The United States has the highest incarceration ratein the developed world with just under 200,000 people making up the federalprison population (Hunt 3). One of the biggest reasons for this large number isrecidivism. Recidivism is the tendency for recently released citizens to revertback to criminal behavior.
A study done by the United States SentencingCommission found that within 8 years of release 49.3% of people were re-arrestedfor new crimes or for violations of supervision conditions (Hunt 5). The Bureauof Justice estimates that about one in every five offenders in 2005 had beenarrested at least once (Recidivism of Offenders). Recidivism is a direct resultof the punitive practices of incarceration in the United States which seek to imprisoninmates 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, ultimatelyleading the previously incarcerated back to criminal behavior. TheUnited States has recently begun implementing early-release programs within theprison systems in an attempt to reduce overcrowding and deal with budgetchallenges.
By in large, these prisoners did not receive suitablerehabilitation services, and once released, were confronted with a number ofchallenges such as lack of adequate housing and the struggle to find a steadyjob. These factors alone almost always lead people back into the prison system.Rehabilitation should be a main focus within American prisons; however it isoften pushed aside. Prisons should be committed to providing appropriate treatmentto prisoners including substance abuse therapy, psychotherapy, and medicalcare. However rehabilitation does not need to be limited to the physical treatmentof prisoners. Education has proven to be one of the best ways to rehabilitatean inmate and prepare them to successfully re-enter the world. “Getting acollege degree while in prison is the only program that has ever been shown tobe 100 percent effective for years or decades at a time in preventingrecidivism” (Gilligan).
The questionof where a recently released inmate will live is often a critically important andurgent need. According to a 2008 survey published in The Guardian, formerprisoners 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 parolesare homeless (Rodriguez). Unemployment can even play a bigger role in whetheror not recidivism will occur. It is estimated that the unemployment rate for individualswith prison records is approximately 60%. This is more than ten times higher than the national average (AfterIncarceration).
To avoid going to jail, a former inmate must find a job within2 months, after that time their chances of recidivism become much higher (Tahmincioglu). Recidivismaffects everyone within the prison system; however some factors can increasethe chances of becoming a re-offender. A study conducted by the SentencingCommission found that the gender, race, and education level can increase ordecrease the chances of recidivism. In this study 52.2% of men and 36.4% ofwomen 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-offenderwas in the amount of education they received. Citizens that were not highschool 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 werecollege graduates face the lowest chance of re-imprisonment at 19.1%. Althoughvaluable in studying the cause of recidivism, many of these statistics do notshow the full challenges that people face once they are released back intosociety.
Thesociological theory that can best explain recidivism is Labeling Theory.Labeling Theory states that “deviance depends less on what someone does than onhow others react to that behavior, if people respond to primary deviance by stigmatizinga person, secondary deviance or a deviance career may result” (Macionis 203). Astigma is “a powerfully negative label that greatly changes a person’sself-concept and social identity” (Macionis 182). Often people with a prisonrecord are seen as untrustworthy, lazy, or even threatening. Of course this israrely true, yet still many are unfairly judged and treated. Stigma is thenumber one reason why these people cannot find a job.
Employers want to hirethe best possible candidate and often those with a prison record are never evenconsidered no matter what their qualifications. After a prolonged period oftime, these people begin to believe and internalize these stigmas and begin tofeel hopeless; many begin to feel like they can never amount to anything otherthan being a criminal. This is what ultimately leads them back to crime andsoon after, prison. This is one reason why proper rehabilitation within prisonsis so incredibly important. With appropriate treatment and education,ex-prisoners can leave the justice system confident and qualified to competefor good paying and reliable jobs. Thefirst step in reducing recidivism is to destigmatize these individuals.
Destigmatizing can be done is many ways, not just simply through policychanges. One step that can be done by everyone to destigmatize these people isto stop referring to them as “felons”, ‘ex-convicts, or “criminals”. Use of thistype of vocabulary labels them for their entire life and often acts as areminder of their past mistakes (Labels Like ‘Felon’).
Another way to reducerecidivism and decrease stigma of the individuals through changes in policy is throughredistributing some of the money given to prisons in order to redirect thefocus more on education and recovery programs. Even more effective than budgetingfor more programs would be to redesign the whole prison system. In a New YorkTimes article James Gilligan, a clinical professor of psychiatry and an adjunctprofessor of law at New York University proposed something called an “Anti-Prison”.This would be more of a locked community where incarcerated citizens would receivetherapy, rehabilitation, and education in a safe and positive environment. Prisonerswould be treated with the same respect that they are expected to show others whenthey re-enter society.
Although seen as drastic by many, this program has hadgreat success; “participation in this program for as little as four monthsreduced the frequency of violent re-offending after leaving the jail by 83percent, compared with a matched control group in a conventional jail” (Gilligan). In addition this program has also saved taxpayersfour dollars for every one dollar spent. This is because the lower recidivism ratesaves roughly $30,000 a year per person. Theenormous problem of recidivism can no longer be ignored and must be dealt within a swift, decisive, and effective way. There are numerous ideas on how toaddress this issue in our country.
Through systems of meaningful rehabilitationand cultural de-stigmatization, citizens with prison records can become successfullyreintegrated into society and lead productive, beneficial lives. Works Cited