The Contemporary Correctional Challenge
The Contemporary Correctional Challenge
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LEPSL 500 Critical Issues in Law Enforcement and Public Safety
Module 1 Presentation 1
A grand and sincere welcome to Module one presentation one Corrections in America History and Structure. Our plan of attack or agenda for the substantive topic we’re going to divide it into two parts. Part one will define corrections and define our scope of inquiry. We’ll then look at the five components or tiers of the correctional system. We’ll look at both international and domestic empirical data about the size scope and extent of the contemporary correctional system and then in part two while again this is a contemporary topic in a contemporary course within a very contemporary program we’re going to do a socio-historical overview about the social groups movements and ideologies that contributed to the penitentiary movement and began the American Correctional System in essence. The contemporary correctional system is tremendously broad and complex. A good working definition for corrections is the variety of programs, services, facilities, and organizations responsible for the managing of individuals who’ve been accused or convicted of criminal offenses. The media probably focuses disproportionately on prison probably the public and political discourse about these issues disproportionately focuses on prison and maybe jails, but our discussion and our inquiry has to be broader and involve all major components of the correctional system.
We’re looking at data from the Bureau of Justice statistics, an analytical entity under the broad umbrella of the Department of Justice. The Bureau of Justice Statistics is probably the most comprehensive and up to date empirical evidence gathering mechanism that we have in academic criminology on corrections, in particular, but many other criminal justice issues. I strongly encourage you to go to their website click around a little bit the vast majority of their reports can be downloaded for free in PDF form. They are searchable, and thus have high utility for us as professionals. So we are looking at adults under correctional control at the end of year 2015. Like most data, correctional data lags about a year and a half to two years behind on a pretty consistent basis. As you can see, the total number of American adults under correctional control at this time was over 6.7 million. That breaks down to roughly maybe one out of every thirty American adults is under some form of correctional control. Overwhelmingly, the lion’s share of those individuals are serving time on probation, in the community. And in terms of those folks who are incarcerated the lion’s share of those who are incarcerated are incarcerated in state prisons. What’s notable about the
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state prison figure, actually there are probably several notable things, but one that I’ll point out here is that that figure is driven overwhelmingly by a small number of very large states. For example, states like California, New York, Texas, and Florida drive those incarceration numbers and recent legislative changes in the State of California, in particular, has significantly impacted the national scope of state prison incarceration. These four states are often referred to as The Big Four in corrections, California, New York, Texas, and Florida. For some precision, there are also some folks incarcerated in other types of facilities that are significant, just not quite large enough to make our chart. So, clearly this chart looks at adults so that wouldn’t include any juveniles who are incarcerated. It also wouldn’t include folks incarcerated in military facilities, in sovereign Native American territories and also some types of immigration facilities don’t make the chart but do contribute, at least collectively, in a substantial way to the larger picture of American Corrections.
We’re looking at a photo of Los Angeles County Jail. I believe Cook County Illinois has the largest jail single facility in the nation but Los Angeles County Jail has the dubious distinction of housing the largest number of individuals with mental health needs of any institution in the nation. Clearly it’s not a facility designed with mental health in mind. Jails, again, the broad ideal type is to incarcerate folks who are serving time for misdemeanors or less serious crimes where your maximum sentence is one year in jail.
Interestingly jail also houses pretrial detainees. Those are individuals that are incarcerated in a jail awaiting their trial. So either those individuals have been deemed dangerous or they’ve been accused of a very serious crime and they haven’t been provided the opportunity to post bail or they have been by a judge provided the opportunity to post bail but can’t afford it. Jails are described by some experts as strange social hybrids because they house both individuals serving time for an offense after being convicted as well as individuals who may or may not be guilty but are incarcerated awaiting trial.
To advance our conversation of local jails, this table, table 4, is screen grabbed directly from a 2016 report from The Bureau of Justice Statistics, titled Jail Inmates in 2015. As you can see, it takes the nationwide empirical picture of jail inmates and disaggregates them by various categories or variables including; gender, age, race and ethnicity, and also conviction status.
To talk through a few details involving conviction status. While this chart presents data from 2000 to end of year 2015, these trends continued or existed long before the year 2000. That the majority of people incarcerated
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at the local jail level have yet to have their current case resolved. They may have been convicted of a crime in the past, or may not have, but their current charge has yet to be resolved and they have not been convicted of a crime.
