisons. The program teaches the inmates to take responsibility for their actions and how to properly socialize with others while living sober, all while teaching them how to trust authority figures. Through this program, the Tennessee DOC has reported a decrease of over 50 percent in positive drug tests, proving its success to staff and participants (Simpson & Hergert, 2016). Programs in two of Delaware’s prisons take the Tennessee DOC program a step beyond drug rehabilitation by also providing therapy for its abused inmates. KEY in Baylors Women’s Correctional Institute offers a women’s only therapeutic drug rehabilitation program that approaches treatment in a non-confrontational manner. Participants of the program take parenting classes, are given social skills to build and repair familial relationships while learning the steps to maintain a sober life. The CREST program in Sussex Correctional Institute goes a step further, by offering men and women the same type of treatment. Women use men in the program to overcome their fears and distrust of other men and learn to approach and socialize with men in a platonic manner through group therapy and social exercises. Three years after completing the KEY/CREST programs along with aftercare treatment upon release, 69 percent of participants remained crime free and 35 percent remained sober (Wells & Bright, 2005).
The most important way to rehabilitate an inmate, according to Patrice Richie, is education. As the warden of Birmingham Women’s Correctional Facility in Alabama, Richie stresses the importance of “filling an inmates tool box” with tools that education will provide. While most prisons offer GED programs, higher education allows “adult learners to be literate, productive, and successful in the community as workforce” (Richie, 2014). Richie notes that most female offenders struggle to provide for their families; upon release they often do not have to tools and skills needed to do so without committing a crime. Crime becomes a means of survival, and with that comes a decline in self-esteem and self-worth. By providing higher education while an offender is serving time, upon release she has the tools and opportunity to move forward (Richie, 2014)
Controversy of Rehabilitation Programs
Within the prison animal programs, there are several who claim that a prison is not the place for an animal. Several participants of the program often have other duties, such as kitchen duty; an animal in the kitchen violates several health regulations. An animal, specifically a dog that is accustomed to a racetrack, is not accustomed to “prison noises”; an animal could quickly become nervous and timid and turn aggressive. (Furst, 2011).
Drug programs are successful in the prison they are used in. It is difficult to copy and paste the same program into a different prison with a different group of offenders (Kilgore, 2015). Several inmates throughout American prisons are required to participate in drug education programs, but many do not maintain sobriety while in prison, much less after release. Opponents of therapeutic rehabilitation communities argue that participants only join the program to get away from stresses of prison life, since the participants of the programs are separated from general prison population. Treatment staff are not typically correctional officers, therefore often dismiss unacceptable behavior from inmates that would otherwise be punished by a correctional officer. Inmates are often given treatment that others “outside” would not receive, and these treatments do not cost the inmate (Simpson & Hergert, 2016).
The 1980s saw the development of the war on drugs and a rise of mass incarceration as a result. Harsher punishments became the norm, a life sentence for selling small amounts of drugs was not uncommon. This “tough on crime” mentality geared prison once again towards methods of punishment rather than a chance to rehabilitate. (Kilgore, 2015). In 1994 President Clinton signed the Federal Crime Bill which banned inmates from receiving federal Pell grants. (Pens, 1994). The Pell grant program, beginning in 1965, gave education grants to low-income students, prisoners were not specifically excluded from this. However, officials argued that allowing inmates to receive grant took upwards of $35 million in grants and used education simply a means of getting out of prison early, as inmates decreased their prison sentence based on the type of education program they completed. (Pens, 1994). It is easy to argue that the majority of citizens feel their tax dollars should not go to luxuries such as education for prisoners, since inmates are often afforded meals and clothing, with many prisons offering religious services,
Counter Claims Supporting Rehabilitation Programs
The prison animal programs may be one of the most dismissed yet effective programs a prison can adopt. Puppies Behind Bars and Greyhound Friends of New Jersey have shown that participants are willing to comply to the programs’ rules, and because they have a desire to stay in the program, they are less likely act out that would result in expulsion from the program. Because participants are complying with rules and figures of authority, they show that they are capable and willing to follow the law once they are out of prison (Furst, 2011).
