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Correctional Issues Debate

by Michelle Calderon, Staff Writer for AnaiRhoads.org

14 April 2006


AnaiRhoads.org – Currently, prison populations are a mix of short-term offenders and “lifers,” definite and indefinite sentenced inmates, the sick and the healthy, the young and the old. This diversity is reflected in a wide variety of program offerings. These programs are in place to provide many benefits to both inmates and society. Rehabilitation and a better way of life are some of the reasoning behind such programs. However, the necessity of some of these programs is under scrutiny. Programs such as conjugal visitation are frowned upon by tax payers and politicians. There are those who feel programs are too risky and sometimes too expensive. At the extreme, these programs are looked upon as a luxury and lessen the punishment effect of incarceration.

Another problem that the variety of inmates poses to corrections is that of management control of facilities. Certainly, the thought of contracting communicable diseases and being abused by violent inmates would threaten the staff and general population. One solution is to consider removing predatory and other dangerous offenders from the population: HIV-Positive inmates, serial killers, and violent sex offenders being some. Many have proposed isolation of problem offenders.

However, the idea of segregation and banning certain programs has come under ethical criticism. Crime deserves punishment. Realistically, prisoners facing decades of incarceration will need humane and practical tools to battle becoming institutionalized. Many will need help for reintegration back into society. One question facing corrections today is the amount of rights given to inmates.

It is a scary concept being an innocent person convicted of a crime to have contracted Aids while being incarcerated. Even scarier to perceive is if the inmate contracted the disease as a result of rape. The rates of HIV and AIDS in prisons are estimated at five times higher than within the general population. This fact has been attributed to a high number of inmates sharing of needles and also to inmates that participate in unprotected sex in prisons. “As of 1996, there were 25,000 inmates with HIV. As of that time, only 16 states tested all inmates entering prison” (NCCHC, 2005). The dilemma facing corrections is whether they should be segregated from the population to stop the spread of disease.

Certainly, the quality of life for seropositive inmates is greatly affected by administrative decisions on screening and detection, housing, programs, access to quality medical treatment, mental health support, and funding. The management of HIV is very complicated. For example, since the HIV-positive inmate must take multiple medications on varying schedules, custody and health staff must develop a supportive medication administrative system. HIV-positive need proper treatment and may require a higher level of care that may not be available at all areas of institutions. Patients with HIV infection may require isolation if they have pulmonary tuberculosis. Obviously, there is a need for segregation.

The ethical issue here is whether it is right to segregate all HIV-positive inmates from the general population. Like all inmates, activities are important to their daily lives. Programs and activities are a way to spend the day in a positive manner. Aids patients are no different. A majority of them also will be re-integrated back into society. Aids is contracted through bodily fluids, usually from sharing needles and unprotected sex. Perhaps focusing on controlling and prevention of such activities would be an alternative solution. Rape is another issue that needs to be confronted by officials. Security must protect everyone.

Decisions on housing HIV-positive inmates should be based on what is appropriate for their age, gender, and custody class, not just merely the fact that they are seropositive. Not all HIV-positive inmates are a danger to other inmates. Some may have contracted the disease though a blood transfusion. Certainly the type of offense as well as length of time sentenced, general behavior and expert reports gathered at the classification stage will be a better indication of whether they will pose a danger to the prison system.

Furthermore, many prisoners have nothing to lose living while incarcerated. It is why programs are there to help give them hope for a future other than criminality or self-abuse. Positive reinforcement may help get rid of those negativity that can cause self-destruction as well as abuse of others. Drug and alcohol treatment programs are available everywhere. There are classes for prevention of diseases inside prison cells even if drug-use and/or sex are being practiced. Without seeming to promote such activities as acceptable, education programs to aid prevention of the disease should be intensified. Supervised monitoring to control inmate activities would be costly but may prove to lessen litigation costs filed by inmates. Certainly, Aids infected inmates need socialization and activities that promote a positive way of life. Segregation based on whether they will infect other populations because they are seropositive is not the solution. Segregation should be based on normal classification with exceptions to the seriousness of their medical condition: whether they need the segregation because of real immediate threat.

Besides communicable diseases, other problems are facing corrections today and in the future. Criminal recidivists pose an enormous social problem to society. A lethal predator such as serial killers and violent sexual offenders pose a particular problem not just in the free world but inside prison cells. Currently, the US produces more serial killers than any other country. Up to 85% of the world’s serial killers are in America. Most profilers say serial killers do not learn from mistakes in their previous killings. “They feel no guilt, no remorse and have an attitude of total disdain towards their victims. There’s a self-importance that runs in all of them and must demonstrate mental abnormality, usually a combination of sexual sadism and psychopathy” (Radcliff, 2006). At the same time sex offenders are likely to be recidivists. Sex offenders are never cured completely and must watch for relapses. Some serious violent sex offenders are incurable. This is particularly disturbing when viewed in a prison setting intent on rehabilitating offenders for reentry outside.

