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The Prison System

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FC: The Prison System By: Kevin Fukala & Raquel Sweet | 06/19/09; Author Unknown; Date Unknown; Author Unknown; http://necir-bu.org/investigations/taxpayer-watch-series/dollars-and-lives-the-cost-of-prison-health-care/

1: In 2008, there were 1.6 million individuals incarcerated within the United States. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country; therefore, its numbers dwarfs other nations. There are numerous explanations as to why the United States’ prison population is so high. Most agree that it is due to America’s War on Drugs and the fact that we have mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenders. This essay will explore some of the problems associated with America’s prison system, offer some solutions to those problems, and explore some theoretical explanations.

2: A large problem with prisons is the fact that no one can seem to agree on what real purpose they serve. Scholars argue as to whether or not the purpose is retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, or incapacitation. Those that argue for retribution, believe that prison serves to make sure that society gets even with offenders who have violated the rights of others. Yet others believe that prison serves to deter individuals from committing a crime. Those that believe in deterrence, hope to prevent potential criminal activity by making an example out of someone being punished. This is a widely held belief, however it is sometimes found to be ineffective (i.e. the death penalty). Those who believe in incapacitation believe in depriving offenders of the ability to commit additional crime, usually through imprisonment. This method is probably the best way to prevent offenders from breaking the law, however, it is quite harsh. The ideology that seems to make the most sense is that of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation focuses on the use of treatment to create a change in the offender’s behavior. It also focuses on making sure inmates are involved in as many programs possible that will help ensure they are becoming better individuals.

3: This model is perhaps the best because it focuses so much on treatment, which is something that many offenders need. How can society expect inmates to adequately re-integrate into society when they have received no training or treatment showing them how to do so. Yes, it will cost more money to adequately treat each offender, but it is well worth it. The interactionist perspective focuses on how specific individuals react in given situations. Theorists believe that deviance is the result of the offender’s social interaction. If this is true, one would think that the purpose of prisons would be to surround offenders with positive influences. However, once in prison, inmates are surrounded by everything but positive influences. | 03/03/11; Author Unknown; http://www.seiu1000.org/bargaining-units/unit-3/

4: 05/24/11; Michael Tabor; http://whadawethink.com/2011/05/our-prisons-are-overcrowded/ | Overcrowded prisons are becoming a huge issue all across the world in this present day. In 2008, the federal and state inmate population was more than 1.6 million. Prisons simply do not have enough room to house their inmates. It is not that people need to stop breaking the law, but that prisons need to heavily expand. Financially, prisons simply do not have the funds to complete this task. As a direct result inmates are getting out early, which is possibly causing the world we live in to become more dangerous. Inmates in overcrowded facilities are not under proper surveillance, because it is impossible to watch over that many inmates. Sometimes prisons have to take up full gymnasiums and house prisoners in bunk beds. This is a violation of health codes, but prisons are still doing it. Inmates run the risk of being raped, beaten, assaulted, getting killed, or even dying of illnesses that are improperly taken care of. Inmates can easily break the law because guards cannot see everything that goes on due to the overcrowding.

5: In order for this situation to get better prisons globally need to start expanding. It can be argued that too much of the government's money goes to other unnecessary things around the world. More money needs to be put into prisons so that this problem can be taken care of. Letting prisoners be released early is not the answer to overcrowded prisons. This is going to be a global issue until something is done about it. According to the functionalist perspective, criminal behavior is functional because it separates acceptable from non-acceptable behavior in society. Also, scholars argue that criminal activity will decline when economic conditions improve. However, research has shown that during our current recession, crime rates have actually decreased. Perhaps the solution is to more accurately define which criminal behavior should be punished by incarceration so that individuals who do not deserve to be incarcerated, will not fill up the already overcrowding prisons.

6: For over forty years, America has been fighting War on Drugs. Sadly, it is a war that we are not winning. Despite all of its efforts, America has yet to get rid of the drug problem. Over a trillion dollars has been spent in efforts to eliminate drugs, however, the only thing that has resulted from those efforts is an overcrowded prison population. The War on Drugs has caused many individuals to remain locked up for drug offenses, even though alternatives to incarceration are probably a better solution. When President Nixon began the War on Drugs, there were only 110 people per capita incarcerated. Now, however, a shocking 743 individuals per capita are incarcerated. This can mean one of two things. Either Americans have become seven times more dangerous, or we are simply locking up more people than necessary. | 07/15/10; Author Unknown; http://www.thecommentfactory.com/latin-americas-drug-policies-have-damaged-its-people-3302/

7: The United States incarcerates more people for drug offenses than all other offenses combined. The only thing that is resulting from this mass incarceration is overcrowded prisons. Perhaps Americans should focus more on preventive methods and alternatives to incarceration so that these drug users/abusers are not wasting millions of tax dollars sitting behind bars. Most of these individuals need treatment, not prison. If these solutions were considered, the prison population would more than likely dramatically decrease. To functionalists, the War on Drugs is being necessary to help maintain order and create social boundaries in society. Also, they believe the War on Drugs promotes stability in society. People are able to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys steer clear of any illegal drug activity, while the bad guys are involved in the activity.

