In the recent years, the United States has been experiencing a rise in the amount of the prison population. Ironically, it has not reduced the crime rate in the American society. As a result, the government and scholars alike have turned to community corrections, prompting a pertinent question as to which of the two, incarceration and community corrections, is a more efficient method of reducing crime and maintaining safety in the American society. The paper uses a variety of scholarly literature from peer-reviewed articles to examine the question and reach a conclusion. Upon a preliminary examination of the literature, community correction programs prove to be more efficient methods of reducing crime in the American society as compared to incarceration. Community correction programs like parole and probation have shown to be economically viable as compared to costs incurred by incarceration in states like New Jersey and Mississippi. These programs assist in the reduction of recidivism rates among offenders in the community. Community correction is also more humane and follows human rights laws as compared to incarceration. The studies on incarceration, in turn, show that incarceration may not be an effective method of reducing crimes, especially for particular groups of prisoners such as mentally ill prisoners and offenders convicted of drug-related crimes. Incarceration has also proven to be a costly affair with associated costs including costs of building more prisons to accommodate the rising number of prisoners, paying the prison staff, maintaining prisons, and providing treatment for mentally ill patients and aging prisoners. Incarceration has proven to raise recidivism rates of prisoners in the society. A conclusion can be drawn that community correction programs such as parole and probation are a more efficient method of reducing crime and maintaining safety in the American society as compared to the incarceration approach.
Imprisonment vs. Community Corrections
The population of prisoners in the US prisons, both federal and state prisons, is on the rise. Unfortunately, the increase in the number of inmates has not reduced crime rates in the American society as expected that it would. The situation has led to the government and different scholars advocating for community corrections as a more efficient method of crime reduction. The paper uses a variety of literature to explore which of the two, incarceration or community correction, is a more practical approach to the reduction of crime and the maintenance of safety in the society.
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Incarceration refers to the constitutional deprivation of an offender of the capacity to commit crimes by detaining them in prisons. The United States has the highest incarceration rate among all free nations. The US incarcerates five times more people than the United Kingdom, nine times more than Germany, and twelve times more than Japan (Collier, 2014, p.56). Incarceration has several objectives. One of these is to keep persons suspected of committing a crime under secure control before a court of competent jurisdiction determines whether they are guilty or innocent. Incarceration also punishes offenders by depriving them of their liberty once the court of law has convicted them. Moreover, incarceration deters criminals from committing further crimes (Vuong, Hartney, Krisberg, & Marchionna, 2010).
The increase in prison population has led to overcrowding and overstretching of these prisons beyond capacity, meanwhile creating dangerous and inhumane conditions. In 2006, forty out of fifty states in the United States were operating prisons at 90 percent capacity or more with twenty-three of these states operating at over 100 percent capacity (Blumstein & Piquero, 2007, p.680). Moreover, overcrowding in prisons has resulted in the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis. It presents a major challenge for correctional administrators and health service providers.
States have embarked on building new prisons to cater for the increasing number of prisoners. However, construction of new prison facilities has not provided a sustainable solution for the reduction in crime rates in the society. Incarceration has also proven to be expensive. There are several costs associated with incarceration. These include costs of building new facilities, paying the prison staff, maintaining prisons, as well as costs of treating particular classes of prisoners such as the elderly and mentally ill inmates. The United States spends billions of dollars on incarceration each year with the average yearly increase in state spending on prisons from 1999 to 2009 being approximately 3 percent (James, 2011, p.632). With the number of incarcerated offenders growing each year, the cost of incarceration is expected to continue rising. According to the National Association of State Budget Office, correctional spending by state governments as of 2011 was estimated to be at $50 billion annually (Collier, 2014, p.56).
Incarceration has also failed to decrease the crime rates in the society. According to Phelps (2013), from 1998 to 2007 states that had the greatest increases in incarceration rates failed to observe a corresponding drop in crime rates. In turn, states such as New York, Texas, New Jersey, and North and South Carolinas that lowered their incarceration rates in favor of community correction programs experienced a drop in crime rates (p.53). Incarceration has also failed in correcting prisoners. Most prisoners always go back to committing crimes once released from prison. It has led to a rise in the recidivism rates of prisoners. Recidivism refers to the repetition of criminal behavior (James, 2011). According to the United States Bureau of Justice 2010 statistics report, three-quarters of released prisoners are constantly rearrested for new crimes and more than half of these go back to prison within a period of two to three years after their release. Ex-inmates account for approximately 19 percent of all arrests (Phelps, 2013, p.55). Criminals who return to the community are also mostly worse off after a period of confinement as compared to the moment when they entered prison. It is attributable to the fact that these inmates learn antisocial and criminal attitudes from other inmates.
Incarceration has had negative effects not just on offenders, but also on their families and the society as a whole. It has resulted in the weakening and breaking up of families and other social relationships, while also reducing parents’ involvement with their children (Klingele, 2013). As a consequence of incarceration, problems relating to finances and single parenting can arise for family members. The remaining single parent and family members may be unable to control teenage children and, as a result, these children end up becoming juveniles. Moreover, former prisoners always face long-term employment barriers in the community after their release from prison. Consequently, they tend to go back to committing crimes to provide financially for themselves. Such trends increase rather than reduce crime rates in the society (Klingele, 2013).
Incarceration has failed to cater for aging prisoners. It has become more costly to provide for planning and programming of older inmates. These inmates may be in need of medical care and changes in prison cells to accommodate physical disabilities and other limitations associated with the elderly (Vuong et al., 2010). Prison administrators may find themselves in budget constraints while trying to provide such services and may in the process encounter human rights violations suits.