With no hope of ever rehabilitating, what would be the incentive to allow such inmates to socialize among others? On top of the negative influence placed upon other inmates, there is also the risk factor of being victimized by other inmates for being the types of criminals that they are labeled. Most people are more concerned with the damage that serial killers and violent sex offenders would pose in any environment.

Segregation and quarantine would be a partial answer to these factors for a combination of reasons. One reason would be the safety of others and the other is for their own safety. Even if not quarantined, there is no real reason that having serial killers and violent sex offenders would produce any type of advantage to the prison inmates. Realistically, the majority of inmates will be due to be free in the real world. The negative influences of inmates with no hope of rehabilitation could only diminish the rehabilitation process and perhaps even provide a negative influence in learned behavior.

However, there is one benefit to allowing socialization: that is the study of the human mind. Perhaps through programs integrated to help other offenders likely to follow the footsteps of such inmates, counseling, group programs, and even work study could be implemented to include serial killers and sexual predators to provide keen insight to the rehabilitation process. Additionally, it would be inhumane to disallow contact with the outside world even within prison cells. Quality of life need to be better for everyone.

With problems of overcrowding, there may come a time when the quarantine option may not be available. What would happen to these offenders then when they are suddenly integrated with the general population? Perhaps, experimental evaluations of program grouping of serial killers and sexual predators among other inmates may prove to be hopeful in the long run. By learning about their personality and life, maybe the ability to predict and stop behaviors could be an option. There could be a break-through and some anti-social offenders (such as serial killers) may form important bonds when joined among other offenders so that the fear of being victimized by both would minimize. There is the possibility of scientific solutions to medicate types of behavior to prevent violent sexual abuse and practices. The list of possibilities for the future is endless. Research studies and experiments certainly can be done for future development of prison systems and programs even if minimal at first.

Finally, about half of America’s prison inmates claim to be married. Conjugal visitation is not provided to most married or unmarried inmates in U.S. prisons. Only six states allow conjugal visitation: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Washington (Wilkinson, 1999). In these states, conjugal visitation programs are nearly reserved for married inmates. In some jurisdictions, conjugal visitation is viewed as an unnecessary prisoner privilege. Many members of the general public as well as lawmakers frown upon such issue. However, outside of the United States, the acceptance of conjugal visitation is generally attributable to two factors: “a less puritanical and hypocritical attitude toward sex and a greater emphasis on the family as a primary and vital social unit” (Camp, 1997, p. 105). Many foreign cultures view such visits, along with home furloughs, as an individual’s right. Americans however does not view it the same. The thought of inmates enjoying themselves while serving a punitive prison sentence is largely unacceptable to innocent, American citizens who fall prey to criminal acts. This “get tough” philosophy on punishing criminals is not overly interested in rehabilitating inmates nor is it interested in alternative programs which may reduce recidivism rates.

As mentioned above, programs are important activities in inmate lives while incarcerated. They become an incentive also for being out of their cells. At its’ greatest contribution, programs rehabilitate individuals to better qualify of lives inside and outside prisons. Therefore, administrators need such types of bargaining tools to induce inmates to behave accordingly. Having no incentives to offer the inmates may directly inhibit the rehabilitative process.

The operation of a visitation program is an integral element of any prison system. Hundreds of thousands of relatives and loved ones visit inmates in prison each year. Many view visitation as improving the prison environment. This is why all institutions encourage visitations. Visitations give inmates something to look forward to. Visitors give inmates an incentive to participate in rehabilitative programs, and a mechanism with which to cope with prison life. This case is true as well for conjugal visits.

There are several reasons that conjugal visitation should be encouraged in the prison setting. The prisoner who has maintained contact with supportive individuals has a “safety net” when he or she returns to the community. Family provides a feeling of belonging to a group. They often help released offenders seek and find employment and conduct themselves in a positive, constructive manner after release. Conjugal visits give inmates the opportunity to keep the family unit together. By doing so, inmates are more likely to have lower recidivism rates and are easier to manage while serving their sentences. Regular contact with visitors significantly enhances an inmate’s quality of life and establishes a lifeline between the inmate and the free community. Ties with family members and other loved ones are critical to inmates’ successful return to the community, and visiting helps maintain these relationships.

