Criminal Sentencing in America

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Abstract

Prison settings are specifically designed for the rehabilitation of convicts. The rehabilitation process provides the convicts with an opportunity of reforming from their old characters to be better persons that could be integrated into social life after their release. However, some of the rehabilitation programs do not change the prisoners as most of them may return to the free world being worse. The success of the rehabilitation programs depends on a variety of factors such as the participation of the prisoners and the availability of the financial resources to run the programs. In America, the rehabilitation of criminal systems has experienced a downfall due to poor implementation of the programs. For instance, the rehabilitation programs have been centered on the administration segment rather than focusing on the affected individuals, the prisoners. The system has faced challenges arising from financial constraints hindering their activities. However, the system is gradually moving to a transformative model which incorporates the participation of the convicts in its structure. The approach, prison facilitated mediation focuses on the character of the inmates and develops strategies to improve their dispute resolution and problem-solving techniques that are essential in the reformation of the convicts. Also, it seeks to instill necessary educational and vocational skill into these individuals that are important in the job market.

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Fall of Rehabilitation in American Criminal System

Introduction

Rehabilitation is vital to the correctional system. The goal of the correctional system concerns the treatment of incarcerated individuals to return them to a crime-free lifestyle. In the 20th century, rehabilitation was central to the penitentiary system in judicial systems. However, its favorability started declining in the 1970s. Rehabilitation encompasses an array of programs such as educational services, mental health, and substance abuse. Additionally, some unique programs have been developed for the women, parolees, and the sex offenders. In America, the judicial system has failed to live up to the objective of enhancing effective crime rehabilitation. The paper looks at the fall of rehabilitation in the American legal system and the strategic moves made away from rehabilitation.           

Current State of Rehabilitation: Case Study of the Criminal Justice System in America

Currently, the rehabilitative regime in the American justice system is defective. The ineffectiveness of the systems is manifested by the high recidivism rates of the prison’s rehabilitative frameworks (Phelps, 2011). On the other hand, indicators show that there are low rehabilitative programming rates suggesting lack of rehabilitative commitments by the concerned stakeholders such as the legislators and the prison officials. Over the years, there has been a declined participation of the prisoners in rehabilitation programming (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2015). Studies indicate that only a quarter of the prisoner population receives vocational training with a third receiving any educational training before their release. According to the research conducted in the American justice system, a tenth of the prisoners received pre-release programming training such as personal finance training, health and nutrition, and housing assistance that could prove essential after their release. 

According to the study findings, the prisoners still experienced difficulties integrating into the community lifestyle despite receiving program training (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2015). The problems arise since the prisoners do not possess the necessary coping skills, problem-solving skills, and decision-making skills that are fundamental to the survival of every citizen (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2015). Additionally, those prisoners that had acquired relevant skills from vocational training and other programs also found it difficult to cope up with social life after release. They cite the instability of the economy and home environment as significant factors that make it impossible for them to find employment that could help them earn wages that would enhance their living. 

Often, the released prisoners have little to offer to the communities due to isolation and unstable employment opportunities resulting from the incarceration experience (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2015). Ideally, the prison officials are obliged to deal with the repeat offenders continually making bad decisions since they are exposed to a variety of motivating factors such as poor economic outlook, high rate of disease and drug addiction, poor education, limited job skills, and tangible support. In this context, the rehabilitation system has put much emphasis on addressing psychological and physical deficiencies and those regarding human capital such as lack of job skills and the relevant education (Phelps, 2011). Their importance in the rehabilitative frameworks cannot be underestimated. However, there is still much work to do in the rehabilitation system, especially in areas concerning dispute resolution, problem-solving, and communication.            

Educational Rehabilitation Programming

History in areas such as the justice system argues that prisoner reentry programs primarily consist of the occupational training programs and the educational programs. Some of the recent rehabilitative programs include substance abuse treatments (Lewis, 2005). According to studies conducted, there is an inverse relationship between the levels of education and the recidivism rates. For instance, the higher education rates are associated with less likelihood of a person being rearrested or imprisoned. Statistics indicate that educational programs serve to reduce the levels of recidivism by approximately 25% (Lewis, 2005).

