Thursday, June 26, 2014

Louisiana Named "The Prison Capital"

Incarceration rates are higher in the south than any other part of the United States. Louisiana has the dubious distinction of being named "the prison capital."  You can view the report at the link below.

Prison Policy Initiatives

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ban the Box: Giving Offenders a Fair Chance

“Ban the Box”
The National Employment Law Project (2014) estimates that 70 million Americans—one in four—adults have a criminal record. The majority of employers include questions about a person’s criminal background on their job applications and they use it to screen out applicant with a criminal history. “Ban the Box” or “Second Chance” is a movement to eliminate questions about criminal backgrounds from public employment applications. The goal of the movement is to defer a job applicant’s criminal background check until the applicant has been selected for an interview. The Legal Services for Prisoners with Children supports removing the box from applications for housing, public benefits, insurance, loans, and other services, too. In addition, proponents believe that this law should be extended to include private employers.

Benefits of “Ban the Box”
There are several benefits to adopting ban the box laws. First, it eliminates discrimination against individuals with prior criminal histories based solely on one global question. Removal of the box allows those with a criminal history to remain in consideration for the job at which time they have the opportunity to explain their criminal histories to potential employers. Second, it does not prevent employers for conducting criminal background checks on individuals before they are actually hired. However, if they applicant is otherwise qualified for the position, the hope is that employers will ultimately hire the applicant. Finally, employers working with protected or vulnerable populations (e.g., jobs working with children or the elderly) are exempt from the law. In other words, the law is a middle ground compromise that increases the odds that those with criminal records will be treated fairly during the employment process while simultaneously protecting the public.

Why Should We Care?
Offenders face significant obstacles once they are released from prison, with employment being a major one. We know that employment is an important component of successful prisoner reentry. For example, research shows that employment significantly reduces the likelihood of reoffending (Latessa, 2012; Morenoff and Harding, 2011; Visher, Debus, and Yahner, 2008) and success on parole (National Institute of Health, 2010). Therefore, the ban the box law increases the odds that those with a criminal record may find employment and reduce the likelihood that they commit future offenses.

Major U.S Cities and Counties that Banned the Box
New Hampshire*
New Jersey
New Mexico*
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island*
*States that have legislation or administrative orders to ban the box


Latessa, E. J. (2012). Why work is important and how to improve the effectiveness of correctional reentry programs that target employment. Criminology and Public Policy, 11(1), 87-91.

Morenoff, J. D. and Harding, D. J. (2011). Final Technical Report: Neighborhoods, Recidivism, and Employment Among Returning Prisoners. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

National Employment Law Project. (2014). Statewide ban the box reducing unfair barriers to employment of people with criminal records. Retrieved from

National Institute of Corrections. (2010). Is employment associated with reduced recidivism? The complex relationship between employment and crime. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Corrections.

Visher, C., Debus, S., and Yahner, J. (2004). Employment after prison: A longitudinal study of releases in three states. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Prisons: Philosophies of Punishment

There are 6.98 million offenders under adult correctional supervision in the United States. Although this figure represents the third year of decline in the adult correctional population, the United States continues to lead industrialized nations in incarceration rates. Since the inception of prisons, there has been substantial debate about their function in society. Early correctional efforts primarily focused on retributive practices that were designed to achieve deterrence. However, penal reformers advocated for humane prisons and treatment of prisoners. Today, considerable debate remains about the function of prisons.

Prisons are institutions designed to house individuals who have been convicted of state or federal crimes. Individuals who are sentenced to state and federal correctional facilities usually receive a sentence of one year or more and are considered convicted felons. On the contrary, jails are locally operated correctional facilities that primarily house pretrial detainees and/or misdemeanants. Those convicted of misdemeanors are sentenced to one year or less of incarceration. Correctional facilities are intended to serve a public safety function by locking away individuals who pose a threat to the community. However, throughout the history of corrections the function of prisons has been largely dependent on the prevailing philosophy of punishment.

