The correctional system is a large network of agencies within the government. In order to manage millions of juveniles and criminals, jurisdictions prisons, probation boards and rehabilitation programs are all organized within a criminal justice system ran by several key figures such as the police, the courts and the prosecution. Generally, the police officer acts as a court of first instance by using his discretion in recognizing juveniles or offenders. The law enforcement are the once that would investigate the crimes and responsible for the evidences. After the suspected criminal is apprehended, they are brought to courts wherein they would be deemed guilty or not. Courts have judges that ensure the law is strictly followed and oversee the trial. They decide for agreements and sentence convicted offenders. The legal counsel takes the sides of either the prosecution or the defence. The prosecutors typically represent the state or federal government who presents evidences and negotiate bargains with defendants. The defence attorneys represent the defendant against the government’s case. Finally, convicted offenders are sent to corrections. The prison is usually the correctional facility that administers punishment and supervision. But there are also community-based institutions that specialize on treatment and rehabilitation. The main role of a correctional officer is to treat its prisoners with dignity and respect, and help prisoners to become law-abiding citizens. They oversee the daily custody of prisoners until they are released back to the community.
The degree to which crime is reduced is always important. Any correctional strategy would always target the goal of mitigating or reducing crimes. But the effectiveness of crime reduction should also be given emphasis. There are several considerations that should be considered for corrections. One is what happens after the criminals or juveniles were released back into the community? The correctional effectiveness is sometimes based on the level of respect and confidence of the community in the ability of the authorities to manage safe and constitutional prisons. Within corrections, there are always heated debates about the best strategy and policy in totally reducing crimes.
The strategies for corrections are basically categorized as incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, community control, discipline or challenge programs, and combinations of rehabilitation and control (McKenzie, 2006). All of these strategies are expected to control crimes. Obviously, they are not independent from each other. They can have similarities in the theoretical rationale of reducing crimes but the mechanism involved varies enormously from each other. The first goal is incapacitation. In order to control crimes, the logical way is to deprive the offender the capacity to freely commit crimes. The criminals are usually detained in prisons or jails or sometimes through capital punishment. On the other hand, deterrence is another correctional strategy but is designed to be very repugnant so that neither the offender nor those in the community will ever attempt to commit the crime in the future. It stimulates fear of punishment on the public through indirect deterrence, while direct deterrence focuses on the severity of punishment on the individual in question.
Meanwhile, rehabilitation programs including cognitive skills improvement, employment and life skills development and even education are all directed towards changing the behaviour and cognitive reasoning of an offender. In addition, community control or supervision of offenders is another strategy meant to decrease the likelihood of repeating misbehaviour, offense or a crime after a rehabilitation or punishment has been implemented, or famously known as recidivism. Community control strategy also attempts to reduce the delinquents or offenders opportunity for criminal activities. Electronic monitoring and even home confinement are some modern intervention for community control. In recent years, there are also structure, discipline and challenge programs that are designed to change offenders in positive ways or deter them from later crimes (McKenzie, 2006). One way is to expose them to mental or physical stress activities through wilderness programs and boot camps. Usually under the U.S. penal system, boot camps are famous correctional facility for adolescents.
Historically, sentencing and corrections are focused on rehabilitation. All U.S. States underwent the age of indeterminate sentencing and rehabilitations. Prisons were labelled as “correctional institutions” to tackle environmental and psychological causes of crimes. Rehabilitation focused on community treatment, reintegration, diversion and education and employment programs. The shift from rehabilitation model to justice model is not enough. Crime control models are perceived to focus on incapacitation and deterrence. Selective incapacitation emerged to control population increase in prisons and improved the strategies of identifying highly potent offenders in the community. The “war on drugs” is a major factor on the expansion of sentencing and corrections in the 1970s. As a result, intermediate sanctions were created (McKenzie, 2006). In the United States, it is also called correctional alternatives, community corrections or correctional options. However, during sentencing, the time spent of offenders in prison is actually shorter than what is declared by the court. Thus, many states enacted restrictions to early release, known as “truth in sentencing”. This policy mostly targets violent offenders, but varies widely among the states. The law requires offenders to fully serve their prison sentence before being recommended for release.
As long as there are correctional facilities, clearly offenders cannot commit crimes. However, crime control strategies face two major issues, prison overcrowding and cost. Incapacitation is known to incur high costs. Increase incapacitation also means increased imprisonment rates and associated financial costs. The longer the prisoners are incarcerated, the longer it takes for them to return the investment of the government. The government’s money is the people’s money. It is true that there should be a cost of safety, but correctional facilities may be not enough to accommodate the increasing imprisonment rates. One factor would be the high frequency criminals, after being serving their sentences, they would commit another crime. The high recidivism puts the community at risk. It would logically reflect a poor crime control strategy of corrections. Furthermore, high frequency criminals can serve longer prison sentences that would be impractical and contribute to overcrowding, hence additional financial costs. The cost due to overcrowding is a complex combination of maintenance, salary for additional correctional officers, daily needs, and health and hygiene requirement. With the high overcrowding rates, health issue is one of the major factors that would affect not only the penal system, but the community to the correctional facility is deployed.
There are advocates of social costs meant to justify imprisonment of criminals for the safety of the community. However, recent debates compared the cost of incarceration with the proposed social cost of releasing offenders. However, calculating social cost is too theoretical in nature. Others reject the idea of social cost. They offer to compare the cost and benefits of alternative crime prevention policies instead of quantifying social costs of crime. At present, there is no clear answer to this controversy.
Alternative crime prevention policies would include rehabilitation strategies to lower recidivism and reduce overcrowding in jails. The nature of rehabilitation programs focuses on changing the behaviour and mental reasoning of offenders, transforming them into better citizens of the community. However, evaluation methods for its effectiveness may not be conclusive.
McKenzie, D.L. (2006). What Works in Corrections: Reducing the Criminal Activities of Offenders and Delinquents. Cambridge University Press: N.Y. Printed in the U.S.A.