Correctional System and Its Effects

Problem statement

The concept of a corrections system is not new in American society, but has undergone important changes which have improved the manner in which prisoners are treated and controlled in prisons. Prison development programs of the earlier times followed the doctrines of moral instruction to control and punish prisoners, who would most of the times, be subject to solitary confinement. Rigorous and sever means of punishments would be used such as solitary confinement, electric shocks, physical and mental torture and other such gruesome ways to punish criminals. Punishment also included physical forms of labour where criminals had to undergo numerous hours of laborious activities.

However, this system faced criticism since the prisoners were seen as engaging in practices of “hard labour”, which did not adhere to work ethics and soon the issue took form of a slave labour issue. This issue of severe hardships in prisons where offenders were subject to arduous tasks, took the form and shape of issue of slavery which initiated a debate and begun to attract attention and criticism. Since prisons were believed to be places for treatment of prisoners and not places where offenders could be engaged in difficult physical practices, proponents of correctional treatment opposed these practices.

Soon, prisons began to use rehabilitation programs for offenders and criminals and the Auburn Model cam into practice and gained popularity. Following the Auburn model, vocational training soon came to be used and applied to convicts in prisons, along with educational training, parole and the segregation of juvenile prisoners from adult convicts. Development programs for convicts were developed and implemented in prisons depending on the age and even sex of prisoners.

However, the newer approach of corrections in prisons included a greater emphasis on the convicts and the improvement and enhancement of the society in general (Tonry, 2000). Corrections system for prisoners used a moral approach to improve the attitude and overall behaviour of prisoners who were not subject to torturous means of primitive means of rigorous punishment like cutting off body parts, flogging and branding. New initiatives were taken to develop systems of improvement and correction of convicts and prisoners during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which was the beginning of the correctional system in America.

The foremost penitentiary in America was structurally built and designed with the prisoner cells on the outside along the central corridor in addition to special cells for solitary imprisonment, a concept of punishment which has never been used in imprisonment systems of previous times (Kennedy, 1995). This form of prison system initiated the Auburn Model laid great emphasis on work as a form of rehabilitation. According to this model, the prison is considered as a place which has the absolute control and authority of prisoners, which could be used productively to provide a fixed routine and regime to prisoners to work.

There has been incessant debate and concern over the issue of the accomplishment of goals and accomplishments of the correctional system and whether the community is being benefitted by the correctional system of criminal justice programs. This paper aims to analyse the important question of the overall productivity and achievement of the corrections systems with regard to the improvement and enhancement of prisoners and the entire social community in general.

Data and Methods

The paper aims to use literature review to establish the hypothesis that correctional treatments prove to be productive and help in the aversion and recidivism of crime and offense in society. The researcher aims to employ the internet for reviewing the literature, particularly, academic websites and scholarly resources which have historical as well as current accounts of knowledge and data pertaining to correctional systems. Google scholar is also an important resource which the researcher aims to consider. Being an avid reader, the researcher aims to use books and academic articles which have been peer reviewed, as important resources. Academic online libraries will be the primary source of all information and the researcher plans to gain access to other academic databases so that a comprehensive review of literature may be conducted.

The researcher also aims to conduct several interviews with counsellors and administrators working in prisons and is involved in correctional treatment programs of offenders. In this way, the researcher aims to gain first hand information regarding the effectiveness and efficacy of such programs and their rates of success in practical settings.

Literature Review

Early literature suggests that efforts of rehabilitation for the correctional treatment of criminals did not have any substantial impact on recidivism, due to which critics concluded that “nothing works” in prisons and that support and funding to correctional treatment programs must be reconsidered (Sabree, 2007). This approach initiated as era of reduced funding and availability of resources to prison programs for the improvement of offenders. The “nothing works” approach was also used as a means to “get tough on crime” and severe punishment methods begun to be used as a remedy to avert crime and criminal activities (Sabree, 2007). However, with the advent of newer methods to gauge the effectiveness of correctional treatment programs, researchers began to study and analyse the effects of correctional treatment strategies and interventions on offenders and whether these benefitted the criminals and society in positive ways.

Research and studies indicate that correctional treatments have found to be effective and yielded positive results in a minimum of forty percent of cases (Andrews et al., 1990). Current literature confirms that correctional treatments have the potential to positively impact the behaviour of offenders and criminal and make them pro-social (Anstiss, 2003). This fact has been proven by empirical research in the field which supports the effectiveness and efficiency of correctional programs for treating convicts in incarceration (Andrews, 1995; Andrews et al., 1990; Dowden & Andrews, 1999, 2000; Garrett, 1985; Izzo & Ross, 1990; Lipsey, 1992; Lipsey, Chapman, & Landenberger, 2001; McGuire & Priestley, 1995; Wexler, Falkin & Lipton, 1990; Whitehead & Lab, 1989).

