Improvements to the Correctional System

CRJ 410 Corrections

“Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of our social problems.”

— Angela Davis

Becoming a corrections officer is a fairly simple endeavor. Most agencies require you to be at least 18 years of age while others set a minimum age of 21. You must also be able to prove you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have no felony convictions. Some corrections facilities require that you have at least two years of work experience and a clean work record. While educational requirements vary depending on the correctional facility, all facilities require at least a high school diploma. Additionally, many state and local facilities expect you to have some postsecondary education as well depending on the position one is applying for. What they all are lacking in requirements, is that a person possess a high level of professionalism.

One way the corrections system can attain higher levels of professionalism is by training officers and employees to take pride in what they are doing. A way that this can happen is through programs that are designed for this purpose and incorporate P.R.I.D.E. (Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dignity, and Excellence). When potential new hires are required to participate in these types of training programs prior to job placement, they are more prepared to look at their job as a professional career and display qualities of leadership and professionalism. This could be a great start for entry level employees. In the Connecticut, the department of corrections has a program for senior level employees called Leadership Excellence and Development (LEaD). This program is a unique blended approach to leadership development that includes classroom based competency development, executive coaching, use of 360° feedback instruments, and action learning groups ( ). When employees are involved in continuing programs, they are more apt to stay focused on their goals of professionalism.

Take a position as to whether or not conditions of correctional facilities circumvent the “cruel and unusual punishment standard” of the Eighth Amendment. Provide a rationale for your response.

According to the Eighth Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Up until current times, correctional institutions have run on their own ideals and philosophies without much attention from human rights activists. With the gaining grounds that these activists have made along with empirical research into how these facilities are run, many have come to see that there are indeed some institutions that where the conditions are in violation of the Eighth Amendment when it concerns cruel and unusual punishment.

The treatment of prisoners is a highly divided topic here in the U.S. On one side, conservative opinion holds that these individuals, who are incarcerated, do not deserve a comfortable stay because they are the lowest of society and deemed not worthy of any types of rights. On the flip side, liberal opinion holds that, regardless of what these people have done, they should at least be afforded the most basic of human rights such as clean and properly working facilities. Many reports from inmates describe horrendous conditions and acts committed on the inside. One prisoner described to how he was handcuffed to the bottom of his bunk in his underwear day after day for months. Another described how his cell was located directly beneath broken toilet pipes, which meant the cell smelled horribly of urine and excrement. Cells are unbearably hot or cold and how four prisoners are confined to spaces intended for two, with only one set of bunk beds. Showers that produce only scalding or icy water and when cell toilets overflow, staff are in no hurry to fix them or to clean up (Garbus, 2014). Television shows such as 60 Days In, actually show the public how the corrections facilities are running currently ( ).

Solitary confinement has become a hot topic in relation to violation of the Eighth Amendment. It is hard to tell exactly how many prisoners are in solitary each year in the United States. Today, 44 states allow it, but many states do not report how many inmates are held in solitary (Garbus, 2014). A 2005 report from the Vera Institute of Justice estimated the number at 81,622. What started out as a stop-gap measure to address prison violence has become institutionalized and strangely, no one knows if segregating prisoners reduces violence.

On a visit to Alcatraz last February, my fiancé and I got the opportunity to get locked inside of one of the solitary confinement units as part of our tour. It was completely dark, and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. We were only locked inside for about 6 minutes and during that time, I felt sensory deprivation. I asked the tour guide what was the longest time spent inside one of these units to which he responded “30 days is the longest recorded.” We have inmates serving YEARS now, granted, they are not in completely blacked out cells but still. Research is showing what the effects of this practice is having on individuals who are placed in segregation. It is proving that this practice is indeed a violation of the Eighth Amendment and it should be either eradicated or limited in its use.

On the subject of corporal punishment, until the 1800s abuse and torture were common aspects of any sentence. The use of this type of punishment may have struck fear in the people of the past but it did not deter criminal behavior. In our current society, the use of this type of punishment would cause complete outrage due to the major development of human rights. There may still be countries who incorporate the use of this method, however, we do not consider them as moral or just because we feel that the punishment should fit the crime and most of these countries inflict corporal punishment for even the smallest infractions such as graffiti. Due to this type of punishment not proving to be effective, its removal from our justice system is completely acceptable and preferred by the majority of our population.

There is a tremendous need for intermediate sanctions because of the current state of the criminal justice system. Jails are overcrowded, and the probation system is also being pushed to its limits. Intermediate sanctions offer a wide range of options that can meet the wide-ranging needs of offenders. It is believed that the use of intermediate sanctions can help an offender see the seriousness of his or her crime without being incarcerated. These save a tremendous amount of money in the long run and they are a terrific opportunity for offenders to make amends for their crimes and make some changes without being pulled out of society to be jailed. With intermediate sanctions, offenders can benefit from treatment, support, community service, groups, education, training.

When dealing with mentally ill inmates, correctional facilities are not adequately equipped to provide the proper treatment. This is quite a statement considering there are so many offenders who are mentally ill that are currently confined in correctional facilities. Due to the lack of widespread utilization of diversion programs, such as mental health and drug courts, at the front end of the criminal justice process, more people with these issues are entering prisons than ever before. This means that jails and prisons have become the mental asylums of the 21st Century; truly a sad thought. A systematic review of 62 surveys of the incarcerated population from 12 Western countries showed that, among the men, 3.7 percent had psychotic illness, 10 percent major depression, and 65 percent a personality disorder, including 47 percent with antisocial personality disorder (Daniel, 2007).

Persons dealing with these types of illnesses and disorders need intensive personalized care. That is something that prisons do not offer due to ever-increasing health care costs, staff expense, lack of qualified health care professionals to work in prisons, lack of visionary correctional leadership (with exceptions), and ever-increasing litigation. More and more states have privatized the mental health and medical services that are provided to inmates. This has resulted in a seriously lacking quality of care and because of this, rehabilitation efforts are wasted.

In effect, our current correctional system is in need of a serious overhaul. If we, as a society, really want to achieve the goal of rehabilitation of offenders, we must examine what we are doing that is preventing that and what must change. Otherwise, these facilities will remain criminal storage units that are in constant states of recycling.

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