 Research suggests that for 1$ that is spent on the educational programs, there is a 2$ saving that is yielded from avoiding reincarceration (Lewis, 2005). However, some factors hinder the achievement of this objective. For example, despite the potential of the rehabilitative frameworks becoming successful by utilizing the prison educational programs, most of these programs are underfunded due to budgetary constraints and correctional policies that have limited the finances allocated to the plans. For instance, in America, the federal laws restricted the prisoners from accessing Pell Grants in 1994 (Robinson, 2008). The absence of the funds facilitated the disappearance of the higher education programs such as college programs in the prison. Furthermore, some states also implemented stringent legislation which required the prisoners to fund part of their educational programs in the jails even for purposes of obtaining a GED. Moreover, countries which did not have the legislation had long waiting lists for the programs making many of the inmates to be released without undergoing through the educational programs in the bid to improve their skills that could be significant in the outside world.                   

Occupational Rehabilitation Programming

Research indicates that the occupational rehabilitation programs have fallen to their worst. The programs have also suffered from the budgetary constraints. Studies show that over the years, training programs associated with jobs have had little success in reducing the levels of recidivism among the inmates (Robinson, 2008). For instance, some of the programs required higher-level skills in order to participate. The other programs that were offered in these settings were only tailored for the prison industries that focused on making the prisons self-sufficient by producing services such as the laundry services and food products that were important in the prison settings. 

The programs did not take into account that the skills the inmates received would become obsolete, making the prisoners unattractive in the employment market once released (Robinson, 2008). Furthermore, factors employment discrimination discouraged the prisoner’s participation in the occupational training programs. For example, since the inmates were aware of the employment discrimination in the free market, they avoided enrolling in the training programs because they felt that it did not any value to their lives. Moreover, in the free world, the ex-convicts were exposed to fewer employment opportunities due to racial discrimination, economic depression, and competition from the skilled laborers.  

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Programming

Most of the inmates experience mental health issues like drug addiction, which hinders their participation in either job or educational training programs. Research statistics indicate that an approximated three-quarter of the prisoners needed substance abuse programming. However, less than a quarter of the affected inmates received the training. In the prison settings, effective psychotherapy is non-existent (Saverino, Benevolo,  Ottonello & Sessarego, 2006). The most prevalent form of therapy in this environment is the group therapy. However, the strategy of using group therapy has always failed since most of the inmates feared that revealing too much information would make the prey to the prison administrators. Additionally, the criminal justice system has also not recognized the importance of treating inmates suffering from psychological illnesses, physical diseases, and drug addiction. 

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The rehabilitative framework fails to address the problems facing the prisoners because it ignores the character flaws that made the prisoners make decisions that landed them in jail (Saverino, Benevolo, Ottonello & Sessarego, 2006). As a consequence, it becomes difficult to determine the type of training programs that should be employed to a particular section of the inmates to address their immediate needs that might either be physical or psychological. Effective rehabilitation strategies should focus on improving the communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills of the inmates. The rehabilitative frameworks must not be restricted to empowering the inmates with education and trade skill only, but also with skills of coping and interacting with the society in a lawful, rational, and peaceful manner.    

Move Away from System Facilitated Rehabilitation

Prisoner facilitated Mediation

The enhancement of essential problem-solving and decision-making capabilities are vital for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the prisoners into the society. The capabilities impact on the inmate’s abilities to solve problems, reason, and act positively. It becomes fundamental to use transformative mediation models that would enhance the development of maturity among the prisoners to improve the dispute resolution mechanisms in the prison setting (Coylewright, 2004). Prisoner facilitated mediation technique serves to train the prisoners as mediators in the prisoners. The training program is conducted by the experienced non-inmate community that offers mentoring and assistance for the mediators.

