The United States has a reputation for boasting the best in many areas, from manufacturing to the information highway. But is it good to be the world leader in all things? As it turns out over the past decade America has become the world leader in a statistic most would fight to hide. We now lead the pack in jailing our own citizens, having recently left South Africa and the Soviet Union in the dust. Should we be proud?
The obvious answer is of course no. We have a problem on our hands. A problem that seem to be growing like the proverbial unwanted weed in the front lawn of American life.
In 1990 the US jailed 455 people per 100,000 of the population. In comparison South Africa jailed 311, Canada 111, the United Kingdom 97, the Republic of Ireland 44 and Sweden 44. I think we need to peek over Ireland and Sweden’s fence to see what they’ve got right!
On top of the embarrassing statistic of being number one in incarcerating our own, there is the cost. The cost of keeping 1.1 million of our fellow American transgressors locked up was 20.3 billion dollars in 1990. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that a lot of money?
Hold on, it gets worse! In 1991 state and federal governments planned 4.3 billion dollars in new prison construction. In an age of space travel and information highways, why aren’t we able to reduce our prison population? Has the answer man fallen fast asleep?
The state of New York has been hard at work on just this question. One answer has been boot camps (or shock incarceration camps). What are they?
Basically, they are as the name implies, they are militaristic programs that use strict discipline, rigid schedules, strenuous exercise and supplemental education to whip the offenders into shape to deal with a world they previously could not. A typical day includes:
5:30 Wake up and standing count
5:45-6:30 Calisthenics and drill
7:00-8:00 Mandatory breakfast/cleanup
8:15 Standing count and company formation
8:30-11:55 Work/school schedules
12:00-12:30 Mandatory lunch and standing count
12:30-3:30 Afternoon work/school schedule
4:00-4:45 Network community meeting
4:45-5:45 Mandatory dinner, prepare for evening
6:00-9:00 School group counseling
Decision making classes
8:00 Count while in programs
9:15-9:30 Squad bay, prepare for bed
9:30 Standing count, lights outs
The results so far seem to indicate that the rate of recidivism (returning to prison) is lower than for those that do not go through the program.
As a bonus, the inmates work in supervised crews to perform thousands of hours of community service for municipalities and community groups. New York shock incarceration inmates have performed about 1.2 million hours of community service. If outside help had been hired the cost would have been $6 million.
To qualify for the New York program the offenders must be under 35 and eligible for parole within three years of admission to the program. In addition, they must not have committed a violent or sexual offense, or been previously sentenced to an indeterminate prison term. Both males and females are eligible.
Inmates who successfully complete the program are released prior to serving their full prison terms.
All well and good for the minimal offender, but somehow I don’t think they were the major problem to begin with. What of the more hardened criminal?
“Rehabilitation really depends heavily on the psychopathology of the person.” explains Leonard Lococo, director of mental health programs for the Tennessee department of corrections “If you’re dealing with someone who is extremely sociopathic or narcissistic… the likelihood of reforming them is pretty remote.”
“What we do is try to help inmates recognize the pitfalls within the body of their personality,” continues Lococo “if somebody is able to recognize these things and is able to have genuine empathy, not only for themselves, but for others, then you’ve got some hope.”
But just how do you get the offender to recognize what it is like to be a victim.
According to Lococo one of the techniques is modeling. “It is very intense, especially if you’re doing role reversals, where you have the offenders actually portraying the victims.” asserts Lococo “As the therapist I would be the offender and actually go through the scenario where I am actually victimizing the offender and helping him to identify some of his own abuse issues.”
“What you’re trying to focus in on is tapping into the positive traits the person has, if any, in trying to cultivate these things so they reattach some of the emotional components that they have spent many years severing. So they can begin to have some empathy towards some of their own victims, and hopefully recognize that they don’t want to victimize anybody else.” contends Lococo.
In their research on rehabilitation programs Daniel H. Antonowicz and Robert R. Ross have identified factors that are “crucial to the success of programs.”
What are these factors? According to Antonowicz and Ross: offenders are complex, therefore, programs designed to help them must also be complex.