Offenders and criminals in the United States prisons are very often ordered to undergo counselling or “court ordered treatment” and correctional treatment (Shearer and Guy, 2002). The practice of such treatment and intervention could constitute, to some extent, the involuntary participation of clients who may not be motivated to participate in the prescribed programs. Substance abuse counselling is a common form of correctional treatment offered to convicts or offenders under incarceration, which could prove highly beneficial to them and initiate positive improvements on their lives (Shearer and Guy, 2002).

The major goal of correctional treatment programs is to protect the general public, diminish recidivism and ensure the effectiveness of treatment interventions to convicts and prisoners (Sabree, 2007). However, incarceration has been under constant discussion from the advocates of retribution as opposed to the proponents of rehabilitation (Andrews & Bonta, 1998; Cullen & Gendreau, 1989) which resulted in the great debate of “nothing works and what works” (Anstiss, 2003). The proponents of punishment argued that correctional programs and rehabilitation measures for prisoners and convicts do not work and that they are futile measures.

In opposition, the proponents of rehabilitation were keenly interested in finding strategies which work to improve the behaviours and attitudes of prisoners so that the society in general can benefit from these programs, through reduced repeated crimes. Research confirms that correctional treatment intervention strategies offered to prisoners and convicts can work if the complete profile, including the psychological profile of the offender is taken into consideration (Verdeyen, 1999). Knowledge of the offenders’ or criminals’ mindset can be altered by challenging the old beliefs and enabling them to learn a novel way of thinking and believing which will ultimately lead then to productive behaviour and actions in society (Verdeyen, 1999).

Principles of effective correctional treatment

There are certain crucial principles which are necessary in the correctional treatment programs offered to offenders in prisons. The principle of risk postulates that the treatment must match the risk level of the criminal so that the offenders at greater risk should receive treatments which are more rigorous as compared to the lower risk offender who can receive treatments with minimum intervention. Research confirms that the programs should be designed in accordance with the risk levels of the criminals in order to gain optimal results (Andrews et al. 1990). The second principle which needs to be adhered to while designing and implementation of the correctional treatment program is the ‘needs principle’ which categorizes offenders into two basic groups. The first group is based on the criminal needs of the offenders which are based on the premise that if the dynamic risk factors which impact criminal activity are changed or altered, the offenders would report reduced criminal activity (Andrews et al. 1990).

Examples of these factors include attitudes, feelings, emotions, heavy reliance on drugs and chemicals, in addition to poor parenting and supervision skills (Dowden and Andrews, 2000). The second category is based on the noncriminal needs, which are dynamic, but a change in the factors, does not directly relate to any reduction in the criminal activity of the offender. Examples of these needs include self esteem in addition to emphasis on emotional and sentimental problems which have a direct correlation to criminal activity.

The need principle is crucial in providing information and data about the kinds of needs of the offenders which necessitate consideration which is directly related to the type of correctional treatment program which can be implemented to bring about positive changes in the respective offenders. More importantly, the need principle is based on the premise that is the primary objective of the correctional treatment is the reduction of recidivism, the criminal needs of the offenders and convicts must be appropriately addressed.

The final tenet necessary for positive and effective outcomes of correctional treatments is responsivity, which relates directly to the attributes of the treatment program to be delivered to the offenders. This principle articulates that the styles of the program should be an absolute match to the learning styles of the offenders so that the program which is implemented is well understood and yields the maximum positive results (Andrews and Bonta 1998). The general responsivity principle postulates that positive behavioural changes can be initiated in offenders by integrating a cognitive behavioural model and social learning approaches.

In addition, it also uses techniques of modelling, practice based on graduation, rehearsal and reinforcement, role play, in addition to practical guidance solutions and explanations by the conductor or administrator of the program through suggestions, reasoning and cognitive restructuring (Andrews et al., 1990). On the other hand, specific responsivity emphasizes on the personal features and traits of the individual offender such as sensitivity towards other members of the group, level of anxiety displayed and intelligence level gauged through verbal speech. These aspects are considered to be crucial in the delivery and administration of the program in order to yield positive and successful results.

In order to accomplish effectiveness in treatment, it is necessary that the criminal behaviour of the offender is understood well which can occur through the diagnostic tools used to explain criminal activities. Correctional systems are faced with the serious challenge of promoting positive behavioural changes among prisoners through specifically designed rehabilitation programs. The task, though tough, is not impossible as confirmed by the psychologist of Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP ,1998) Glenn Walters (1990), who states that the criminal has built a system of beliefs which supports his/her criminal activities. As such, it is essential to change and radically alter the belief system of the criminal to a productive one which is “prosocial” from the earlier “anti-social” one (Verdeyen, 1999). This change can be successfully initiated through special interventions including individual and group therapy, which will enable the criminal to analyze and learn the self defeating nature of their personal beliefs and feelings.