Draw your attention to year end 2015 column, the far right hand column. Just over 37% of folks incarcerated in local jails nationwide have been convicted of their current offense, and in comparison nearly 63% have yet to be convicted or have their current case resolved in some way.
That is empirical fodder that leads some experts to argue that jails have these two distinct roles that they’re trying to achieve simultaneously, housing folks who are being punished for a crime, and folks who are awaiting the resolution of their current charges.
In contrast to jails prisons are designed for individuals serving time for felonies. Felonies are a more serious crime where your minimum sentence is one year in prison. Currently, criminal justice professionals are interested in issues of prison culture, maybe as they contribute to prison gangs in particular. Moreover, the relationship between prison gangs and street gangs and how some shot callers in prison are actually able to control in particular acquisitive crimes committed on the streets by organized criminal groups. Also there are vivid constitutional debates currently happening around the country about secure housing units sometimes called administrative segregation units. Again those are disproportionately used for prison gang leaders and those who have been convicted of gang related offenses and also society and criminal justice practitioners are very interested in issues of violence and what structural and programmatic solutions might be out there to help reduce violence inside America’s prisons.
This chart is dedicated to the nationwide empirical picture of incarceration in America, again, building from a Bureau of Justice statistics report using data from the year-end 2015. If you take the sum total of all facilities in America that do incarceration, that gives us a total incarcerated population of 2,173,800, again, year-end 2015. That’s going to include jails both pretrial detainees and those convicted of crimes and serving their sentence, state prisons, federal prisons, as well as those other facilities we previously mentioned – military facilities, and immigration facilities, etc. Incarceration rates allow us to do cross-national comparisons. So, if you take our total incarceration rate as a nation including both adults and juveniles, that rate is 670 incarcerated persons per every 100,000 persons in our general population. If you look at adults only, our adult incarceration rate is 870 incarcerated adults for every 100,000 adults in our general population. And
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those figures are striking, but I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to really be critical, whether it’s a scholarly journal, a media report, some other type of report that provides you an incarceration rate, because they’re computed differently and come to different results depending on what facilities and types of facilities are included.
So, some media reports will use incarceration rate and report a figure that’s really the prison incarceration rate that simply looks at folks incarcerated in prisons. Some scholarly journals will use incarceration rate and refer to jails, state and federal prisons, but ignore those other facilities. So those are just a few examples that reaffirm that looking at some of those methodological details to understand the incarceration rate that’s being reported to you is important, especially if you’re trying to make prudent decisions as a criminal justice system practitioner.
Looking at incarceration rates across nationally is another important moment of reflection for us as current or future practitioners in the field. We’ll notice that our incarceration rate of roughly seven hundred per hundred thousand in our general population is about four to seven times higher than any other Western democracy or any other nation generally cited as one of our peer nations. In fact this incarceration rate as noted is the highest per capita incarceration rate on earth that’s higher than Russia, significantly higher than Cuba, somewhere in the neighborhood of six times that of China. In part that’s a reflection of the infrastructure in America. There are regions in Central America in Africa and particular that have very high violent crime rates that simply don’t have the infrastructure to do incarceration like we do in the United States. But as a practitioner these are questions we need to reflect on. To what extent if any should we look to our peer nations as models of crime control policy or law enforcement strategies? Is that an adequate point of departure for all our analysis or in America as a relatively young country as a country founded largely using firearms which is relatively unique. Does that make us unique as a nation and comparing ourselves to other industrial western democracies is that essentially a waste of time or is that a meaningful part of becoming a more well informed criminal justice practitioner?
In part because of these massive correctional populations many states are in search of alternatives to the traditional correctional model these alternatives are being driven in part by public safety concerns and in part by fiscal concerns. There’s data that every prisoner nationwide on average costs taxpayers of that state somewhere around thirty to thirty five thousand dollars per year per inmate. Here in the state of California that figure is about forty five thousand dollars per year per inmate for supervision and
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maintenance costs alone. And that’s according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. So with the recent economic downturn many states are again with renewed vigor pursuing these alternatives. Many experts are in favor of something called intermediate sanctions for certain types of offenders convicted of certain types of crimes. Intermediate sanctions sometimes called Community Corrections are exactly what they say they are – they’re intermediate. They’re less restrictive and less costly than incarceration but more restrictive than traditional probation. These would be for offenders where probation supervision simply isn’t enough but incarceration may seem too punitive and too costly given the offense if that inmate was convicted of. These are things like house arrest GPS based monitoring systems maybe work release programs things like that in many states are experimenting with intermediate sanctions that proponents argue can both protect public safety, reduce the fiscal impact of corrections to make the system more efficient.