The key is to target the “criminogenic needs” of the offenders. Without meeting these needs the offenders are likely to recidivate (return to the previous state). Some of these needs include: changing antisocial attitudes, changing antisocial feeling, reducing antisocial peer associations, promoting familial affection and communication and promoting identification and association with anti-criminal role models, just to name a few.
If this sounds more complicated than herding inmates through boot camps, it is!
“The reality of trying to provide that intensive therapy in the correctional system is very difficult,” stresses Lococo “We are not able to institute that type of change in a person. The closest thing to that is our sex offender program.
“That’s an almost four year program that someone has to go through. It’s going to take a person anywhere from two to four years to go through that, at six hours a day. If we had the staff to do that with every criminal we would be able to create some change.” contends Lococo.
In his book Inside the Criminal Mind, Dr. Stanton Samenow argues that criminals think differently from the average citizen. There is a thrill that the criminal minds experiences from the pursuit of the forbidden. Many people in our society experience a similar thrill from breaking cultural taboos, but not to the degree that the criminal does. The task of the counselor is to change the offenders thinking, to get them to stop looking for the quick fix and addictive excitement.
Lococo agrees and adds, “I’ve dealt with kids who have said Hey Lenny I don’t need to go to school. I can go out and make two to four grand a week by just pushing drugs. I’ll do my time and get busted, get right back out and make good money.’ That’s the very impulsive short term thinking you have to deal with. That is one of your goals in treatment. To get a person to look at the long range effects of their behavior, as well as the short term. It’s that immediate gratification that they can not delay. They want it now, at any cost, and if that means victimizing somebody, they’ll do it.”
So is the answer to continue to build prisons ad infinitum, until there are more offenders to be housed than there are good citizens to jail the offenders? It is a complex problem that Lococo sheds some light on.
“There are many men and women within the system that can benefit from treatment, and if given the opportunity to continue (treatment) will become productive citizens. We’re dealing with a lot of personality disorder individuals, throw in childhood deprivation, and you have a lot of compounding factors that take a long time to undue.” Lococo points out “You’re are not going to undue in a year or two what has taken a lifetime for some of these people to develop.
Let’s assume that they do make it through the prison system even moderately reformed. What kind of individual is being released back into society?
Bill Becktold, a spokes person for the Federal Bureau of Prison located in Washington D.C., states there are a number of programs available for preparing the rehabilitated offender for reintegration back into society. Not only are there educational opportunities in prison, such as GEDs, self improvement programs and, for those willing to pay for it, college educations. Vocational training is also available in masonry, electrical, plumbing, horticulture and culinary programs.
Of course, vocational training would not necessarily result in a rehabilitated offender. Providing a person with a way to make a living does not necessarily get to the root of the problem. You have to change the criminal’s way of thinking.
“The development of social skills for inmates is taught in every one of the programs. They are taught how to get along with other inmates while they are recreating.” assures Becktold. In addition to that, all federal prisoners go through a release process. “One year prior to an inmates release they are mandated to go through, what we call, pre-release programs,” explains Becktold “In pre-release programs inmates are instructed that now is the time you should start thinking about what you going to do when you get out. They are taught things like career paths, resume writing, who to send the resumes to, and who they should contact prior to getting out. “Most inmates are released through what we call half way houses, or community corrections centers, where they are allowed six months for placement.
“It is a step down from an institutional society into a controlled environment in the community, then back into the community. For that reason… the government does not pay or give inmates a lump sum on their way out the door. (What they do get) …is a very small amount between $25 and $100, and a bus ticket to wherever they are going,” explains Becktold.
Many of the programs being offered are relatively new. The implementation of boot camps and social cognitive skills training are two answers to the rising prison population. According to the experts the multifaceted social cognitive skills training is the most effective, but with the caveat that it is very expensive.
If we are to weigh the cost of an endlessly increasing prison population against the cost of increased psychological counseling for prisoners it seems obvious what our course as a nation should be. If we can not rationalize our philosophies to the fact that we are our brothers keeper, then surly the realist in all of us must understand if the prison population continues to grow it could lead to disastrous consequences, not only in cost, but in a society full of criminals.
We, as citizens, should be concerned how our money is spent. We, as citizens, should care about protecting innocent victims. We, as citizens, should be motivated to care about what happens to the fallen members of our society.