Self realization is triggered through confinement which facilitates understanding among criminals that the imprisonment is the ultimate cost of criminal activities and removes any short term monetary pleasures or sense of power gained through immoral and criminal activities (Verdeyen, 1999). The fact that correctional programs are powerful in altering and changing the behaviours of convicts has been historically confirmed. In Verdeyen (1999), Walters (1990) asserts that a thorough understanding of criminal activities and behaviours can be gained by understating the eight important models of thought processes which characterize and facilitate the operations and activities of criminals and offenders. These patterns have been classified by Verdeyen (1999) as:

  • Rationalization or mollification
  • The “cutting off of feelings” including those of anxiety, apprehension and fear, which would ultimately discourage the criminal to engage in criminal activities.
  • Sense of choice
  • The necessity to demonstrate command over others
  • Sentimentality which involves conduct for others to make the self appear self-serving
  • Super optimism which implies the belief that any form of criminal activity or behaviour can be got away with
  • Cognitive inertia which includes the failure of self examination and responsibility for one’s actions and deeds
  • Discontinuity which involves the failure to abide by obligations

If the criminal or offender alters the beliefs which initiated criminal actions, it becomes possible for them to discover, learn and engage in a new manner of thinking, one which would ultimately lead the convict to effective and pro-social behaviour, devoid of criminal activities (Verdeyen, 1999).

However, Verdeyen (1999) rightfully affirms that in order to effectively solve the problems of crime and reduce the rates of delinquency, it is essential to devise means and strategies which will facilitates the change of an individual from an “anti-social” one to a ‘pro-social” one. Simple imprisonment is not enough to bring about this change, because convicts engage in criminal activities even while they are in prisons, serving their sentences, which is why it is extremely crucial to devise programs and strategies in a scientific manner so that positive structural changes can be produced in them.

Studies indicate that strategies through specific programs during incarceration prove to be effective in transforming them as mature and responsible individuals (Verdeyen, 1999). This positive transformation of prisoners can be confirmed by the results from experiments and analysis conducted by the director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies of the University Of New Brunswick in Canada, Paul Gendreau, who affirmed that correctional treatment programs during incarceration are highly effective in altering the anti-social behaviours of criminals (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996). The research proves that if and when appropriate programs and therapeutic strategies are applied during incarceration, the minds of criminals can be altered effectively thereby enabling them to engage in productivity thinking and consequently socially acceptable forms of behaviours and activities (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996).

Gendreau, in association with fellow researcher Don Andrews devised an exemplar of developing and evaluating a correctional treatment program for prisoners popularly known as the Correctional Program Assessment Inventory (CPAI) which can be used to measure the strengths and weaknesses of correctional programs (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996). The inventory can be used to measure efficacy on the following basis (Verdeyen, 1999):

  • The implementation of the program
  • Pre-service assessment of the client
  • The basis characteristics of the desired program
  • The characteristics and practices of the staff and administrators responsible for the implementation of the program
  • The final evaluation of the program

This is based on several principles on the basis of which Gendreau determined the strategies and programs t o improve criminal minds (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996). Gendreau studied, noticed and analyzed several common attributes which could be useful in the treatment programs and strategies for offenders (Verdeyen, 1999). The effectiveness and efficiency of therapeutic programs for offenders can be based on theories such as the behavioural theory for instance the cognitive behavioural theory which includes intensive rehabilitative and therapeutic treatment during incarceration for a period of three to four months (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996). Programs can be scored on the basis of their characteristics as compared to other successfully designed and implemented programs, and by identifying the weaker areas of the program which can be improved upon and strengthened with the CPAI as the primary tool (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996).

Additionally, Gendreau and Andrews have also designed implementation programs for special offenders including substance abuse and sex offenders which will facilitate positive behavioural changes in these kinds of criminals and their violent activities. Gendreau’s treatment (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996) primarily treats by targeting behaviours which have the potential to predict future criminal activities for instance antisocial activities including manipulation, lying and causing harm to others. The treatment which is implemented through intervention from staff and administrators facilitates desirable changes in the behaviour of criminals by reinforcing values and morals which would enable the prisoners to practice and perfect socially acceptable behaviours (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996).