8: Prison violence is quite dangerous and usually ends up in death. Prison administrators can try their best to prevent this reality, but when it comes down to it, prisons will always be violent places. Whenever you have a place filled with criminals, it can be assumed that there will be violence. Such violence may include: gang fights, rapes, assaults, mob action, hits, etc. Once an individual is in prison, it will not be long before they must defend themselves. Inmates have to be extremely careful in prisons because they are always in danger. Prisons are places that criminals go to serve their deserved time in hopes that they can become better people. However, more often than not, prisoners often leave with an even greater knowledge of crime than they entered in with. Every day, another inmate is released into society; thus, placing the public at risk. One would think that guards could prevent such violence that occurs behind prison walls. Guards try to do the best they can, but many times, they are involved with the gangs and receive money to look the other way. This is an extremely difficult thing to believe, but is a reality of prisons today. In many circumstances, violence is an inmates only way of survival, so can society really blame them for looking out for their best interest?

9: 12/11/10; Author Unknown; http://listverse.com/2010/12/11/top-10-us-prison-gangs/ | The functionalist perspective describes anomie as being a state of normlessness. It is a condition or situation in which there is no regulation of behavior, which leads to deviant behavior. In a sense, prison violence can be seen as a form of anomie. Although there are guards in place who are supposed to prevent such behavior, in all reality, they are heavily outnumbered. Perhaps, if inmates were given more work assignments, more treatment services, and more privileges to increase their pleasure, they would be less likely to engage in deviant behavior.

10: 4/18/11; Hugh Betcha; http://hughcares.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Prison-Violence.jpg | Prison gangs dominate prisons today. Some of these gangs include: the Mexican Mafia, La Nuestra Familia, Neta, Black Guerilla Family, and the Aryan Brotherhood. When a new inmate comes in, they have to choose between becoming a gang member, or having little to no protection from other harsh inmates. If they choose not to join a gang, they take the chance of either being raped and/or killed. This is a harsh reality of prisons, but if an inmate wants to stay protected he or she needs gang affiliation. Gangs run prisons all over the world, and most prison violence is gang related.

11: This is pollution to society, because gangs on the outside is one thing, but gangs on the inside is another. When criminals go to prison with a background in armed robbery, they may leave with a background in murder. Society is getting more and more dangerous as a result of criminals leaving with more criminal experience then when they entered, as well as a gang affiliation. Prison gangs even get guards involved in their crimes by paying them to turn their head the other way. Prison gangs will forever populate and control prisons because they have so much power. Even if a prison increases the level of security, there is always the risk that corrupt guards will provide gangs with a way to be involved in illegal activity behind prison walls. Also, many prison gangs are affiliated with gangs outside of prison. This gives prisons even more power, as they have people on the outside helping them. Functionalist may describe these gang members as individuals who retreat or rebel against society's norms. They reject or challenge the cultural norms, and find their own means to achieve their own goals. With so much corruption within the prison system, there is no easy way to reduce the number of prison gangs. However, if prisons crack down on guards, visitors, mail, and other sources of help to these inmates, the problem may be reduced.

12: Many people see private prisons as a solution to America’s overcrowded prison population. However, privatization is really not a solution. Historically, private prison systems actually benefited the states. States made a profit and were able to avoid the costs of building facilities. This is because, back then private companies paid the state to house its offenders. They would then make their profit off of inmate labor. Now, however, that type of labor is unacceptable; thus, private systems do not operate the same. Now, the state must pay private prisons to operate a facility and house its inmates. Although privatization does save the state money, it does little for the actual problem of overcrowding prisons. Privatization is corrupted by politics, therefore, lobbyists in favor of privatization are also in favor of harsher, longer sentencing guidelines. | 11/15/11; Author unknown; http://www.piconetwork.org/news-media/news/2011/0206

13: These private companies need inmates in order to make a profit, so of course they are fine with harsh sentences. Many politicians make private prisons seem like a solution to overcrowding, but in reality they have done nothing to fix the problem at all. Perhaps our prison system could become more functional if policy makers actually found a solution that worked, rather than making it appear as though they have found one. Most policy makers have absolutely no idea what is going on within the prison system, they simply create the laws that private corporations lobby for. The most important thing for policy makers to do is to reconsider the sentencing guidelines. Are they too harsh for some crimes? Do drug offenders really deserve so many years in prison, or would treatment be more effective? The majority of these drug offenders are non-violent, yet we are sending them off to live with hardened criminals. According to labeling theory, it is not the criminal or their acts that are important, the importance lies on the audience labeling the acts as criminal. Thus, policy makers must ask themselves the question: Are these individuals really criminals, or are we making them out to be criminals?