While the focus of this program is a contemporary one, and while the focus of this course is a contemporary one, it’s important to take a brief look at the socio historical trends and movements that contributed to the penitentiary movement and the contemporary correctional system.
As you know America adopted many of its legal traditions built on the common law system in England and in some ways Corrections is quite similar. Scholars talk about what Cole referred to as the Old World which is largely Great Britain in Europe the sixteenth through the mid eighteenth century is really providing some of the ideological precedents for the contemporary American Correctional System. During that time imprisonment was rare, imprisonment the way we conceptualize it today was limited to those awaiting trial. Some political prisoners and folks who owed a debt typically to the state might be something that could be loosely defined as incarcerated. For street crimes the punishments were often much more crude. Individuals would be forced to row ships in something called galley slavery. Those convicted sometimes using the word convicted pretty broadly were banished or transported far, far away. You can see in the upper right hand corner the ship the success into Melbourne, Australia it was used for transporting prisoners out of Europe at that time. Others were for forced in the workhouse model of Corrections to do hard labor also torture devices and what we would consider torture today were relatively common like Iron Maiden device pictured and punishments that involve not only physical pain and what Foucoult called corporal punishment but some extent stigma and public humiliation like the stocks in the pillory pictured there on the bottom right. Imprisonment really wasn’t used for common street crimes but rather corporal punishment was.
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By the late 1700s reformers in Western Europe and later in America wanted to move away from corporal punishment so these punishments targeting the body of the offender and towards incarceration with an emphasis on human dignity and respect. Chief among these groups were religious groups Protestants, Catholics, and Quakers in particular who advocated in very faith-based terms for the human dignity advantages of moving away from many of these torturous punishments and towards incarceration. Moreover the stage was set for the penitentiary movement by American Revolutionaries not the individuals per se but the ideology that we should be free from the tyranny of government and there should be limited centralized power and clearly you can see how these ideas wouldn’t support repressive, tortuous punishment, but would rather support alternatives that realize the value of individuals and civil liberties. Moreover the Enlightenment era brought they construed and the Age of Reason contributed to the penitentiary movement. This belief in science and the scientific method and using math and astronomy and art and architecture to become well rounded human beings clearly was directly opposed to torture as a method and again potentially contributed to the penitentiary movement. And lastly maybe starting with Georgian Britain in the mid seventeen hundreds in his book on crimes and punishment many of the core tenants of what later would become not only American criminal justice processes but really the underpinnings of Western criminal law broadly construed started being discussed by what’s referred to as the classical school of Criminology. Notions of deterrence, notions of transparency, notions of fairness began to be talked about in a formal way and all of these movements and ideologies came together to help move what would later become America away from punishments that targeted the body of the offender and towards prison and penitentiaries. So penitentiaries were designed for penance to make individuals reflect on their wrongdoings to grow as human beings and to instill virtuous values and to instill human dignity. And these were the underpinnings and the goals ideologically and structurally of the early penitentiary movement human dignity fairness and a move away from torture. One additional analytical piece here to think about is what other significant dynamics are happening in these regions at these moments in history. Clearly these dynamics do not exist in a vacuum. What advancements in science or medicine or rearrangement of social groups and social organizations also potentially contributed to the penitentiary movement?
And in conclusion many scholars contrast the reality of incarceration today with these noble intentions of the early penitentiary movement. Looking at issues like overcrowding and prison gangs and violence in American Correctional Institutions and the rate at which individuals reoffend once
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they’re released from jail and prisons that these core notions of penance expressing regret or sorrow for your wrongdoings is something that some believe should be re-instilled than a very meaningful way into the American Correctional System. And this is just one of many of the court debates that
looking forward to engaging in as part of this course.