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Criminology and Penology
Differential Association Theory
Labelling Theory
Rational Choice Theory
Social Control Theory
Social Disorganisation Theory
Social Learning Theory
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Symbolic Interactionism · Victimology
Types of crimes
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Public order case law in the U.S.
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Deterrence · Prison
Prison reform · Prisoner abuse
Prisoners' rights · Rehabilitation
Recidivism · Retribution
See also Sociology
See also Wikibooks:Social Deviance

This is a background article. See Psychological perspectives on prison reform for professional perspective.

Prison reform is the attempt to improve conditions inside prisons, aiming at a more effective penal system.

Theory[edit | edit source]

A precise definition refers to an attempt to change the penal system, typically from one model to another. Changing back to an earlier model is frequently also characterized as reform. Criminal justice models are based on the goals of the penal system:

Retribution/Vengeance/Retaliation[edit | edit source]

This is founded on the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" philosophy, which essentially states that if one person harms another, then an equivalent harm should be done to them. One goal here is to prevent vigilantism, gang or clan warfare, and other actions by those who have an unsatisfied need to "get even" for a crime against them, their family, or their group. It is, however, difficult to determine how to equate different types of "harm". A literal case is where a murderer is punished with the death penalty, the argument being "justice demands a life for a life". One criticism of long term prison sentences and other methods for achieving justice is that such "warehousing" of criminals is rather expensive, this argument notwithstanding the fact that the multiple appeals of a death penalty case often exceed the price of the "warehousing" of the criminal in question. Yet another facet of this debate disregards the financial cost for the most part. The argument regarding warehousing rests, in this case, upon the theory that any punishment considered respectful of human rights should not include caging humans for life without chance of release--that even death is morally and ethically a higher road than no-parole prison sentences.

Deterrence[edit | edit source]

Here the criminal is used as an "example to themself and others". By subjecting prisoners to harsh conditions, authorities hope to convince them to avoid future criminal behavior and to exemplify for others the rewards for avoiding such behavior; that is, the fear of punishment will win over whatever pleasure the illegal activity might bring. The deterrence model frequently goes far beyond "an eye for an eye", exacting a more severe punishment than would seem to be indicated by the crime. Torture has been used in the past as a deterrent, as has the public embarrassment and discomfort of stocks, and, in religious communities, excommunication. Executions, particularly gruesome ones (such as hanging or beheading), often for petty offenses, are further examples of attempts at deterrence. One criticism of the deterrence model is that criminals typically have a rather short-term orientation, and the possibility of long-term consequences is of little importance to them. Also, their quality of life may be so horrific that any treatment within the criminal justice system (which is compatible with human rights law) will only be seen as an improvement over their previous situation. However, if that's the case, this points to a far more severe social problem.

Salvation[edit | edit source]

The goal here is for the individual to find God. Religious study and (frequently) isolation are stressed. While it is felt that an individual who has been saved will no longer commit crimes, the purely religious goal of providing as many souls as possible for God also applies. Note that this model often clashes with secular societies, especially those with a separation of Church and State philosophy, such as the United States. Also note that torture was used in an attempt to force prisoners to accept God, in the past, most notably during the Spanish Inquisition.

Reform/Correction[edit | edit source]

("Reform" here refers to reform of the individual, not to reform of the penal system.) The goal is to "repair" the deficiencies in the individual and return them as productive members of society. Education, work skills, deferred gratification, treating others with respect, and self-discipline are stressed. Younger criminals who have committed fewer and less severe crimes are most likely to be successfully reformed. "Reform schools" and "boot cams" are set up according to this model. One criticism of this model is that criminals are rewarded with training and other items which would not have been available to them had they not committed a crime. However, it must be noted that criminals or potential criminals who do not have access to such educational resources are only acting in their best interests by gaining access to these prisons; if a prison is successful at providing resources to individuals who were unable to get these resources through "acceptable" channels, then perhaps what would be next needed, in the implementation of this model, is societal reform.

Removal from society[edit | edit source]

The goal here is simply to keep criminals away from potential victims, thus reducing the number of crimes they can commit. The criticism of this model is that others increase the number and severity of crimes they commit to make up for the "vacuum" left by the removed criminal. For example, a drug dealer removed from a location will result in an unmet demand for drugs at that locale, and an existing or new drug dealer will then appear, to fill the void. This new drug dealer may have been innocent of any crimes before this opportunity, or may have been guilty of less serious crimes, such as being a look-out for the previous drug dealer.

Repayment[edit | edit source]

Prisoners are forced to repay their "debt" to society . Unpaid or low pay work is common in many prisons, often to the benefit of the community. In some countries prisons operate as labour camps. Critics say that the repayment model gives government an economic incentive to send more people to prison. In corrupt or authoritarian regimes, such as the former Soviet Union, many citizens are sentenced to forced labour for minor breaches of the law, simply because the government requires the labour camps as a source of income. Community service is increasingly being used as an alternative to prison for petty criminals.

Reduction in immediate costs[edit | edit source]

Government and prison officials also have the goal of minimizing short-term costs.