One of the oldest and most enduring philosophies of punishment is deterrence. Cesare Beccaria, an Italian Enlightenment thinker, was the first to suggest that crime causation and punishment should be linked. His essay, On Crimes and Punishments is often credited as the impetus in shaping how we think about crime and corrections in the United States. In his essay, Beccaria outlined a utilitarian approach to punishment that included the idea of deterrence (i.e., the prevention of crime). He was writing at a time when punishments were extremely harsh, and often brutal. Beccaria rejected many of these punishments as overly retributive and he felt that they produced more evil than good.

Retributive punishments are synonymous to the philosophy of lex talionis (law of talion) or “eye for an eye.” Many have a misconception of the law of talion as justifying harsh vengeance, but it was actually intended to put limits on punishment. The original intent was that those punishing offenders could punish no more severely than the offender had harmed his or her victim. This was contrary to practice of Beccaria’s time, which often entailed punishment for the offender that was harsher than what he or she had done.

Beccaria argued that punishment could be justified only if it was imposed to protect the social contract—a voluntary agreement whereby the community that allows the government to regulate the behavior of individuals to preserve social order. He is considered by many to be the father of Classical Criminology or rational choice theory. That is, he believed that human beings were rational, calculating actors and they made decisions based on the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain. In other words, Beccaria claimed that individuals choose behaviors that maximize benefits and minimize costs. To achieve deterrence, Beccaria stated, punishment should be swift. When the punishment quickly follows the crime, the offender is more apt to associate the punishment with the crime. Delaying punishment only serves to separate the two ideas. He suggested that the link between the crime and the punishment would be stronger if the punishment were related to the crime. Beccaria also argued that punishment should be certain. Certainty refers to the likelihood or probability of being caught engaging in particular behavior. If an individual is fairly certain they will be caught, he or she is less likely to commit a criminal act. Finally, Beccaria claimed, that punishment should not be unduly harsh rather that “the punishment should fit the crime.” That is, the punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed. He also argued that the certainty of punishment was most important while the severity of the punishment was least important. Specifically, Beccaria (1764 [1983], p. 62) stated that “Crimes are more effectually prevented by the certainty, than the severity of the punishment.” He thought that if the punishment was overly severe, that it would embolden people to commit greater crimes. For example, if a person were to receive a death sentence for committing a robbery as well as a murder, he or she might decide to commit the greater crime because they the punishment for both is the same.

Early colonial correctional efforts focused on shaming and embarrassing the offender as ways to deter criminal behavior. Shaming was designed to have both a punitive and rehabilitative effect. It was the hope that the offender would be so embarrassed that he or she would repentant, in the religious sense, and turn from sin. The use of the terms “repentant” and “sin” are intimately tied to the prevailing philosophy of punishment of the colonies. Most colonists of European ancestry thought that the most common explanation for committing crime was religious in nature. They strongly believed all people were born sinners and those who failed to develop a strong faith in God were most likely to commit sins (i.e., break community mores and laws). Colonial Americans administered a variety of public punishments intended to shame offenders. For example, the ducking stool was a device consisting of a chair in which an offender was tied to and ducked into water. The ducking stool was usually reserved as a punishment for women who were considered slanderers, chronic gossips, and general busybodies. The stocks were another commonly used device to humiliate offenders publically. The stocks were located in a central, public location and the offender’s hands and head were immobilized by the use of a secured enclosure. The length of the punishment was proportionate to the offense committed that could range from several hours to several days. The townspeople were encouraged to verbally and, sometimes, physically abuse the offender as they walked passed. Some offenders were subjected to corporal punishment that was often brutal and resulted in significant injury to the offender. Public executions were commonplace and were viewed as barbaric by many.

As the colonies grew, public punishments fell to the wayside because of the changing dynamics of the communities. The colonies moved away from being close-knit agrarian communities to loose urban communities due in large part to an influx of immigrants. Public humiliation no longer worked as a method of social control because people no longer felt close social ties to their communities. In addition, many in the community no longer embraced corporal and capital punishments as effective methods for responding to and deterring criminal behavior. There was a need to find an alternative method for achieving social control so early criminal justice reformers turned to incapacitation.

