Corrections facilities constitute one of the key components of the criminal justice system in the United States. The correction systems are either institutional based or community based. To this extent, the correction system includes probation, parole, prisons, jails as well as community based corrections. This paper seeks to explore the various processes of each of the correction system. The paper also evaluates the trends in the development and operations of the corrections and examines the organizational and administration functions which indicate the operations and financial demands of the corrections. In conclusion, the paper shall make an assessment of technology, management, security as well as control functions within the corrections, for the purpose of discussion in this paper, prisons and jails are subsumed under institutional corrections whilst probation and parole refer to community based corrections.
Initially, prisoners were not treated with dignity and this can be traced to the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia which was the first American prison. Brutal punishments such as pillory were conducted in public and the prison held both the young and the old, female and male in the same place altogether. This changed with the passing of the 1790 Act which brought about reforms in prisons by authorizing a prison house with 16 cells to be constructed so as to enable the solitary confinement for harsh offenders. The American correctional population gone up in the recent past and this has also brought challenges. In fact, since the issuance of the President Taskforce Final Report in 1982, there has been a marked increase in number of offenders in the correctional systems with significant impact. In 1982, there were a total of slightly above 400,000 inmates in both state and federal prisons. Nearly 15 years later, the number of inmates had increased fourfold to over 1.6 million inmates.
With the increasing trends in population, correctional institutions have also realized that victims are important clients. To this end, there was an incorporation of service provision to victims of crimes perpetrated by the offenders in mission statements. There was also the institution of victim advisory boards to help in the overall operation of correctional facilities. At present, correctional institutions offer numerous services to victims such as protection from intimidation and harm, victim notification of the status of the offender, restitution collection and victim impact programs that are aimed at helping the offenders appreciate the impact of the crimes they committed. Going forward, the trend is bound to continue shifting tremendously towards better services and protection for inmates in prisons.
In the United States, jails must be distinguished from prisons in that jails hold men and women who are either awaiting trial or those who have been sentenced to a term of one year or less. A number of persons held in these jails are supervised through programs that include but not limited to weekend reporting, community service, work release among other alternative modes.
It being the case that jails are fast becoming facilities for incarcerating convicted offenders for longer periods; it becomes imperative that they also provide services to crime victims such as notification of the status of the offender. Equally, personnel in charge of the jails need to take into account the safety of the victims by notifying them of the pending release of either an alleged or a convicted offender. Similarly, expedient action should be taken by jail authorities whenever victims complain of harassment or retaliation by the offenders. It is these amongst other developments that this paper predicts will be implemented in the future.
Probation and parole are regarded as community correction mechanisms because they are aimed at making the offenders reintegrate into the community. Probation involves the release of an offender by the court to test his behavior albeit under constant and strict supervision. Some of the rules that the offenders have to comply with may include living at a prescribed place, remaining unemployed, obeying the orders of the probation officer as well as not leaving the jurisdiction of the court. These restrictions could also involve a ban from suing alcohol or making contact with the victims. They have gained more relevance with the increasing prison population as policy makers grappled with the solution of reducing the increasing population in prisons.
Further issues that informed the evolution of these correction mechanisms were the need to increase utility of the individual by ensuring they became useful members of the society. Probation has now become a critical correction tool at a frenetic pace. The present trend on probation is it only confined to its increased use but also the types of offenders now subjected to probation. Unlike thirty years ago, modern day offenders subjected to supervision under probation are more violent and mostly abuse substances. As such, experts and professionals in this field have had to grapple with the increased threat wrought by these offenders.
More so, the rights of victims of crime have improved in a great way over the years. Almost all states have since passed legislation to allow victims of crime to make known their thoughts at parole hearings through the use of victim impact statements. A good number of states allow victims to attend parole proceedings and testify and others provide notification of an offender’s release upon request. Further, some states now have opened their parole hearings to the general public.
As at present, nearly half of paroling authorities have engaged staffs who accompany victims, witnesses as well as their respective families to hearings that are related to the offenders’ release. Most of paroling authorities have also taken measures to alleviate the intimidation posed to victims by offenders by separating them by one-way glass and giving audience to the victims separately. Similarly, most paroling authorities give notification to victims of hearings through letters. In view of these present developments, it is envisaged that the trend will continue to even encompass all states as well as adopt more similar measures.
Correctional institutions are organized in hierarchy just like any other organization. Each of the state usually has a central department of corrections headed by a secretary who in turn appoints a director to direct all operations of the correction. The director appointed sets down the policy of the institution which the wardens are to follow in the custody and treatment of inmates. In addition, the office of the director also consists of various advisers in different disciplines. Owing to the very nature of a correction, public information s severally required by the media and in such instances, the media contacts the director for information.
Besides the organization function, there are two key administrative divisions of a correction. One of the divisions is the budget development arm while the other is the new prison construction unit. Administrative functions include human resource management within the correction and procurement of essential products and services. The budget division of the administrative division reflects the fiscal demands of the correction as it collects information from all prisons, divisions and the governor’s office so as to create a budget that reflects the operations of the correction. When the budget is sanctioned by the governor’s office, the budget division then proceeds to explain it to the legislative budget committee. The committee reviews the request by the division and makes the appropriate recommendation to the legislative body for funding of the correction. The same budget division of the administrative unit of the corrections oversee the expenditure as construction of new facilities are done as well as in the conduct of operations. The organizational structures of corrections have changed significantly over time in response to external needs. Initially, the institutions were run by wardens who had absolute authority and appointed by governors through political patronage. At present, most wardens have earned their position through merit.
There have been few but tragic instances of insecurity experienced in corrections such as the 2005 murder of a Tennessee correctional officer thus necessitating the need for institution of security measures. These measures will ensure the safety of the most valuable resource in the correctional facilities.
The level of technology, training and control mechanisms in modern day corrections is a far cry from the past. The use of paracentric keys and iron bars in prisons and other corrections is quickly fading as have turnkeys and cellblock tiers which have been replaced by officers engaging in direct supervision efforts. In terms of control functions, it has now changed from when inmates ran nearly all of the corrections facilities with the exception of hallways and the control rooms. On the management sphere, good practices have ensured a cost-effective operation and good work environment that has motivated the workers to stay on. With this, much of funds have been saved which is usually expended in replacing a new worker through replacement.
Technology has also fundamentally shifted the mode of booking and tracking of detainees. Digital video imaging is now used as is inkless fingerprinting which enables the electronic transfer of information to state and federal authorities, bar coding has also been used to track in-house inmates and paperwork. Touch screen computer kiosks have also enabled inmates to be informed by enabling instant access to information and also ensured greater accountability. As an alternative to confinement and bailing, GPS electronic monitoring has come in handy. The quick sharing of information that has been made possible by technology facilitates the quick conduct of surveys which are then used for development of procedural improvements.
It may be a trend in the future that the technological advances shall continue to enhance security as well as better overall management of the facilities. This could possibly see the emergence of a single level direct supervision dormitory for the general inmates owing to their relatively cheap and easier management features. More so, extended time of seven day care for the children of corrections staff would be a step in the right direction.
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