In wealthy societies:
This calls for keeping prisoners "happy" by providing them with things like television and conjugal visits. Inexpensive measures like these prevent prison assaults and riots which in turn allow the number of guards to be minimized. Providing the quickest possible parole and/or release also reduces immediate costs to the prison system (although these may very well increase long term costs to the prison system and society due to recidivism). The ultimate way to reduce immediate costs is to eliminate prisons entirely and use fines, community service, and other sanctions (like the loss of a driver's license or the right to vote) instead. Executions at first would appear to limit costs, but, in most wealthy societies, the long appeals process for death sentences (and associated legal costs) make them quite expensive. Note that this goal conflicts with most of the other goals for criminal justice systems. For example, if a criminal is treated well and released early, s/he is not likely to be deterred from future crimes.
In poor societies:
Poor societies, which lack the resources to imprison criminals for years, frequently use execution in place of imprisonment, for severe crimes. Less severe crimes, such as theft, might be dealt with by less severe physical means, such as amputation of the hands. When long term imprisonment is used in such societies, it may be a virtual death sentence, as the lack of food, sanitation, and medical care causes widespread disease and death, in such prisons.

Some of the goals of criminal justice are compatible with one another, while others are in conflict. In the history or prison reform, the harsh treatment, torture, and executions used for deterrence first came under fire as a violation of human rights. The salvation goal, and methods, were later attacked as violations of the individual's Freedom of Religion. This led to further "reforms" aimed principally at reform/correction of the individual, removal from society, and reduction of immediate costs. The perception that such reforms sometimes denied victims justice then led to further changes. The hope, in the future, is that medical diagnosis and treatments might assist future generations of prisoner reformers. For example, if the "thrill-seeking gene" could be suppressed via RNAi technology, this could lead to less risk-taking behavior (some of it criminal).

Evidence Based Practices to Reduce Recividism[edit | edit source]

Another avenue of prison reform aims to reduce recividism and prison misconduct. The movement attempts to get evidenced based models into prisons and correctional facilities. Since the early 1960s, behavior modification interventions built on learning theory using the principles of operant and respondent conditioning (today termed behavior analysis ) have been shown to reduce recidivism. In their book on behavioral inteventions, Cohen and Filipczak (1971) layout out a program that reduced recividism, improved academics by an average of 2-3 years per year in the program and raised IQ by 16 points on average. [1] In a replication of the original model and application with more then 900 childen Jeness (1975) showed a 9% reduction in recidivism compared to treatment as usual and equivalence to a Transactional Analysis Approach. [2]. Recent meta-analysis has shown the behavior modification model is greatly improved with approximately a 13-20% reduction in recividism and this is roughly 2.5x the effect size of nonbehavioral interventions [3]

As to reducing prison misconduct, here agan behavioral models have shown the strongest effect size with both juveniles and adults [4] French and Gendreau's meta-analysis shows that the effect size of behavior modification programs (radical behavioral, social learning) are roughly 2.5 times the effect size of educational or non-behavioral programs.

The above has led some to state that correctional personnel should receive graduate training in behavior analysis. Recently, criminal justice programs are focusing on providing such training, particularly as it leads to behavior analysis certification [2]

Examples[edit | edit source]

John Howard is now widely regarded as the founding father of prison reform, having travelled extensively visiting prisons across Europe in the 1770s and 1780s. Also, the great social reformer Jonas Hanway promoted "solitude in imprisonment, with proper profitable labour and a spare diet." [5] Indeed, this became the popular model in England for many decades.

Within Britain, prison reform was spearheaded by the Quakers, and in particular, Elizabeth Fry during the Victorian Age. Elizabeth Fry visited prisons and suggested basic human rights for prisoners, such as privacy and teaching prisoners a trade. Fry was particularly concerned with women's rights. Parliament, coming to realize that a significant portion of prisoners had come to commit crimes as a result of mental illness, passed the County Asylums Act (1808). This made it possible for Justice of the Peace in each county to build and run their own pauper asylums.

"Whereas the practice of confining such lunatics and other insane persons as are chargeable to their respective parishes in Gaols, Houses of Correction, Poor Houses and Houses of Industry, is highly dangerous and inconvenient" [6]

In the United States Dorothea Dix toured prisons in the U.S. and all over Europe looking at the conditions of the mentally handicapped. Her ideas led to a mushroom effect of asylums all over the United States

See also[edit | edit source]

External links and references[edit | edit source]

  1. Cohen, H.L. & Filipczak, J (1971) A new learning environment. Jossey Bass
  2. Jesness, C.F.(1975). Comparative effectiveness of behavior modification and transactional analysis programs for delinquents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43(6), 758-779.
  3. Redondo-Illescas, S., Sanchez-Meca, J., & Garrido-Genovaes, V.(2001). Treatment of offenders and recidivism: Assessment of the effectiveness of programmes applied in Europe. Psychology in Spain, 5(1),47-62.[1]
  4. French, S.A. & Gendreau, P. (2006). Reducing Prison Misconducts: What Works! Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 33 (2), 185-218
  5. Hanway, Jonas (1776) Solitude in Imprisonment: With Proper Profitable Labour and a Spare Diet, the Most Humane and... J. Bew. Retrieved 2006-10-30
  6. Roberts, Andrew Table of Statutes. The asylums index. Middlesex University, London, England. URL accessed on 2006-09-26.
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