Incapacitation refers to removing or reducing the offender’s capacity or ability to commit crime. The clearest example of incapacitation is imprisonment. Incapacitation restrains offenders from committing additional crimes by isolating them from the free world. The use of incapacitation has a long and somewhat dubious history in the United States.

The birth of the American penitentiary can be traced to Pennsylvania. In 1682, Quaker reformer, William Penn created a new penal code, commonly called “Penn’s Code.” The code replaced the stocks and pillories with houses of detention, eliminated corporal punishment and replaced it with incarceration, and abolished capital punishment for all crimes except murder. However, in 1718 when Penn died, Penn’s Code was repealed. In the late 1700s, Benjamin Rush became the leader of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. The Philadelphia Society established the first prison in the United States in 1790 when they converted one wing of the Walnut Street Jail for housing sentenced offenders.

Walnut Street Jail administrators’ efforts at deterring criminal behavior centered on the religious conversion of prisoners. Inmates were housed in individual cells and required to remain silent. Enforced silence was thought to reduce the potential of moral contamination among prisoners. Prisoners were issued a Bible that they were encouraged to read and do penance. Administrators thought that isolation coupled with religious study and prayer would lead to the religious transformation of inmates and, ultimately, make them repent from their sins (i.e., crimes).

When Eastern State Penitentiary was opened in 1829, they adopted the Walnut Street Jail’s philosophy of isolation and religious instruction. This philosophy became known as the Pennsylvania System or the “separate system.” Like the Walnut Street Jail, silence among offenders was enforced and inmates were not allowed to talk to one another. Prisoners were issued a Bible upon their arrival and they were encouraged to read and study it, and to offer penance to God. Again, administrators felt that the religious conversion of inmates was the most effective way of rehabilitating offenders and reducing criminal behavior.

Unfortunately, there were several problems with the Pennsylvania System. First, it was almost impossible to keep inmates from seeing and communicating with each other. Second, it was expensive to operate because the requirement to keep inmates in complete isolation necessitated an increase in staffing. Third, the requirement that inmates work alone in their cells meant that the production of goods was rather low, which meant that inmates could not produce resalable goods in mass. Administrators had originally hoped that the production and sale of inmate goods might offset some of the operational costs of the prison, but this did not happen. Fourth, the planned operation of the prison was almost immediately changed. Because of overcrowding inmates had to be double-celled. Administrators also made this change to allow one inmate to train another inmate in the production of goods. It was used as a strategy to increase the production of inmate goods. In addition, there was evidence to suggest that solitary confinement resulted in many inmates going “stir crazy” or becoming mentally ill.

New York opened the Auburn Prison in 1817 but the correctional philosophy of this facility was dramatically different from Eastern States Penitentiary. The major change was Auburn replaced the Pennsylvania System of religious study, prayer, and penance with hard labor. Auburn also rejected Pennsylvania’s emphasis on solitary confinement. Auburn officials opted to allow prisoners to congregate during the day while working in an effort to improve the production of goods, which they hoped would offset the costs of operating the prison. Nevertheless, prisoners were still prohibited from speaking to one another and were required to work in silence. In addition, strict discipline was enforced. Auburn continued Pennsylvania’s system of segregating inmates at night. The Auburn System became known as the “congregate system.” Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, prison administrators favored the Auburn System because of its effort to avoid inmate contamination among prisoners, hard labor, separation at night, congregation during the day to optimize the production of goods, and strict discipline.

Incapacitation as a form of punishment remained popular during the Industrial Era (1865-1890) and the use hard labor continued. Inmate industrial labor was a staple in the northeastern penitentiaries. Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts used factory models that were essential to the economy in this region. The primary industry in the antebellum south was agriculture, which relied on deeply on slave labor. However, the abolition of slavery left the southern states with a labor void and many turned to inmate labor as an alternative.