 The prison mediators are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that there is a peaceful prison environment to enhance dispute resolutions and problem-solving among the inmates in a constructive and rational ways without incorporating administrative assistance (Coylewright, 2004). The program is significant in that it helps the prisoners to acquire valuable problem-solving experiences which could also prove useful in their home communities facilitating their reintegration into the society. The prisoner facilitated programs provide the inmates with innovative strategies for prisoner rehabilitation. The development of these programs will also provide numerous advantages to the criminal justice system and the current prison setting.          

Transformative mediation is ideal for training prisoners to improve their decision-making and problem-solving capabilities while at the same time enhancing compassion among the inmates and with the greater community. Transformation does not regard the restructuring of the organizations, but the refinement of the character and the consciousness of an individual (Coylewright, 2004). This approach is crucial in that it focuses on the techniques the prisoners employ to facilitate rehabilitation. Therefore, it improves the prisoner’s capability to solve their problems and deal with conflict lawfully. 

Most of the prison rehabilitation programs should focus on this perspective. Transformative mediation serves to transform to the inmates by encouraging moral growth using recognition and empowerment elements. For instance, the approach seeks to empower the inmates with a sense of individual values, strengths, and capacities to handle problems (Edgar & Newell, 2006). Moreover, the program seeks to make the mediators acknowledge and empathize with the situation of the affected people. Under this rehabilitative framework, problems are regarded as opportunities for transformation and moral growth.  

The transformative model is an efficient way to move away from administrative centered rehabilitation, which disempowers the prisoners as it takes control of the training programs. In the organizational model, the inmates are forced to rely on the structure of the administration to settle disputes. It does not give them an opportunity for learning skills that could help them to solve their problems (Edgar & Newell, 2006). Prisoner facilitated mediation provides a gateway from the administrative rehabilitation. It allows the inmates to take part in the process of reconciliation as mediators which increase their responsibility regarding problem-solving. 

The approach would also give the inmates an opportunity of interacting with their colleagues in a positive and non-adversarial manner. Moreover, it would enable the prisoners to carve niches whereby they could be able to shelter themselves in case violence and exploitation prevalent in the prison settings. The transformative environment allows the prisoners to have personal power and compassion towards one another that is vital to building trust relationships (Cullen, 2005). Essentially, they would feel secure to establish problem-solving and communication skills that would shape their interactions in the prisoner settings. Furthermore, the transformative environment encourages the development of emotional maturity which is a significant element in developing interactions in these settings.            

Unlike the centered administrative rehabilitation, prison facilitated mediation equips the prison mediators with valuable skills that could be useful when released into the free world. Most of the inmates in the jails come from neighborhoods where criminal activities and social problems are very prevalent. Also, these environments are characterized by inefficient and deficient constructive strategies for solving the issues facing these communities (Cullen, 2005). Therefore, bringing highly skilled prison mediators to these neighborhoods would serve to provide models for the people in need of guidance to improve their decision-making and problem-solving skills.  

Additionally, the affected communities might maximize the utilization of this rare talent by coming up with innovative strategies for the community restoration. The approach will enhance the establishment of valuable mentoring opportunities fundamental to sustaining the rehabilitative efforts (Edgar & Newell, 2006). For instance, the community mediators would not only serve as mentors to the prison mediators, but also to the new prisoners that have little understanding on the impact of the actions on other people and techniques for solving problems. In this context, the ex-offenders could be useful resources for helping the newly released prisoners. Also, opportunities for mentoring could be created in the prison setting to address the traditional problems that have plagued the criminal justice system.           

Moreover, the prison facilitated mediation model provides other advantages which reduce institutional violence. The approach would be vital in fostering greater responsibility, peace, and autonomy amongst the prisoners.  In the traditional framework, the mechanisms of dispute resolutions are based on the warden’s personal preferences, the budgetary constraints, and the bureaucratic and political environments in this setting (Cullen, 2005). It focused on the top-down decision making and dispute resolution model that had the tendency of frequently unsettling or ignoring disputes providing a recipe for individual and collective violence. The prisoner facilitated model serves to change the status quo by providing the prisoners with alternative forums for dispute resolutions whereby the inmates have greater responsibility for the entire process. The alternative offers an excellent opportunity for some of the prisoners that have been skeptical to cooperate with the administration fearing victimization. The flexibility of the options would also serve to ease the tensions among the inmates that had little faith in the organizational strategies for dispute resolution.                   