While there is a division in therapeutic communities between treatment staff and prison personnel, it is important to focus on how these programs can benefit the inmates who seek a sober life beyond prison. By understanding each other’s methods and trainings, treatment staff and officers can meet each other’s needs, support each other in therapeutic community settings, and in turn, better help the inmate recover. A correctional officer can amend an inmate’s social behavior, while the treatment staff can help change the way an inmate views him or herself in relation to substance abuse. “By working collaboratively and incorporating the various tools…treatment and correctional staff can continually experience the fulfillment of the ultimate reward- knowing they have each played a part in reforming the lives of the offenders, minimizing the likelihood of offenders returning to their previous self-destructive behavior and opening a door of hope to their future” (Simposon & Hergert, 2016).
Criminologist and former research for the Federal Bureau of Prisons Gerry Gaes noted that “education is one of the most productive and important reentry services” (Steurer, et. al, 2010). Education programs cost considerably less than building new additions to prisons that would accommodate more inmates, as a study performed by UCLA proved (Steurer, et. al, 2010). It is worth noting, according to Gaes, that education is “fundamental to other correctional goal [and] may be a prerequisite to the success of many other kinds of prison rehabilitation programs” (Steurer, et. al, 2010). With an education, inmates are also given tools to succeed in other areas, such a drug rehabilitation and anger management, they are able to communicate better through writing and speaking and are able to recognize and change criminal behavior before committing a crime. Education programs also reduce cost; as an inmate completes an education programs, he or she is eligible for early release. The early release and reduced recidivism rates create a cycle that lowers crime, and therefore reduces prison costs (Steurer, et. al, 2010).
Lowering Recidivism Rates
Before the 1994 bill was passed, the Texas Department of Corrections reported recidivism rates of 13.7% of inmates who obtained an Associate’s degree, 5.6% of those who earned a Bachelor’s degree. Those who earned a Master’s degree did not return to prison. (Pens, 1994). Pens also states (1994) that as Ohio prisons shut down education programs, meaningless jobs were created to fulfill prisoners duties, jobs that included leaf-raking and sidewalk cleaning. Pens also asks a question with heavy weight to it: “Has anybody conducted a study to see what the recidivism is for illiterate prisoners who leave prison with degrees in leaf raking and sidewalk sweeping?” (1994). With this question is laced with satire, it is a good indication of the result of cutting education programs in prisons.
To compliment rehabilitation programs, reentry programs also serve in lowering recidivism rates. When an inmate is released, along with the education and tools and skills learned from other rehabilitation programs, he or she is more likely to comply with post-release and parole terms. A 2005 study concluded that residential programs such as a halfway-house proved most effective in lowering recidivism rates among repeat offenders and high-risk offenders (Lowenkamp & Latessa, 2005).
In a State of the Union address in 2004, President Bush stated, “American is a land of second chance, and when the gates of prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life” (Travis, Crayton & Mukamal, 2009) In 2008 President Bush signed into law the Second Chance Act, which provided state and local governments the funds to invest in reentry programs, and alleviated strict guidelines and requirements of parole. Provisions of the act include education and job training and mental health and drug treatment during and after incarceration (A Small Light, 2009). Prisoners also face homelessness upon release; reentry programs such as residential halfway-houses provide housing for recently released offenders, and upon completion, those offenders have the resources to find adequate housing. The inability to acquire safe and stable housing has repercussions- “it can reduce access to healthcare services…make it harder to secure a job and prevent formerly incarcerated people from accessing educational programs” (Couloute, 2018).
There is much evidence to support the need for rehabilitation programs in reducing recidivism rates, as given in the few examples of programs provided. By expanding and investing in programs throughout American prisons, it is possible to see a society with little crime, even as the population continues to grow. With a prison population of approximately 2.2 million men and women, the United States had the highest prison population. With programs such as Puppies Behind Bars, KEY/CREST, and higher education programs, it is possible to reduce the number, as well as the recidivism rate. With a lower recidivism rate, society will see less crime, and with less crime less victims. Former Supreme Court Justice Warran Burger stated, “We must accept the reality that to confine offenders behind walls without trying to change them is an expensive folly with short-term benefits- winning battles while loosing the war” (Steurer, et. al, 2016).