Corrections and court officials were quick to supply inmate labor. Under the convict lease system, business owners and farmers could lease inmates from the state for a fee, or sometimes for free, which saved the state the cost of housing the prisoners. The state was unconcerned about what happened to the inmates once they were no longer in their custody. There was no effort to reform the inmates or help them prepare for life after incarceration. Inmates were often required to work 12 to 14 hour days, given very little to eat, and often had inadequate clothing. Many of the prisoners became injured, sick, or died. The prison administrators’ goal was to turn a profit regardless of the consequences for prisoners.

During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), the term “criminal justice system” emerged. The criminal justice system came under more intense scrutiny from the academic profession than it had in years past. Those who worked in criminal justice professions, including prison wardens, came to view themselves as professionals, rather than just employees. Phrenology and biological approaches to explaining crime reached their peak during this era. Cesare Lombroso, an Italian prison physician, published his findings that criminals could be identified by physical traits. Lombroso’s work shifted the focus about the causes of crime. Unfortunately, prison administrators and other criminal justice professionals advocated radical medical procedures to “cure” criminal behavior. Sterilization, for instance, gained popularity with the goal of preventing “feebleminded” people or “imbeciles” from reproducing. Although there were medical advances during this period, the rehabilitation of offenders was not a priority.

From 1900-1950, the “Big House” Era of prisons dominated. Big houses were maximum security prisons. In these prisons, discipline and enforced silence prevailed. Inmates worked in meaningless hard labor jobs such as breaking up rock piles. The rocks were not actually used for any purpose and the activity was mainly used as a way for guards to weld their authority over inmates. The Big House prisons, like the rock piles, served no real purpose—prison administrators were not interested in rehabilitation or profits.

The period from 1950 to 1960 was declared the “anything works era” of prisons. There was shift in correctional philosophy toward rehabilitation. Prisons began hiring more counseling staff. Educational, vocational, and substance abuse programs proliferated. Though security had always been the primary focus of the prison, prisons gradually began to place more emphasis on secular forms of rehabilitation. During this same time period, the disciplines of sociology, psychology, and psychiatry started to influence prison programming. Counselors were hired to diagnose and classify inmates according to their problems and security risk. In many states, inmates started their prison term in “classification centers” where they took a multitude of educational, aptitude, and interest tests and medical examinations to determine their needs (Johnson, 1997). The test results were then used to send the inmate to the appropriate prison, tag him or her with the appropriate custody level, and assign him or her to the appropriate mix of educational, vocational, and treatment programs.

By the 1960s, some prisons, most notably in California, were fully engaged in offering a wide range of programs. In addition to basic and advanced education, prisoners had the opportunity to participate in group therapy, transactional analysis, or behavior modification. Even transcendental meditation and yoga were offered in some prisons. The “big house” was replaced by the “correctional institution.” Psychology replaced religion as the reform agent.

During the 1960s, public attitudes toward rehabilitation shifted. Civil rights concerns, opposition to American military involvement in Vietnam, the increase in illegal drug use by young people, and a general unease about the safety of walking the streets of American cities were among the problems that contributed to an anti-rehabilitation mindset within the public.

