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The United States has the highest incarceration rate
in the developed world with just under 200,000 people making up the federal
prison population (Hunt 3). One of the biggest reasons for this large number is
recidivism. Recidivism is the tendency for recently released citizens to revert
back to criminal behavior. A study done by the United States Sentencing
Commission found that within 8 years of release 49.3% of people were re-arrested
for new crimes or for violations of supervision conditions (Hunt 5). The Bureau
of Justice estimates that about one in every five offenders in 2005 had been
arrested at least once (Recidivism of Offenders). Recidivism is a direct result
of the punitive practices of incarceration in the United States which seek to imprison
inmates rather than rehabilitate them. 
The stigmatizing of former inmates, along with a lack of adequate rehabilitation,
housing, and job training prevent them properly re-entering society, ultimately
leading the previously incarcerated back to criminal behavior.

            The
United States has recently begun implementing early-release programs within the
prison systems in an attempt to reduce overcrowding and deal with budget
challenges. By in large, these prisoners did not receive suitable
rehabilitation services, and once released, were confronted with a number of
challenges such as lack of adequate housing and the struggle to find a steady
job. These factors alone almost always lead people back into the prison system.
Rehabilitation should be a main focus within American prisons; however it is
often pushed aside. Prisons should be committed to providing appropriate treatment
to prisoners including substance abuse therapy, psychotherapy, and medical
care. However rehabilitation does not need to be limited to the physical treatment
of prisoners. Education has proven to be one of the best ways to rehabilitate
an inmate and prepare them to successfully re-enter the world. “Getting a
college degree while in prison is the only program that has ever been shown to
be 100 percent effective for years or decades at a time in preventing
recidivism” (Gilligan).

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 The question
of where a recently released inmate will live is often a critically important and
urgent need. According to a 2008 survey published in The Guardian, former
prisoners account for half of the population at day-centers for the homeless
(Gaines). In Los Angeles and San Francisco alone 30%-50% of people granted paroles
are homeless (Rodriguez). Unemployment can even play a bigger role in whether
or not recidivism will occur. It is estimated that the unemployment rate for individuals
with prison records is approximately 60%. 
This is more than ten times higher than the national average (After
Incarceration). To avoid going to jail, a former inmate must find a job within
2 months, after that time their chances of recidivism become much higher (Tahmincioglu).
 

            Recidivism
affects everyone within the prison system; however some factors can increase
the chances of becoming a re-offender. A study conducted by the Sentencing
Commission found that the gender, race, and education level can increase or
decrease the chances of recidivism. In this study 52.2% of men and 36.4% of
women became re-offenders. White offenders had a 41.7% chance of being re-incarcerated,
African Americans had a 59.1% chance, and Hispanic Americans had a 49.1% of re-offending.
The most drastic difference in determining if a person becomes a re-offender
was in the amount of education they received. Citizens that were not high
school graduates face a 60.4% chance, high school graduates faced a 50.7%
chance, citizens with some college faced a 39.3% chance, and citizens that were
college graduates face the lowest chance of re-imprisonment at 19.1%. Although
valuable in studying the cause of recidivism, many of these statistics do not
show the full challenges that people face once they are released back into
society.

            The
sociological theory that can best explain recidivism is Labeling Theory.
Labeling Theory states that “deviance depends less on what someone does than on
how others react to that behavior, if people respond to primary deviance by stigmatizing
a person, secondary deviance or a deviance career may result” (Macionis 203). A
stigma is “a powerfully negative label that greatly changes a person’s
self-concept and social identity” (Macionis 182). Often people with a prison
record are seen as untrustworthy, lazy, or even threatening. Of course this is
rarely true, yet still many are unfairly judged and treated. Stigma is the
number one reason why these people cannot find a job. Employers want to hire
the best possible candidate and often those with a prison record are never even
considered no matter what their qualifications. After a prolonged period of
time, these people begin to believe and internalize these stigmas and begin to
feel hopeless; many begin to feel like they can never amount to anything other
than being a criminal. This is what ultimately leads them back to crime and
soon after, prison. This is one reason why proper rehabilitation within prisons
is so incredibly important. With appropriate treatment and education,
ex-prisoners can leave the justice system confident and qualified to compete
for good paying and reliable jobs.

            The
first step in reducing recidivism is to destigmatize these individuals.
Destigmatizing can be done is many ways, not just simply through policy
changes. One step that can be done by everyone to destigmatize these people is
to stop referring to them as “felons”, ‘ex-convicts, or “criminals”. Use of this
type of vocabulary labels them for their entire life and often acts as a
reminder of their past mistakes (Labels Like ‘Felon’). Another way to reduce
recidivism and decrease stigma of the individuals through changes in policy is through
redistributing some of the money given to prisons in order to redirect the
focus more on education and recovery programs. Even more effective than budgeting
for more programs would be to redesign the whole prison system. In a New York
Times article James Gilligan, a clinical professor of psychiatry and an adjunct
professor of law at New York University proposed something called an “Anti-Prison”.
This would be more of a locked community where incarcerated citizens would receive
therapy, rehabilitation, and education in a safe and positive environment. Prisoners
would be treated with the same respect that they are expected to show others when
they re-enter society. Although seen as drastic by many, this program has had
great success; “participation in this program for as little as four months
reduced the frequency of violent re-offending after leaving the jail by 83
percent, compared with a matched control group in a conventional jail” (Gilligan).
 In addition this program has also saved taxpayers
four dollars for every one dollar spent. This is because the lower recidivism rate
saves roughly $30,000 a year per person.  

            The
enormous problem of recidivism can no longer be ignored and must be dealt with
in a swift, decisive, and effective way. There are numerous ideas on how to
address this issue in our country. Through systems of meaningful rehabilitation
and cultural de-stigmatization, citizens with prison records can become successfully
reintegrated into society and lead productive, beneficial lives.

 Works Cited

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