Criminal Justice: The Pros and Cons of our Prison System essay example
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Criminal Justice: The Pros and Cons of our Prison System

It has been a growing public concern that the criminal justice system was not succeeding in its job of securing civil society from lawbreakers especially the violent ones. A punitive model of justice is based on the perception that punishment like incarceration is an effective means of providing justice for the victims. The main frame of argument is that infliction of pain or suffering is the morally justifiable means of making the offender pay for the crime that they have committed.

The reformatory system of corrections assumes that men could be reformed and, therefore, it is important that incarceration should also include training and education of offenders. Part indeed of the reform model of the justice system includes a system of behavioral improvements that would give the offender a chance to shorten their prison terms Thus, parole was born with the intention of integrating them back to the society with a changed attitude and behavior. However, it seemed that the government is now spending huge amounts of money in locking too many criminals. Today, more and more criminals are being locked up for too long resulting in the counterproductive nature of today’s sentencing laws.

Review of Related Literature

The most common punishment that can be brought upon someone who has committed a crime is imprisonment or incarceration. It is a place wherein the people who have been apprehended are confined and are usually deprived of several personal freedoms such as being with their family or loved ones, going outside for regular walks, or even communication to the outside world. If there is any freedom to exercise for these people, the time spent is quite minimal and it is most probably even supervised by the authorities. The detainees of several jail institutions are either there for a short period of time because they are awaiting a specific trial or sentence that the state has to decide upon or the four walls that they live in.

This is where they will be spending most of their natural born lives. The idea of being put into prison is quite an intense ordeal that one goes through because it separates oneself from the society that he or she is used to interacting with. All of the luxuries of being able to walk down the street to buy a bag of grocery from the town store is now gone. All liberties have been literally stripped away as the delinquent now starts his life anew amidst a cold, dark and makeshift world that is the world of the prisoners. But what the state does not realize is that the act of violence is not yet finished. By arresting a father or mother and putting them in jail, a lot of consequences ensue.

This could trigger a supposed domino effect without the people even being aware of it. Hidden from their consciousness, the justice department, the policemen who have apprehended the criminal, and the other people around who are involved in such a particular skirmish might have actually been instrumental in the birthing of a new criminal at that particular point in time. And the sad thing about it is that both criminal and perpetrator are in the dark about it. The issue of the intergenerational cycle of incarceration is much more profound and should be treated with much more respect by all governing authorities.

Author Jon Shure (2004) claims that in New Jersey alone, the area where the  state budget had overspent over the past 20 years  was in this area of locking up the criminals for too long, making the budget rise to more than 550% (Shure, 2004). For instance, it costs about $30,000 a year to keep an inmate in a state prison in New Jersey. The number of inmates today is around 30,000 inmates, making New Jersey prisons operate at 35% over capacity making it one of the most overcrowded in the nation today.

It has been observed that these men could be transferred to drug treatment centers or other parole institutions. Thus, the policies can exert a lot of sense out of the criminal justice system. Way back two decades ago, the prisoners locked up for violent crimes made up 61% of the prison population. The  percentage of inmates serving sentences with a mandatory minimum is over 60%, while in 1986, this was just about 42%.

This means that prisons are now being filled with people who have committed less severe offenses and the judges have not given them sentences that are proportionate to the degree of intensity of the crimes they have committed. It seems that more and more offenses are categorized wherein there is no more any choice but a designated length term, either by imposition of a stated minimum number of years or measures like one that requires certain offenders to serve at least 85% of their allotted sentence. It seems that the law has become overly rigid, even prejudiced as more and more inmates are minorities: 64% are black and 17% are Hispanic. (Shure, 2004).

Author Gregg Edwards states that “This is not to suggest we must accept high prison costs as unavoidable; they can be controlled without risking public safety. Some prison operations can be provided through private contractors for less. Antiquated and labor-intensive security functions can be performed by less costly and equally effective modern technology.” This is worth considering especially with regard to this problem of overcrowding prisons (Edwards, 2004).

Criticisms were thrown into the system in lieu of the too much power given to the parole boards and judges on the length of sentence. Most of the time, this discretion has a tendency to be biased on race. Conservatives also believe that rehabilitation is not often possible as crime rates remained in very high levels. The result is that each state started to innovate on parole system and new ideas are thus developed to improve the parole system (Behind the Prison Gates…).

Despite the changes in the parole system, the objectives remained the same. First, it aims to prepare the offender on the eventual release from the prisoner. Through the parole, the prisoner’s social functioning is prepared in order for them not to lose in touch with the necessary functioning in the community they live. Secondly, it aims to socialize the offender on the kinds of behavior that is acceptable in the society. It hopes that the prisoner’s behavior would enable him to reconnect to the community (Behind the Prison Gates…).

The parole board is an agency of the executive branch, which helps in processing and deciding on the conditions of parole and the offenders who would be given the parole.  If this was implemented well, then there would not be overcrowding in the prisons. The parole board hears the application of prisoners appealing for parole release. Part of the procedure is that the prisoner would present documents that would illustrate his active participation in the programs, his personal reflections on the experience of prison and any disciplinary actions that were served against the offender.

The parole board then assesses the ability of the prisoner to go back into the free society. In addition to this, the parole board also attempts to assess the future of the prisoner, particularly assessing factors that may increase the risk of recidivism. After the application is approved, the parole board would also function as monitor of the offender. In this case, they would assess the compliance of the offender to the conditions of parole. Should the prisoner violate essential conditions, then they can be recommended to be returned to the prison (Behind the Prison Gates…).