Attitudes toward rehabilitation began to sour for other reasons as well. First, prisons were viewed as counterproductive to reforming criminal behavior. Prisons were viewed as breeding grounds or schools for criminals. Second, former President Lyndon B. Johnson established a commission to study crime and the administration of criminal justice in the United States. The commission found, as the public suspected, that prisons lacked the ability to reform prisoners. Third, there was an attack on rehabilitative efforts from an unlikely source—the Quakers. The Quakers had been advocating penal reform and rehabilitation efforts since the eighteenth century. In fact, as previously noted, the Quakers were instrumental in the establishment of early American penitentiaries. However, in a 1971 report titled Struggle for Justice, the Quakers stated that prisons were failing to rehabilitate inmates (Whitehead, Dodson, & Edwards, 2013). Finally, a research report commission by the New Department of Correction in the early 1970s drew into question the rehabilitative efforts of correctional programs. Robert Martinson and a team of researchers evaluated rehabilitation programs across the country. They reviewed both prison-based and community-based programs. Martinson’s report gave a gloomy picture of rehabilitative efforts, especially prison-based programs. To avoid embarrassment, the State of New York blocked release of the report. When court action on the part of inmates forced the release of Martinson’s report in 1974, the phrase “nothing works” became the rallying cry of those who had long opposed prison rehabilitation and of others who had recently become disenchanted with rehabilitation. Martinson’s stinging indictment of rehabilitation efforts, however, was partly the result of his bitterness toward New York officials who had quashed the release of his findings. Moreover, Martinson did not actually state that nothing worked. After the initial release of the report and the anti-rehabilitation backlash it generated, Martinson backtracked, stating that the initial report was overly pessimistic about rehabilitation. But the damage had already been done. Martinson’s findings were the justification for dismantling many prison rehabilitation programs.

Today, incapacitation continues to be the leading punishment used in the United States to deal with offenders. In the United States, the adult correctional system supervises offenders in local, state, and federal correctional facilities as well as in the community under the authority of probation and parole agencies. During 2011, approximately 6.98 million offenders were under the supervision of the adult correctional system at yearend 2011, which is a decrease of 98,900 offenders from one year ago (Glaze & Parks, 2011). This figure represents a 1.4% decline in the correctional population during 2011 and the third consecutive year of decline. The decline in correctional populations is primarily attributed to a decrease in the probation a population that was down 81,800 offenders or an 83% decrease. In other words, the reduction in the adult correctional population is the result of fewer individuals being on supervised probation and not the result of a significant drop in the number of individuals who are serving time in correctional facilities. These figures suggest that the United States is likely to continue use incapacitation as the primary method for dealing with offenders because, as some suggests, we have need to feed our addiction to incarceration (Pratt, 2009).

Although we continue to experience high incarceration rates in the United States, there is evidence to suggest that we have expanded our rehabilitative efforts. Rehabilitation programs are designed to alter the attitudes and behaviors of offenders and improve the likelihood that they will return to society with the skills they need to become law-abiding citizens. The emphasis of rehabilitation is clearly proactive and focuses on deterring future crimes. Correctional officials often consider this to be their most important function—protecting society by reducing recidivism.

Contemporary prisons programs attempt to rehabilitate offenders in a variety of ways. First, most rehabilitation programs seek to reduce an offender’s motivation to commit further crimes. For example, psychological counseling is routinely offered to offenders to help them identify the factors that trigger their criminal behavior. Likewise, anger management and drug rehabilitation programs help offenders recognize dangerous situations that may place them in jeopardy of falling back into criminal behavior. Empathy and sensitivity training attempt to help offenders understand the impact their criminal conduct has on victims and their families. Second, some correctional programs are designed to teach offenders competencies that may help them to avoid problems that increase the likelihood of recidivism. Such programs are designed to teach offenders valuable job skills, increase their educational level, and reduce the use of alcohol and drugs.

There seems to be some optimism about the future of rehabilitation in prisons. Specifically, academics and practitioners have come to together to endorse evidence-based practice. Evidence-based practice is “a body of research and replicable clinical knowledge that describes contemporary correctional assessment, programming and supervision strategies that lead to improved correctional outcomes such as the rehabilitation of offenders and increased public safety” (Serin, 2005, p. 2). That is to say, the implementation and continuation of rehabilitation programs should be supported by empirical research. There is a growing body of research that sheds light on the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of certain programs. For example, we know now that programs like Scared Straight that use confrontational strategies, not only do not work they actually increase the likelihood that juveniles will reoffend (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2011). Related research shows that other confrontational programs such as boot camps do not work with adult or juvenile offenders (MacKenzie, 2002). Based on these findings, prisons should abandon such programs in favor of more effective ones. Through the examination of the research we know that faith-based programs (Dodson, Cabage, & Klenowski, 2011), adult basic education and vocational programs, and therapeutic communities (MacKenzie, 2002) work to reduce recidivism.