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Incarceration has also failed in effectiveness when dealing with mentally ill patients. Most prisons lack effective mental health treatment programs. These inmates face limited access to the community after serving their sentences because of their criminal records. It makes it easy for mentally ill prisoners to cycle in and out of prison due to inadequate treatment. It results in committing more crimes. Studies conducted by the PEW show that mentally ill offenders released from prison are re-arrested within eighteen months (Collier, 2014, p.56). Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, people with mental illnesses stay in prison for an average of four months longer than mentally sound prisoners. It is because these mentally ill inmates may find the prison environment with its laws and routines difficult to adjust to and may in the process accrue certain disadvantages that delay their release time from prison. Furthermore, the cost of admitting mentally ill prisoners is too expensive for prisons. The Department of Justice estimates the cost to be an average of $7,550 more per year than that of admitting mentally sound inmates (Collier, 2014, p.56).
Incarceration fails to reduce crime rates related to drug-related offenses. Often, criminals arrested for drug offenses commit such crimes because of their addiction to drugs. Their sentencing would be more effective if carried out by community correction programs such as drug treatments that specifically target the problem of drug addiction. International instruments such as the 1988 U.N. Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and the U.N. General Assembly Guiding Principles on Drug Demand Reduction urge governments to embark on community correction programs. These programs such as drug education and treatment programs for first-time offenders assist governments in dealing effectively with the drug menace (Blumstein & Piquero, 2007). In the United States, drug treatment courts offer an intensive and therapeutic approach to addressing addiction and associated criminal activity as an alternative to incarceration. These tribunals and treatment plans have also proven to be cost effective. A Washington State Institute for Public Policy study has estimated that spending a dollar on drug treatment in prisons yields six dollars in earnings, while spending a dollar on drug treatment in community corrections yields over eighteen dollars in cost savings (Blumstein & Piquero, 2007, p.683).
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2016), community corrections refer to supervision of criminal offenders in the resident population as opposed to confining these offenders in secure correctional facilities. Community corrections are viable alternatives to incarceration offered to offenders at various stages of the criminal justice process. The goals of community correction programs are to contribute to public safety and reduce future crime rates. In the United States, major types of community corrections are parole and probation.
Parole is a mechanism that removes offenders from prisons and returns them to the society to serve the remaining portion of their sentence while maintaining supervision and accountability through the criminal justice system (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016). Probation, in turn, is an arrangement for a convicted criminal to continue living in the community under the supervision of judicial authority in lieu of incarceration. Probation may involve the offender attending certain courses such as therapy or treatment programs (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016).
The use of community corrections reflects a fundamental change in the approach to crime. It also highlights the changing focus of disciplinary measures from punishment to re-integration. The implementation of penal sanctions in the society instead of a procedure of isolation from it presents better protection of the society in the long run (Blumstein & Piquero, 2007). There are economic arguments in favor of community corrections. Supervising criminals within the community correction system is less costly than the upkeep of a prisoner. Moreover, community corrections have proven to cause a reduction in crime while being cost effective. A study undertaken by the Department of Justice in 2010 has showed that states that spend more on community correction programs such as education, probation, and rehabilitation have lower crime rates as compared to those that spend more on incarcerations. State and federal agencies could save roughly $3 billion per year if they reduce the prison population by 10 percent through increased community correction programs (Vuong et al., 2010, p.70). New Jersey successfully saved $14 million during its 2010 fiscal year because of its Halfway Back Community Corrections program that assisted people on parole with job placement, educational coaching, and classes on anger management. Mississippi also benefited in 2009 when it saved $ 6.5 million during the fiscal year by submitting 2,900 cases for parole that year (Vuong et al., 2010, p.70).
Community corrections programs make it easier for the observance of offenders and victims human rights. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures, commonly known as the Tokyo Rules, protect human rights of offenders under community corrections by balancing the rights of criminals and victims and ensuring reduction in the use of the incarceration approach to crime reduction (Blumstein & Piquero, 2007). Moreover, community correction programs are preferred for humanitarian reasons. They provide less serious offenders with alternatives that allow them to continue with various aspects of their lives. These programs also help offenders to avoid adverse effects of incarceration such as stigmatization, damage to physical and mental health, and constant exposure to criminal peers that could lead to a rise in recidivism rates. Community corrections also provide opportunities for the society to be more responsive to needs of offenders and victims (Phelps, 2013).
Incarceration has several objectives. These include punishing offenders for their crimes and placing them under secure control while awaiting the court judgment. Community corrections, in turn, offer viable alternatives to incarceration such as parole and probation. As seen in the paper, community correction programs have proven to be effective in reducing the crime rate in the society. These programs provide less serious criminals with options that let them carry on with other productive aspects of their lives. They also assist former inmates with avoiding stigmatization associated to being former prisoners. Community correction programs also reduce an offender’s contact with other prisoners, meanwhile reducing rates of recidivism and eliminating the incentive to commit crimes. These programs have also proven to be cost effective. When compared to incarceration, the cost of supervising criminals under community corrections is less costly than the upkeep used on a prisoner. A state like New Jersey is a proof that community correction programs are a less expensive approach and a viable alternative to incarceration. The state saved $14 million in its 2010 fiscal year.
Incarceration, on the contrary, has proven to be ineffective in reducing the crime rate in the society. Prison systems in most states have failed to provide adequate programs for the treatment of mentally ill inmates. Consequently, the rates of recidivism for mentally ill former prisoners have risen as these prisoners fail to receive treatment for their disease and end up committing more crimes. Moreover, former prisoners return to the community worse off after interacting with other inmates. When coupled with employment barriers they face when they are out of prison, the situation makes it difficult for these former prisoners to find jobs. They end up recidivating to survive. These factors among many other reasons make community corrections more efficient in reducing crime in the American society as compared to incarceration.