14: Date Unknown; Author Unknown; http://necir-bu.org/investigations/taxpayer-watch-series/dollars-and-lives-the-cost-of-prison-health-care/ | Prisons are some of the un-healthiest places to be at in the world. They house inmates with numerous major diseases, and due to the overcrowded prisons they are getting worse. Prisons everywhere are beginning to violate major health codes. Also, prisons are not providing inmates with the health care they need because they have too many inmates to look after. There have been instances in which an inmate has died in the middle of the night, and administrators did not know it until roll call or somebody reported | it. When inmates who have been housed in these disease infested facilities are released, they can spread these sicknesses and diseases all over society. Overcrowded prisons can be a cause of an inmate's poor health condition. Often times, prisons find themselves with a shortage of medicine to go around. Therefore, inmates lack proper treatments. The health of an inmate gets worse when they can't be helped immediately. Prisons today house so many inmates, that they often find there is not enough time to do checkups on every prisoner. It can be argued that inmates’ health may get better if prisons are expanded in terms of both staff and space. The conflict perspective argues that availability of health care is based on race, gender, and power differences. This is perhaps the best theoretical explanation to prison health care. Because these individuals are inmates and technically have no power, they lack the advantage that individuals outside of prison have: the availability of quality health care.

15: Date Unknown; Author Unknown; http://www.ecsministries.org/403724.ihtml | Prison ministry is an outreach program provided to inmates. The hope is that inmates can receive God while being incarcerated. People all around the world have a longing for a new life, or a better one, and inmates are no different. Inmates are just like the rest of society. They have baggage, and need to find somewhere to leave that baggage in the hopes of beginning a new, God filled life. The prison Ministry itself does not claim to provide God to these individuals, however, it does attempt to help the inmates find God within themselves. Inmates have the chance to go to church on Sunday mornings and pair up into bible study groups. Through this ministry thousands of inmate’s lives have been saved and renewed through the truth and power of Jesus. Society changes through this as well because when prisoners get out, they go and tell their story of how God saved their life in prison, all over the world. Inmates are overjoyed about their newfound lives. Some argue that the only way to truly rehabilitate and change these offenders is to allow them to find God. Once these inmates leave prison, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit, which protects their every step. Once inmates embrace and surrender to who God is in their life they walk away never the same. God is at work through prison ministries around the world. | 2009; Author Unknown; http://www.releasethroughjesus.org/

16: 12/2/11; Author Unknown; http://sureshotbooks1.blogspot.com/2011/12/education-from-inside-out-plea-for.html#!/2011/12/education-from-inside-out-plea-for.html | Most state facilities are mandated by legislation to provide education to inmates. However, the quality and type of education vary across facilities. Most inmates are able to achieve their GED while incarcerated, but any education beyond that is quite limited. Some states have two-year and four-year college courses for inmates, but inmates must pay for it themselves and it is often quite expensive. Because of this shortfall in education, many inmates find themselves being released from prison and not being able to find a job because they do not have the sufficient education. | The lack of educational materials, shortage of instructors, tight budgets, and lack of inmate motivation also contribute to the prison educational problem. Most institutions are teaching inmates with out-of-date, used books. Because the budget is so tight, they often find that they do not have enough money to fund the educational programs. Denying inmates a proper education, is also denying them the ability to successfully reintegrate back into society. Inmates must possess education and a skill or trade in order to succeed. If they do not possess these things, they are sure to return to their criminal lifestyle. All facilities need to create an educational program that allows inmates to get a full education.

17: People pay taxes so that inmates can be educated and rehabilitated while incarcerated, not so that they can be released and return to society as the same uneducated criminal they were prior to incarceration. Interactionists explain criminal behavior as being learned through association by others. Taking that into consideration, doesn’t it seem to make more sense to surround inmates with positive influences such as work training and education? | 12/9/11; Author unknown; http://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/budget-cuts-affect-access-to-prison-education-in-texas/

18: There will most likely never be a one size fits all solution to the numerous problems that fill America's prison system. However, if scholars, prison administrators, and policy makers could work together, they could perhaps come up with better solutions than those currently available. However, it seems that until this happens, America's prison population will continue to rapidly increase.

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