A more recent trend in prisons is the introduction of “habilitation” programs. Unlike rehabilitation that seeks to help offenders relearn prosocial behaviors in the hopes of avoiding future criminality, habilitation suggests that there are certain skill sets and behaviors that offenders never learned. Life skills training programs, for instance, are designed to help offenders improve their decision-making skills. These training programs teach offenders how to identify “thinking errors” through the use of cognitive restructuring strategies. These programs encourage offenders to explore why they choose criminal behavior over law-abiding behavior. Some of these programs ask offenders to consider why they have chosen a criminal career rather than a legitimate job or why they acted out violently instead of seeking nonviolent resolutions to problems. Other life skill programs that are model after the habilitation philosophy include parenting, problem-solving, financial literacy, and computer literacy. Life skills programs recognize the need to teach offenders the cognitive and social skills they need to be successful in the community.

Although rehabilitation and habilitation programs are widely embraced in the correctional setting, we continue to a push for retributive correctional policies as well. At least one criminologist suggests that since the 1980s, we have been experiencing a “penal harm movement” in which harsh punishments are emphasized (Clear, 1994). During this time, states began developing strict sentencing guidelines, enacting mandatory minimum sentences, and toughen penalties for certain offenses, specifically drug offenses (as part of the “war on drugs”), offenses with weapons, and offenses committed by repeat or habitual criminals. In addition, 14 states abolished early release by discretion of a parole board for all offenders, while an additional five states abolished parole board release for certain felony offenders (Ditton & Wilson, 1999). We have witnessed harsher penalties for juveniles as well including an increased use in juvenile transfers or waivers to adult court and longer sentences for certain types of felony offenders. There is little research to suggest that harsher sentencing policies translate into lower rates of recidivism. As a matter of fact, some studies suggest just the opposite—longer confinement seems to increase the risk of recidivism (see e.g., Song & Lieb, 1993).

We see examples of retributive practices in correctional settings playing out in popular media. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona boasts that he is “America’s toughest sheriff.” He set up a “tent city” as an extension of the Maricopa Jail, which is known for its harsh conditions. The prisoners are subjected to extremely hot temperatures that have risen as high 145 degrees in the summer. Arpaio also expanded the use of chain gangs to include females and juveniles. But he is probably most famous for requiring all inmates to wear pink uniforms, socks, and underwear. Although his methods are at best questionable, many in the general public support his methods because they view him as tough on crime. However, there is no evidence to date to suggest that his practices reduce recidivism or rehabilitate offenders.

Prison administrators have recently moved toward implementing reintegration programs for offenders. Reintegration programs seeks to keep offenders who are in the criminal justice system connected to prosocial ties and to gradually reintroduce them back into the community. Reintegration efforts often fall under the umbrella of prisoner reentry programs, which are designed to assist offenders in acquiring life skills needed to be successful in the community. In the United States, there is a Prisoner Reentry Initiative that is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, the U.S. Department of Education, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, and Labor. This initiative is described as a comprehensive effort that attempts to address both juvenile and adult prison populations including serious, high-risk offenders. The initiative for prisoner reentry is ideally comprised of three phases. First, institutional-based programs must be created that assist offenders for reentry into society. Services provided in this phase include education, mental health and substance abuse treatment, job training, mentoring, and full diagnostic and risk assessment. Second, community-based programs should work with offenders prior to and immediately following their release from correctional institutions. In this phase, offenders must be exposed to educational opportunities, monitoring, mentoring, life-skills training, assessment, job-skills development, and mental health and substance abuse treatment. Third, there should be long-term community-based support programs that connect individuals who have left the supervision of the justice system with a network of social services agencies and community-based organizations to provide ongoing services and mentoring relationships (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2011).

