Improving Corrections Facilities

CRJ 410 Corrections

Most states have recognized that low-level offenses, particularly those committed by first-time offenders, shouldn’t necessarily trigger the normal criminal-case process. When this occurs, these states utilize diversion programs in order to treat the offender and aid them in getting back on track thus attempting to avoid future criminal activity. Under some diversion systems, defendants are “diverted” to counseling early in the proceedings. In some systems, the defendant doesn’t have to enter a plea at all to receive diversion, while others require that the defendant formally admit guilt but suspend punishment until the defendant has had the opportunity to complete diversion program. These programs emphasize counseling, treatment, and behavior modification over punitive measures that can last from six months to a year (Berman, 2018).

Generally speaking, diversion programs are only available to misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenders. The reason for this is mainly to keep jail/prison populations low so there is room for the serious felons and violent offenders. Diversion programs should not be available for this class of offender due to the nature of their crime and their obvious lack of respect for the life of others. These offenders should be taken through the justice process and convicted in the traditional sense because victims and society demand this justice. To allow a violent offender to be diverted makes absolutely no sense and defies societal values.

Here in the State of Oregon, we have fourteen correctional facilities. Oregon contains 3.5 million people with 14,800 currently in prison (Oregon Inmate Population Trend doc). According to the information provided by the Department of Corrections, 67 new inmates entered prison during the month of January 2018. Oregon has a Criminal Offense Diversion Program for first-time offenders who are charged with a non-violent misdemeanor criminal offense. This program should be expanded to include non-violent felony offenses as well, especially for first-time offenders. This would reduce the number entering the prison population and open beds for serious felonies and violent offenders.

In response to privatized prisons, prior to the Trump administration, the Department of Justice was in the process of eliminating the use of these types of facilities stating that they were not living up to their intended promises. In her memo announcing the change, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates pointed out that private prisons “compare poorly” to facilities run by the federal Bureau of Prisons (Margulies, 2016). The DOJ found that, in general, private prisons provide fewer correctional services at greater security and safety risk to inmates and staff, without producing substantial savings (Margulies, 2016). In reality, the real reason that these types of facilities should cease to exist is because justice should not be administered through a prism of profit (Margulies, 2016). If we allow this to take place, we are allowing for those in the justice system to stray from their duty to administer justice impartially. From the standpoint of our Constitution, the concept violates it, in spirit, if not in fact. From a fiscal point, there is no cost effectiveness in privatizing the prison system. From an ethical position, punishment by our criminal justice system is a government function and cannot be given to private contractors without abuses to follow. The institution of a privatized prison system is a call for corruption just as in the case of the two Pennsylvania Judges convicted of wrongly accepting bribes to sentence minors to a private prison run for minors. This scandal has been appropriately named “Kids for Cash” and involved Judge Mark Ciavarella, 58, along with Judge Michael Conahan, 56, who corruptly and fraudulently “created the potential for an increased number of juvenile offenders to be sent to juvenile detention facilities,” federal court documents alleged. Children would be placed in private detention centers, under contract with the court, to increase the head count. In exchange, the two judges would receive kickbacks (Chen, 2009). These types of facilities are more concerned with making money for their shareholders than with helping offenders turn their lives around.

What both private and government run prisons are doing is just holding people. They’re playing defense when we need to be playing offense. Throughout American history, nonprofit organizations have provided social services to those not adequately served by government programs. Today, these institutional hybrids are major forces in health care, higher education, medical research, and the arts and humanities. There is no reason a private group, perhaps a major foundation, could not establish a not-for-profit prison in this same tradition. This type of prison could be incorporated as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization similar to a church or hospital. Inmates would retain their constitutional rights, and the state would pay a per-diem charge. America already has many juvenile correctional facilities run by nonprofits, and new evidence from this population bears out the hypothesis that nonprofits can tackle recidivism more effectively than their public and for-profit counterparts (Pozen, 2012).

Across the country, correctional agencies are being tasked with meeting the mission of public safety with reduced resources while maintaining effective operations and the efficient use of public funding. In a 2011 survey of correctional professionals, 98.5 percent of the respondents indicated that cost containment is a significant or critical concern within their organizations (NIC, 2014). The areas that are most focused on are staffing, offender medical/mental health services, and supervising the offender population. In order to balance the budget effectively, it is recommended that many corrections be taken to the community level. By utilizing more probation and parole officers, and taking supervision to the community, correctional facilities are better able to treat offenders in a cost-effective manner.