The prisoner meditation program also provides the inmates with administrative resources that increased the possibilities of success in the work environment. For example, focusing on the mediation and the communication skills of the prisoners would make them articulate and desirable to their employers. It would promote the integration of the mediation training skills and the skill acquired during rehabilitation such as occupational and educational skills which increase productivity in the workplace (Edgar & Newell, 2006). Moreover, the enhancement of decision-making skills enables the ex-prisoners to stay free from abusive drug substances that are associated with reduced productivity and higher crime rates. The ex-prisoners would be able to participate in employment opportunities to earn wages that would help to improve their living standards. 

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Rehabilitation should entirely be focused on reforming the convicts to be better individuals. Therefore, it should be more than just incarceration whereby individuals are convicted and remanded in cells for a particular period and then released (Cullen, 2005). It should strive to address the decisions that led the individuals to be found in this situation and serve to provide alternatives to either alleviate or solve such problems. It cannot be done by using the prison warders and the administrators. It should involve all the stakeholders in this segments, which includes the government, the prisons department, and the prisoners. For example, the government should be able to provide financial support for the rehabilitation programs, and the prison administrations should restructure the rehabilitation programs to integrate the participation of the inmates to enhance the success of such programs (Cullen, 2005). Furthermore, the success of the programs would also help to prepare the prisoners for the employment opportunities in the contemporary world due to the possession of vocational and educational skills relevant in the job market. Moreover, it would help to develop the culture of dispute resolution as the individuals would have the necessary problem-solving techniques and decision-making skills essential in communication.  

Conclusion

Prisoner rehabilitation is fundamental in ensuring the reformation of the inmates to prepare them for community integration after incarceration. Initially, rehabilitation in the American justice system has failed to live up to its goals due to the adoption of approaches that limited the participation of the prisoners in the rehabilitation programs. For instance, the traditional rehabilitation programs were administrative centered whereby the inmates were only required to comply with the laid down procedure. They became ineffective in that they did little to instill skill necessary for the survival of the prisoners in the free world. The transformative prison mediated programs would provide a gateway from the traditional methods. The programs would integrate the prisoner’s participation into the rehabilitation programs enabling them to acquire the relevant skill such as educational and vocational skills that would be significant after release. Also, the prison mediated programs would focus on molding the inmates to become mentors among the colleagues and in their neighborhoods that were prevalent to violence. By encouraging prisoner participation, the programs would yield substantial benefits since they would promote confidence and trust among the prisoners enhancing openness which will also harbor the will to reform. 

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  1. Cullen, F. T. (2005). The twelve people who saved rehabilitation: How the science of criminology made a difference. Criminology, 43(1), 1-42.
  2. Cole, G. F., Smith, C. E., & DeJong, C. (2015). The American system of criminal justice. Nelson Education.
  3. Coylewright, J. (2004). New strategies for prisoner rehabilitation in the American criminal justice system: Prisoner facilitated mediation. J. Health Care L. & Pol’y, 7, 395.
  4. Edgar, K., & Newell, T. (2006). Restorative justice in prisons: A guide to making it happen. Waterside Press.
  5. Lewis, S. (2005). Rehabilitation: Headline or footnote in the new penal policy? Probation Journal, 52 (2), 119-135.
  6. Phelps, M. S. (2011). Rehabilitation in the punitive era: The gap between rhetoric and reality in US prison programs. Law & society review, 45 (1), 33-68.
  7. Robinson, G. (2008). Late-modern rehabilitation: The evolution of a penal strategy. Punishment & Society, 10 (4), 429-445.
  8. Saverino, A., Benevolo, E., Ottonello, M., Zsirai, E., & Sessarego, P. (2006). Falls in a rehabilitation setting: functional independence and fall risk. Europa medicophysica, 42 (3), 179-184.
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