Topic: A Broader View /
Do treatment programs reduce recidivism?
this is a proposal from a convict with whom i have been corresponding with. he wished me to try to get it out into some forums.
Criminal Attitude Reformation Experience
The U.S. has averaged roughly 30 million reported crimes per year over the past decade and that would be a conservative estimate due to the large number of unreported crimes. According to Justice Department studies, as many as 50% of the crimes committed in this country are committed by ex convicts or prior felons. The entire prison population has exploded over the past 15 years and the recidivism rate is approximately 70% on a national level. The prisons in which these convicts are being held, and from which the vast majority will eventually be released, make no pretense of any actual rehabilitation. These prisons routinely accept a 70% recidivism rate as an expected result. The only rational conclusion that can be drawn from these realities is that society will suffer ever increasing victimization at the hands of an ever expanding stream of unregenerate ex-convicts. This must be deemed as unacceptable.
If we view corrections form along range perspective, it should be clear that the status quo will not long prevail. That becomes especially clear in the light of our states present economical crunch. We simply cannot afford to close our eyes, or our hearts, to what has ultimately become an epidemic problem. What then are the next steps that will be required to cope with the ever growing victimization of society? The current incapacitation policies assume that there is a finite number of criminals and we will eventually have all of the “bad guys” salted away with an incapacitating terminal life sentence. In view of the fact that only a very small percentage of criminals convicted are actually sent of to prison, and considering the rates of probation and parole violations, it should be abundantly clear that it is totally unrealistic to assume that we can confine all of the bad guys at one time.
While nearly all would agree that effectively reforming criminals would result in a mass reduction of recidivistic crime—most would also quickly point out that we are presently without a comprehensive and reliable means of reforming criminals. While the corrections goal of protecting society must remain first and foremost, it is ludicrous to say that this goal is being accomplished when 50% of the crimes committed in the U.S. are committed by ex-felons who were previously released without an effort being made to reform them. If we’re going to protect society it is essential that CORRECTIONS live up to its name. the concepts of protecting society and criminal reform will become intrinsic in the ethos of those who pioneer the new era in corrections. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that there is a single, comprehensive and reliable method of protecting society, to take the steps necessary to accomplish the goal. Before we get into the specific details it must be pointed out that while reforming criminals is an important part of the correctional system, protecting society is vastly more important. However, both can perfectly be accomplished by the same means.
To reform criminals we must first understand what causes them to be criminal. People commit crimes purely, simply, and universally because they just don’t care. What’s fascinating about this fact is that while we al know it to be true on some level, we haven’t really done anything with that knowledge. The simple fact of the matter is, to effectively reform criminals and to protect society in the process, we must expose and develop the capacity to care. Our task then is to transform the least caring members of our communities into the most caring members of our communities once they are returned. Being that care is so vital to this discussion, it might be helpful to reflect for a moment on the true nature of care. While human beings have the capacity to care, care is not an inherent quality. Care is a learned response. Care is a habit. Care is a choice. PLEASE! STOP! Take a moment and seriously consider what happens to anyone, anywhere when they deeply and sincerely begin to care about themselves and others.
REHABILITATION: MYTH vs. REALITY
The correctional professionals have arrived at, and promulgated, a consensus view that rehabilitating criminals, in a correctional setting, is impossible. Many see sinister motives behind the move to abandon rehabilitation as a correctional objective, such as; bureaucratic empire building, creation of employment for political purposes, or self-serving abrogation of responsibility for the victimization of society by released convicts. While the forgoing are certainly results of the abandonment of rehabilitation, they are more byproducts rather than primary motivational factors. The real culprit is a simply lack of insight on the part of the correctional professionals.
Our correctional professionals are victims of a correctional paradigm gone awry. As Ornstein points out in the psychology of consciousness, “The paradigm is the shared conceptions of what is possible, the boundaries of acceptable inquiry, the limiting cases.” To paraphrase Ornstein, the paradigm is valuable when the commonly held assumptions are correct, because they allow independent groups of researchers to study a problem jointly. However, when the commonly held assumptions are incorrect, the paradigm becomes an impediment to rational problem solving, rather than an aid. This is precisely the problem that confronts us with the current correctional paradigm.
To comprehend how this incorrect assumption has become a component of the correctional paradigm, it is instructive to ponder the rehabilitation riddle. Concisely stated the rehabilitation riddle is: How can be force criminals to accept rehabilitation if we can’t force criminals to accept rehabilitation? The self-evident answer to this riddle I, we cannot force criminals to accept rehabilitation. The problem is our current corrections professionals have transmogrified this answer into a rule that rehabilitation is impossible to reliably achieve within a correctional setting. Through repetition this false assumption has become a shared conception of what is (im)possible within the correctional paradigm.
While the rehabilitation riddle is, indeed, a Gordian knot, the answer, as Alexander demonstrated, lies in slicing through the shared conceptions of what is possible. The key to unlocking the rehabilitation riddle can be discovered by determining how to properly utilize the “force.” Apply the fore directly, i.e. attempting to force convicts to accept rehabilitation fails because it pits the system power to compel against the convicts power to resist. It sets up an “us against them” confrontation. To properly utilize the force we must apply it indirectly, that is, we must give each convict the choice of accepting, or rejecting, their rehabilitation opportunity, thereby forcing each convict to assume responsibility for the choices they make. Applying the force in this manner forces the convict to fight him/herself, when necessary, rather than the system. What convicts are most in need of is proper motivation. Our correctional system must be programmed to help convicts find the motivation they need to sincerely accept rehabilitation.
**NOTE: rehabilitation cannot be achieved via programs such as job training, education, substance abuse treatment, psychological therapy, and other such programs. These programs treat the symptoms of criminality. True rehabilitation consists of learning to care and accepting the fact that it is in the criminals best self-interest to care about self and other.