Effectiveness and power of Different Correctional Programs

Studies indicate that correctional treatment programs have the power to alter the undesirable behaviours of offenders and criminals. This power of correctional programs can be ascertained studies and analysis by the Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP, 1998) programs for drug abuse offenders which affirm the treatment model for drug related criminal acts which is based on four crucial models: (Verdeyen, 1999)

  • Genetic, psychological and environmental factors play a vital role in the development of substance abuse disorders.
  • Offenders may not always enter correctional treatment programs with the desire and motivation to change themselves which necessitates the integration of particular interventions to improve their readiness levels and motivate engage in the program with a keen desire to change
  • Correctional treatment involves several modals and types with the integration of distinct strategies and intervention plans which necessitate differences in techniques of the treatment delivered. The treatments may be delivered to clients by way of several forms of activities, therapy processes or even through group discussions. Treatment could also be individual depending on the needs and requirements of the clients.
  • It is extremely crucial that the treatment matches the requirements of the client and if there is necessity of an individualized treatment plan, it should be appropriately and effectively administered to clients to address personal goals and the treatment should be monitored to ensure the successful accomplishment of goals.

Verdeyen (1999) affirms that correctional treatment programs rely primarily on the philosophy that all offenders bear the responsibility of their personal behaviour and have the personal power to radically alter their behaviours. The delivery of treatments occurs either individually or in a group setting with clearly defined approaches using the cognitive behavioural therapy in combination with particular approaches which facilitate team building and functioning effectively in groups and team settings. The five aspects which are the basis of the development of correctional treatment include:

  • Rational emotive or Rational Behavioural Therapy according to which criminals are educated about the influence of personal beliefs and attitudes on their behaviours which consequently facilitates in them, the ability to think rationally.
  • Errors in Thinking enables criminals and offenders to focus and stress on the amendment of their “criminal” patterns and philosophy of thinking and emphasizing on social moral values and attitudes such as honesty, respect and responsibility for their actions and deeds.
  • Communication strategies and development of interpersonal relationships and development of skills enable offenders to develop crucial skills which will facilitate their ability to communicate with each other and build positive relations.
  • Relapse program necessitates all criminals to design and develop a personal plan which they should adhere to from the prison to the community upon release.
  • Release program enables criminal to gain insight regarding the necessary skills and techniques to leading a productively successful life in the social community when they are released.

Research and evaluation by the Bureau of Prison (BOP, 1998) in association with the National Institute if Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirms the effectiveness of correctional programs through specific studies, ‘Treating Inmates’ Addiction to Drugs’ popularly termed as TRIAD (Verdeyen, 1999). TRIAD was designed basically for monitoring the correctional treatment success of offenders for three years prior to their release from the custody of the Bureau of Prison (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 1998). The study was based on a comparative account of prisoners who received correctional treatment as compared to those who did not.

The study confirms the success of the correctional program in the reduction of recidivism and substance abuse by the offenders. It was found that offenders who had been exposed to the correctional treatment were “seventy three percent less likely to be rearrested” as compared to offenders who had not been exposed to the program. The study confirms the success and capacity of correctional treatments for prisoners during incarceration.

However, it can be accepted that the program may fail to benefit each and every offender, it can be ascertained that majority of the offenders are likely to benefit from such programs and treatments, which has a direct positive impact on the lives of the offenders, their family members and the entire society in general. The study and findings of Gendreau validate the importance and influence of correctional treatment programs as an effective means to treat and alter the anti-social behaviours of convicts into pro-social attitudes which will benefit them, their families and the complete society (Gendreau, and Andrews. 1996).

Thus it can be affirmed that correctional treatments prove to be effective in altering the anti-social behaviours of offenders and enabling them to acquire and learn social behaviours which will benefit society, rather than harm it. Interventions and treatments, however, should be carefully evaluated and analyzed using the appropriate means, in order to achieve optimal outcomes. To support qualitative changes in crime and criminal, there is a need for sophisticated and scientific methods to treat and alter offenders and criminals, which will facilitate positive structural and behavioural changes in them.

It can be concluded that correction treatments for offenders and criminal must be devised on the basis of personality based programs so that the outcomes are positive. The development of strategies and programs to determine the kind of treatments to be used for the correction of offenders will enable practitioners to make meaningful distinctions among the offenders when they interact and mingle with them on a daily basis which will directly contribute to the process of implementing appropriate intervention programs to achieve maximal results.

By finding and using correctional treatments which work for a majority of offenders, there will be higher yields of positivity among administrators, researchers and policy makers. Since no offenders can be tied to a single program which works for all of them, it becomes crucial to devise appropriate strategies and approaches which would be fairly consistent with a majority of offenders and criminal receiving the treatments.

Strategic planning of correctional systems will ensure performance based and results driven programs which will benefit not only the offenders but also their families and the entire society through reduced crimes and recidivism. The protection of the general public remains a major goal of correctional system and hence correctional treatments must be planned to support the overall aims and objectives of the programs. Finally, correctional treatment programs have been proven to be successful and can be used effectively to enhance society, reduce crimes and more importantly protect the general populace from the fears and risks of criminals and their activities which could harm or endanger their life and functioning offenders can successfully transition into the community and live responsibly.

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