|Good Programming is Good Corrections|
|By Gerard J. Horgan , Superintendent, Suffolk County House of Correction MA|
In the American criminal justice system, there are four ways that we react to and hopefully diminish crime. Incapacitation takes career criminals off of the streets. Retribution looks to make the victims whole and ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Deterrence is designed to make would be criminals weigh out whether a crime’s rewards is worth the potential punishment. The last reason, Rehabilitation, focuses on the offenders, and attempts to reduce the recidivism rate.
Opinions in corrections vary widely about the efforts to rehabilitate our inmates. Many public officials promote the philosophy of “lock them up and throw away the key”. They point to the fact that programs can be costly and labor intensive. They also cite the fact that offenders may participate in programs with the main motivation being to earn good time to reduce their sentences or to impress a parole board. It has been my experience, however, that while these statements are sometimes proven to be true, corrections based programs are effective both internally and externally.
Most of our offenders have substance abuse problems or anger management issues. As these inmates are booked, they should be told that they will be given opportunities to participate in programs that address these issues. Many repeat offenders do not think that they need help. If additional privileges such as more visits, increased time out of their cells, access to exercise equipment and earned good time are tied to successful completion of these programs, these offenders now have an incentive to participate. They should be required to behave themselves in accordance with institutional rules to remain in the programs. If they receive a disciplinary ticket, they should be removed from the program and have to earn their way back with 30-60 days of good behavior. Internal statistics will show that the program housing units have less violence and a reduced level of inmate discipline compared to general population housing units.
In the facilities around the country, the vast majority of inmates will eventually be released from custody. They will be rejoining our neighborhoods, shopping with us in the grocery store and going to sporting events with us. Getting offenders help with their addictions and with re-entry issues such as housing and job readiness skills gives them an opportunity to become productive members of society and makes us safer as a whole. Some will continue to make bad choices and return to our custody; others, however will take advantage of reintegration opportunities and reunite with their families in a productive way..
We have both long term and short term goals in corrections. The long term goals include reducing overcrowding and recidivism, retaining quality staff and ensuring that the working and living conditions in our facilities are good. The short term goal is to ensure that Uniformed Staff, Nurses and Program Staff are able to go home safely to their families at the end of their shift. Programs help us achieve both the long term and short term goals.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Gerard J. Horgan, has been the Superintendent at the Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston since 2003. He has been with the Sheriff’s Department for 24 years. A graduate of Northeastern University and Suffolk University Law School, Horgan has trained staff in inmate rights and civil liability and is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Massachusetts where he teaches Corrections and Criminal Justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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