There is also a downside to allowing visits for a confined population. Visitors are a primary pipeline for the smuggling of drugs and other contraband into a facility. Significant numbers of alert staff are required. Certain visitors may be partners in crime who help the inmate to continue running illegal street enterprises while incarcerated. There are challenges to the security and of prisons and jails when visitors are allowed into the security envelope of an institution.

Even with the threat to security and the fact that many frown upon conjugal visitation as being too much of a luxury, the prison population may eventually benefit and prevent unnecessary abuse inside prison. For example, if conjugal visitations are allowed to all inmates, would inmate sexual relationships or rape occur less frequently? If rape and inmate sexual activities are lessened, would the percentage of communicable diseases contracted inside prison lessen? Research would have to be conducted to show any differences in rates.

With this in mind, the solution instead should be an elaborate system of rules and regulations to govern the process. Make conjugal visitation an incentive for good behavior. It will prove to be a powerful management tool. Prisoners are fully aware that the visiting environment for general population inmates is significantly freer than for those in disciplinary status. The more ill-behaved inmates are the more privileges should be taken away. Status points to qualify for programs are a merit of behavior as well as an indication of doing well in certain programs. Let the programs follow a step process where one leads to another. Not all will achieve this, but those who have longer sentencing may need such programs more. With this respect, the need for sexual urge release, violent behaviors initiated with impatience from boredom, and other negative attitudes and behaviors toward confinement may be more prevalent with those with longer sentencing.

Therefore, not only would it be cost-effective to follow a step program for certain privileges, it would make more logical sense and possibly appease some citizens opposed to conjugal visitations if such a privileged is earned throughout an inmate’s sentencing. After the last process of achieving conjugal visitation rights, it would be a futile argument to make by saying this privilege would be a panacea for rehabilitating inmates. However, if the programs offer some benefits they should receive a close look from both policymakers and correctional administrations. There are better options available to include such programs rather than ban it completely. Of course, security of the facility should be maintained to prevent abuse of inmates and staff as well as calming overall fear. Correctional agencies, prisoners, visitors, and society in general can all benefit from an efficient, humane, and secure visiting program.

Reflecting the prison population and some of the issues for the future of corrections, employees will have to become better versed in supervising and caring for the very dangerous, the average, the very young, the very old, the mentally ill and the infirm. Intensifying these problems in prison is overcrowding.

Facilities may not be equipped to accommodate the variety and growing population of inmates. There will be times when inmates will have to be exposed to other types of inmates. Even if segregation is the answer to some of the above issues, facilities and staff has to constantly keep up with the demands. This may be slow or impossible to foresee. Many prisons are outdated and old. Many tax payers do not feel compassion for criminals and therefore, hesitant to approve funding for reform. Officers and staff may not find the environment and pay a lucrative long-term career to develop better qualified and experienced employees.

Lastly, if segregation is not possible, the system need to be better prepared and equipped when the time comes when everyone must be within the general population. Socialization must occur. Although this concept may be unrealistic, there will be certain times when complete segregation may not be possible. Instead of finding ways of creating costly options and rebuilding to accommodate, why not deal with the issues and try to find a way to take advantage of the situation. When this time comes, litigation issues may arise. Other problems will be facing corrections. Litigations rates have risen over the years due to privacy and rights issues of inmates. Full proof security such as 100% surveillance and trained staff would certainly play a part in preventing this costly act.

Corrections managers today, aware of the current problems are fortunate to be in the midst of change. It will take a lot of research and time in order to find a solution. However, in summary, the humane treatment of inmates is important. Segregation should be based on fair classifications. The underlying question is whether or not to change that classification. This is what produces the ethical dilemma. The answers to this will change in time over the course of history as society changes and adapts to the new economy, new unknown diseases, new varieties of people, new scientific discovery, new medicinal cures, and new technology. The only basic solid concept to understand and protect is human rights. Humane treatments of people are integral to prison life and reintegration. If the system follows a format of allowing the rehabilitation process to take place and place less emphasis on the dehumanization of inmates, society will be at an advantage for the future.

References

Camp, C. & Camp, G. (1997). Corrections Yearbook 1997. (105).

NCCHC. (2005). Segregation of Inmates. Retrieved April 8, 2006.

Radford University. (2006). Serial Killers. Retrieved April 9, 2006.

Wilkinson, R. & Unwin, T. (1999). Visiting in Prison. Retrieved April 9, 2006.

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One Response to “Correctional Issues Debate”

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