A recent survey indicates that 45% of people released from prison in 1999 and 43% of those sent home in 2004 were reincarcerated within three years, either for committing a new crime or for violating conditions governing their release (Pew Center on the States, 2011). Reintegration or reentry programs hold the promise of reducing recidivism rates by helping prisoners return to their communities as contributing and law-abiding members of society. However, it is important to note that effectiveness of reintegration strategies is yet to be evaluated empirically.

Prisons have a longstanding history in the United States and correctional philosophies have varied across time. Early efforts centered on the reformation of prisoners through religious instruction and hard labor. Others, like Cesare Beccaria, advocated utilitarian punishments in the hopes of achieving deterrence. Prison administrators have endorsed retributive as well as rehabilitative strategies throughout correctional history. More recent efforts have incorporated habilitative and reintegrative approaches in an effort to provide inmates with the skills they need to remain in the community. The debate about which philosophy should prevail will likely remain.

Beccaria, C. (1764). On Crimes and Punishments. International Pocket Library. Boston, MA.

Bureau of Justice Assistance. (2011). Reentry initiative. Washington DC: Office of Justice
Programs at

Clear, T. R. (1994). Harm in American penology: Offenders, victims, and their communities. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Ditton, P. M., and Wilson, D. J. (1999). Truth in sentencing in state prisons. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Glaze, L. E., and Parks, E. (2011). Correctional populations in the United States, 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Johnson, R. (1997). Race, gender, and the American prison: Historical observations. In J. Pollock (ed.), Prisons: Today and tomorrow, (pp. 26-51). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.

MacKenzie, D. L. (2002). Reducing the criminal activities of known offenders and delinquents: Crime prevention in the courts and corrections. In L. W. Sherman, D. P. Farrington, B. C. Welsh, and D. L.

MacKenzie (eds.), Evidence-based crime prevention. New York, NY: Routledge. Pratt,

Pratt, T. C. (2009). Addicted to incarceration: Corrections policy and the politics of misinformation in the Unites States. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Serin, R. C. (2005). Evidence-based practice: Principles for enhancing correctional results in prisons. Washington, DC: National Institute of Corrections.

Song, L., and Lieb, R. (1993). Recidivism: The effects of incarceration and length of time served. Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

Whitehead, J. T., Dodson, K. D., and Edwards, B. D. (2013). Corrections: Exploring crime, punishment, and justice in America. Waltham, MA: Anderson Publishing.

Further Readings
McShane, M. D., and Williams, F. P., III. (1996). Encyclopedia of America prisons. New York, NY: Garland Publishing Inc.

Schmalleger, F., and Smykla, J. O. (2009). Corrections in the 21st Century. (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Tonry, M., and Petersilia, J. (1999). Prisons. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Disrupting the School-To-Prison Pipeline

Prison Sexuality

Prison sexuality refers to the sexual relationships of individuals confined to correctional facilities. Sexual relationships behind bars may include consensual and nonconsensual inmate-to-inmate sex, or conjugal visits. Prison administrators face some serious questions about how to deal with sexual relationships within their facilities. It is important that they make ethical decisions about policies regarding prison sexuality i.e., policies that seem fair and equitable.

In 1958, Gresham Sykes was the first to write about the pains of imprisonment in his book, The Society of Captives. These pains consist of the deprivation of liberty, goods and services, autonomy, security, and heterosexual relationships. The latter deprivation forces prisoners to seek alternative means for achieving sexual gratification including masturbation, consensual same-sex sexual activity, or coerced same-sex sexual activity. Inmates also may be able participate in conjugal visits with their legal spouse, but this practice is rare (i.e., only six states currently allow it).

Consensual same-sex relationships are relatively common in both male and female prisons. Many inmates report that they were not homosexual when they entered prison but that the need for sexual release was so strong they decided to be “gay for the stay.” Males claim that their participation in homosexual behavior is driven primarily by the need for sexual gratification, while females report the need for both emotional and physical intimacy. There are individuals who enter the prison system who identify as homosexual, too. Like their heterosexual counterparts, homosexual inmates often participate in sexual relationships during their incarceration.