Looking at the objectives and the process of the parole system, there is no doubt that it is a better alternative than the punitive system of justice. I believe that true justice incorporates healing not only of the victims but also of the offender. I believe that the release of the prisoner into the community is very important in order to facilitate healing of the prisoner. The external society provides the perfect avenue for healing as it reflects a newer and better perspective for the prisoner. This is also very helpful in making the community realize the positive impact of reform model in the quality of life that the offender lives and exercises. This is also very important in order to slowly eradicate the social stigma attached to an offender.

As it was gleaned from the California Research Bureau, the police authorities, at the time of arrest do not routinely check or ask if the criminal lives with any children at that point in time. It is through these moments of lapses wherein the destruction begins. Because the police fail to ask for the presence of children, this subtle disregard for the future of the children within a particular nucleus of a family is where it all starts. For one particular state alone, the figures are staggering.

In the great state of California, it has been estimated that around nine percent of the state’s children have a parent currently involved in the state’s adult criminal justice system. At the time of recording, that totaled to 856,000 children. That figure was broken down to three classifications. Those whose parents were in county jail were 97,000; those whose parents were in state prison were 195,000 and finally those whose parents were on parole or probation amounted to a total of 564,000. Because of the continuing effects of crime, even as some detainees leave the jail for parole and probation, others take their place so it is a vicious cycle.

There are times that when the parent comes out of jail, it just so happens that the child that parent left is on his way there. It is quite surprising to note that even though an estimated 1.5 million children have incarcerated parents, about 10 million more have parents who were imprisoned at least once during the course of their children’s lives. The severe trauma directly affects the children involved and they have exhibited several behavioral symptoms that are commonplace to children who have been left behind by incarcerated parents. “The children were found to have experienced emotional problems, nightmares, fighting in school and a decline in academic performance as a result of being separated due to their mother’s incarceration.” (Hunter)

It is quite important to note that the impact of a mother’s incarceration to a child is much more destructive than that of a father’s incarceration. (Bloom) The reason behind this is it is estimated that two-thirds of incarcerated mothers were the sole caregiver of at least one child in the family before their arrest. This maternal factor comes in quite essential because the trauma of being separated with one’s primary caregiver is quite a blow for some children. Add to that the fact “that one in five of their children were present at the time of their arrest and over half of the children were between three and six years old” (Johnston, 1991) and you have quite a volatile case on your hands.

The number of studies that have been done by several psychologists and institutions have come to a conclusion that the effect of the arrest of parents to their children is definitely far-reaching and profound. Even if these particular studies are small-scale, their conclusion is still quite similar and they have reported cases of children who have succumbed to trauma, anxiety, guilt, fear and shame. These multiply psychological problems come up not only once in their lives but like a scar, it becomes embedded in their psyches and it manages to grow and fester until it comes to a point that another criminal comes to life in the person of the children whose trauma has now reached its fullest potential (Simmons)

In a study made in a visitation program in a women’s prison, the facilitators found out that “three-quarters of the children reported to have difficulty sleeping, depression, concentration problems and several flashbacks of their mother’s crimes or arrest and finally poor school performance.” (Kampfner) For the statistics on this the National Council on Crime and Dependency tallied all of the reported cases that were identified by their caregivers and the list was topped with problems in school which amounted to 28.8 percent of the respondents, followed by behavioral problems which was just below the rank of school problems as it garnered around 27.3 percent.

These two main problem areas of children whose mothers were incarcerated were quite familiar and were normally expected if a juvenile went into such high amounts of stress during the early stages of his life (Kupers). As a proposed solution to this, there are several entities and organizations who are adamant about nurturing the child once a caregiver such as a mother or a father is abruptly taken away from their lives. One of these organizations is CHIP or Children Having Incarcerated Parents.

This organization seeks to identify children who have incarcerated parents or caregivers and provide avenues for maintaining the parent-child relationship that was there before the time of separation. It also seeks to remove barriers to parent-child reunification by strengthening the relationship between parent and child. It also has a proactive type of approach by making the move to enhance the child’s life skills by providing different opportunities for the child to make a positive impact as a youth. These things, aside from coordinating services between child welfare, are the primary objectives of an organization such as CHIP.

This particular organization is definitely what the incarcerated parents need nowadays. Since the routine checkup on the children of incarcerated parents is not part of the law enforcement’s job, a separate entity should now be able to go in and start making an impact towards a more proactive approach on such a very volatile and sensitive area of a child’s life (Johnston, 1991).

The basic knowledge that is currently available about the intergenerational cycle of incarceration is quite few and the data is only based upon such a small scale. The data gathering of such issues has been limited only to small-scale studies as well as surveys. These types of studies which have gained the following important data are quite instrumental in creating the wake up call that is needed by the different correctional facilities of the nation.

It should be understood that once a mother or a father is arrested, the next immediate plan of action should be to address whether there are children that have been present during the time of arrest and what action steps should be taken by the different authorities. There should be an immediate referral of persons to organizations such as CHIP so there will be an immediate follow-up to the children who have been left by the delinquents involved.

Personal Stance on the Issue

I think that indeed, we have been overcrowding our prisons unnecessarily. It is time that the criminal justice system device more systematic ways of looking at how to make the prisons more effective in its punitive measures so that the citizens will be better protected.

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Final Summary

Serious criticism has been leveled at the nation’s criminal justice for being bogged down in paper work and relatively inefficient in clearing cases.    While some question remains about the effectiveness of investigations, the criminal justice system must make a valuable contribution to police work because their skilled interrogation and case-processing techniques are essential to eventual criminal conviction.

Nonetheless, a majority of cases that are solved are done so when the perpetrators identified at the scene of the crime by patrol officers. More frequent and longer prison terms have made correction budgets zoom high to operate. This must be resolved before people become cynical and complain that there must be less restrictive laws of imprisoning criminals. It is still a balance of all factors including coming up with creative alternatives to incarceration.


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