Reflecting tensions in American society

Serious human rights violations continue to be committed by federal, state, and local officials. The courts, administrative agencies, and legislatures are often unable or unwilling to hold abusers accountable, to provide protection to victims, or to secure the changes needed to bring laws and practice in line with international standards. Political activism pushes to "get the vote" and this influences many states to fund prisons and take away funding from education and health care plans.

At the same time, there has been a push to change those policies as we have seen these policies do not help, they just make matters worse. It seems in order to reduce the crime rate, we must first reduce inequality and poverty. Even though we have seen that in other countries with more generous welfare programs, there is less crime, in the United States we continue to fail at reducing issues surrounding inequality and poverty. Another impact of the explosive growth of the nation's prison population is the huge increase in the number of inmates who are being released to the community after serving their terms.

More than 600,000 individuals (about 1,600 per day) return home from federal and state prisons each year in the U. S. An increasing portion of these new parolees are older, were sentenced for drug law violations, have served longer time in prison, and have higher levels of substance abuse and mental illness than those who returned in 1990. The problems of "making it" in the community lies partly in the ways the inmates are prepared for release. All states have some form of prison program designed to prepare the offender for release to community supervision.

The offender receives prerelease counseling about the conditions of supervision and help in searching for employment and a place to live. In some system these activities being as early as two years in advance of the targeted release date; in others they begin only after that date is confirmed (Table 15. 5, Clear and Cole, 2003). The most successful programs have a heavy emphasis on reintegration and community supervision. Adjustment to the community is neither simple nor easy. This process includes two goals: finding support for adjustment and avoiding relapse.

Shadd Maruna, who has interviewed a large number of men who are trying to make it after serving time in prison, says there are several adjustment supports that are necessary for successful reentry. The most important ones are: getting substance abuse under control, getting a job, getting a community support system, and getting a new sense of "who I am" (pg. 418, Clear and Cole, 2003). 3. Using lecture, films, class activities and the textbook discuss the experience of prison life according to lecture and your textbook. How does this play into the taking on of a prisoner role?

How does this play into taking on a guard role? How might this impact the recidivism rate? Within prisons inmates form a society with traditions, norms, and a leadership structure. Some may choose to associate with only a few close friends; others form cliques along racial or "professional" lines. Still others may be the politicians of the convict society. They attempt to represent convict interests and distribute valued goods in return for support, just as there is a social culture in the free world, there is a prisoner subculture on the "inside.

" Like members of other groups who interact primarily among themselves and are physically separated from the larger world (just like soldiers or monks), inmates develop their own myths, slang, customs, rewards, and sanctions. As in any society, the convict world has certain distinctive norms and values. Often described as the inmate code, these norms and values develop within the prison social system and help define the inmate's image of the model prisoner. Prison culture breathes masculine toughness and insensitivity, and it impugns softness, caring, and femininity.

The culture emphasizes the use of hostility and manipulation in one's relations with fellow inmates and staff. This behavior can be seen in studies such as the classic Stanford Experiment. Although it was only an experiment, it clearly showed how individuals adapt to roles based on their status within the system. In the decades since this experiment took place, prison conditions and correctional policies in the United States have become even more punitive and destructive.

The worsening of conditions has been a result of the politicization of corrections, with politicians vying for who is toughest on crime, along with the racialization of arrests and sentencing, with African-Americans and Hispanics over-represented. The media has also contributed to the problem by generating heightened fear of violent crimes even as statistics show that violent crimes have decreased. Convict society has divided itself along racial, ethnic, and age lines. The level of adherence to the inmate code also differs among institutions.

Reflecting tensions in American society, many prisons are today marked by racially motivated violence, organizations based on race, and voluntary segregation by inmates by race whenever possible (in areas like "the yard" and the dining hall). As in other situations in which people live together for extended periods, a system of norms and values develop in prison. While incarcerated the inmate must live and survive in an environment where their movements and options are constrained, their sense of self is insecure, and personal control is highly limited.

Thus many inmates conform to the subculture even though their own values are contrary to the inmate code. Some criminologists argue whether the values of prison society reflect the ways in which the prisoners adapt to the pain of imprisonment; others say the values are brought into the institution from the outside. One way in which prisoners adapt to their environment is by creating a barter economy with desired goods and services. Also, violence is a major problem in correctional institutions.

Violent behavior is related to the types of people who are incarcerated and the characteristics they bring with them, but institutional structure and administration also play a role. Maintaining order in a prison can be a burdensome administrative task, given crowded conditions, violence, the character of some inmates, and the limited rewards and punishments available. The presence of gangs, changes in the type of person now incarcerated, and changes in prison policies create an increasingly unpredictable world. Correctional institutions today are more humanely administered than in the past.

This change is in part a response to the presence of rehabilitative personnel and programs. Unlike a few decades ago, the role of the correctional officer is now to help prisoners adapt and cope with prison life in a mature way. Correctional officers are human service providers who are expected to engage in "people work" within an organizational setting. Human service activities undertaken by officers include: providing goods and services, acting as referral agents or advocates, and helping with institutional adjustment problems.

Officers are expected to help inmates deal with their personal problems. However, because they work in a bureaucracy, they are also expected to treat clients impersonally and to follow formally prescribed procedures. Fulfilling these contradictory role expectations is difficult in itself, and the difficulty is heightened by the long-term physical proximity of officers and inmates. As the largest employee group in correctional institutions, custodial officers play a crucial role: They are the line personnel in constant contact with the prisoners.

The officer is both a manager and a worker-a manager to the inmates, a low-status worker to the supervisors. Placed in an environment where most interactions are with prisoners, the officer is nevertheless expected to maintain a formal distance from them. I believe that if correctional officers are able to maintain and portray a firm yet understanding attitude towards inmates, they can expect cooperation and conformity from the inmates. In discussing how these roles relate to recidivism, it is important to remember that correctional officer roles have changed dramatically through the years.

Officers have become authoritarians, social workers, teachers, business and clerical staff. The interactions between officers and inmates produce the environment and products of prisons. It is necessary to alter society's views of ex-convicts. This is essential in giving the inmate a chance to succeed in the community. If correctional officers are able to create a bond with inmates and give them the rehabilitative help and resources they will need in "the real world," the American Legal System can expect lower recidivism rates by adequately preparing inmates for re-entry into society.