Offenders in most prisons are prohibited from any type of sexual behavior. For example, inmates are not allowed to masturbate or to possess any form of pornographic material while incarcerated. Prison officials often defend such policies on the grounds that masturbatory discharges (seminal and vaginal fluids) may pose a serious health risk for staff and other prisoners. There are reports in male prisons of inmates that have used semen as a weapon and thrown it at correctional staff. The fear is that others will be exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like the HIV/AIDS virus.

Masturbation is preferable to some inmates more so than seeking out a homosexual relationship. Married inmates report masturbation allows them the sexual release they need while remaining faithful to their spouses on the outside. Additionally, inmates argue that masturbation allows them a sexual release without seeking out a homosexual relationship that might potentially expose them to the HIV/AIDS virus. Male inmates also argue that masturbation allows them to release their pent up sexual aggression, which reduces the likelihood of sexually assaulting another inmate.

Correctional facilities have strict policies against homosexual behavior, too. The need for sexual gratification is a basic human need. The need for sexual gratification coupled with the fact that an inmate’s choices are limited, creates a situation where homosexual behavior may be a natural outcome. Consensual same-sex relationships may help to reduce sexual assault in prison, especially in male prisons. Male prisoners also report that allowing them a sexual outlet reduces the likelihood that they will physically assault staff or other prisoners. Likewise, female prisoners report that they feel less anxious and/or aggressive after having sex. However, Angela Pardue and her colleagues note that homosexual behavior in women’s prisons often increases the likelihood of violence because homosexuality may lead to both the economic and sexual exploitation of prisoners. For example, more experienced inmates may pressure less experienced inmates into homosexual behavior in exchange for protection or commissary.

Participating in homosexual behavior may potentially expose the participants to STIs. Several prisons and jails throughout the United States issue inmates condoms as part of their orientation to prison. Many prison administrators concede that homosexual behavior is a logical consequence of incarceration and the use of condoms is necessary to prevent the spread of STIs. Those who oppose this practice suggest that condom distribution will lead to increased sexual behavior including sexual assault. They also fear condom use will lead to an increase in drug use (i.e., inmates will use the condoms to hide drugs anally) or will disrupt prison operations. Research indicates that these fears are unfounded and that access to condoms does not interrupt the prison routine, represents no threat to security or operations, does not lead to an increase in sexual activity or drug use, and is accepted by most prisoners and staff once it is introduced.

Prison sexuality may lead to sexual violence. There are three major forms of sexual violence that have been identified in female correctional facilities: (1) manipulation, (2) compliance, and (3) coercion. Manipulation refers to using sex as a bartering tool in which sexual favors are performed in exchange for goods or services. Compliance occurs when a female prison reluctantly but submissively participates in sexual behavior because of some real or perceived threat. Sexual coercion ranges from implicit to explicit pressure to engage in sexual behaviors. These forms of sexual violence can be committed by (a) a prisoner against a staff member, (b) a prisoner against another prisoner, and (c) a staff member against a prisoner.

Some prison administrators have policies that permit conjugal visits between legal spouses. Six states allow conjugal visits: California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Washington. Conjugal visits are available in both male and female prisons. These visits may serve two purposes—controlling homosexual behavior and the preservation of the family. Inmates who have conjugal visits are less likely to participate in same-sex relationships. Prison administrators who permit conjugal visits believe this is also the first step in preserving and/or reestablishing family bonds. As a result, prisons no longer call them conjugal visits but instead use the term “extended family visits.” Increasing the family bond also increases the odds that inmates will stay out of prison.

Many prisoners will choose to participate in same-sex relationship during their incarceration. Prison administrators should do what they can to reduce the likelihood of violence and the spread of STIs. Prison officials should also institute polices regarding sexuality that are reasonable and fair.
Mass Incarceration in the United States