It must be reiterated that people commit criminal acts purely, simply, and universally because they just don’t care. They don’t care about the right of their fellow citizens not to be victimized. They don’t care about the effect their acts have on their victims, their own families, and ultimately most don’t even care about themselves. Of course poverty, broken homes, child abuse, joblessness, racism, substance abuse, etc. can be, and in all too many cases are, contributing factors leading to criminal behavior. However, this is true ONLY so long as a criminal uses such conditions or circumstances to escape responsibility for his/her criminal conduct. Other than when the criminal acts are the result of an actual mental dysfunction of some kind, committing criminal acts are a choice. That choice may be an impulsive aberration, it may be a lifestyle choice, or something in between, but it is a choice nonetheless. Our correctional programming must take this factor, as well as the underlying motivations into account.
Before we can hope to do anything meaningful within our present correctional system, we must abandon the fatally flawed “determinate” sentencing strategy, with its legally guaranteed release date. It is functionally impossible to really motivate convicts so long as the vast majority of them are granted a legally guaranteed release date. Convicts, and particularly recidivists, are practiced and polished “time doers.” They have been “doing time” all their lives, in schools, on probation, in juvenile facilities, on adult probation, and eventually in prisons. Doing time, to them, is just another part of the game.
The guaranteed release date also makes it totally impossible to protect the public unless/until each of these unregenerate criminals rack up the requisite number of convictions/ victims, so we can, in good conscience, adopt them as life long dependents, by awarding each a terminal “life” sentence. The power to defy and resist that flows from a guaranteed release date is so great that the only means of control available to prison staff are appeasement, pacification, or brute force. The determinate sentence grants criminals the right to remain criminally intent and guarantees each the opportunity, sooner or later, to inflict this criminal intent on the public. It is inherently wrong to grant convicted criminals the right to be both criminally intent and then free tem to practice that criminality. Convicts must be striped of this right. The only right that convicts can properly be granted is the right to choose between rehabilitation and incarceration.
The inherent societal right to be protected from the ravages of unregenerate criminals demands that we embrace a sentencing strategy that arms society with the absolute, legally guaranteed right, to restrain (forever, if necessary) those criminals who refuse to accept rehabilitation. Our sentencing strategy must also provide the system with the sanctions required to render each prison safe, secure, and orderly for staff and convicts. Lastly, it must be capable of position, as well as motivating, convicts to accept rehabilitation. The only sentencing strategy that will lend the system the tools it requires to achieve each of these objectives is a fully indeterminate, “one year to life” sentence for every felony conviction.
**Note: It must be emphasized that this sentencing strategy is not, in and of itself, the answer to all correctional ailments. This sentencing strategy has been tried in the past, most notably in California, and proved to be a failure. But this lesson to be learned form the California experience is that this sentence cannot merely be appended onto the existing corrections system. It must be accompanied by a concomitant alteration of the correctional strategy, in a manner that effectively takes advantage of the inborn possibilities and powers that such a sentence contains.
The one flaw in the fully indeterminate sentence is that it fails to address society’s expectation that justice will be served by the actual amount of time a convicted felon serves, based upon the specific crime committed. The method by which this flaw is corrected must guarantee society that an absolute minimum amount of time will be served, while at the same time guaranteeing a convict nothing more than a reasonable hope of release, if his/her conduct and overall progress warrants such consideration. Concisely stated: the amending method we advocate is a concomitant sentence mandating the earning of a “Degree in Care’ modeled on the degree requirements used in a college curriculum format. The number of credit hours a convict would be required to earn, to obtain his/her degree, would be determined by a formula based on the category of crime(s) committed, and may be modified by any extenuating circumstances the court has deemed to be valid.
Earning the care Degree would be the first step to becoming eligible for parole consideration, but it would not guarantee release. This amending method would supply the system with an excellent criteria for evaluation, whole also making each convict fully responsible for his own performance. The indeterminate sentence frames the choice between rehabilitation and incarceration perfectly.
To institutionalize and define the rehabilitative choice, we must divide the sum total of existing prisons into two types: one type structured to effect incarceration, the other structured to effect rehabilitation.
INCARCERATION PRISION STRUCTURE:
The structure of an incarceration type prison is fairly easy to determine because the convicts who reside there will not be ready, willing, or able to accept responsibility for their own rehabilitation. Some will have refused to try to accept rehabilitation, some will have been expelled form the rehabilitation prison, and some will be mentally dysfunctional. Most will be aggressive, antagonistic, and potentially violent. Consequently, these prisons should be modeled on a combination of current maximum security and mental health prisons.
REHABILITAITON PRISON STRUCTURE:
Rehabilitation, in the narrowest sense, consists of a criminal conclusively determining that criminality is completely and permanently contrary to his/her true self interests. The choice to reside in a rehabilitation prison (hereafter termed “Care Prison”) is a choice to accept rehabilitation, i.e. to display and practice care for the rights of others as a lifestyle. By virtue of the element of choice, we have at least nominally, achieved the first step in the rehabilitation process.
**NOTE: we say nominally because we are quite certain that fully 95% of the convicts committed to this system will choose to reside in the Care Prison as a first choice. We are equally certain that fully 80% of these convicts will make this choice simply on the assumption that they can beat the system by means of some scheme, scam, or con game. This is to be expected, and thus not terribly upsetting, because even the game players will have to abide by the rules as they attempt to perfect their game. Clearly then, the primary and controlling duty of a Care Prison is to expose and expel, when necessary, those who are game playing. To effectively achieve this objective, every aspect of a Care Prison must be structured to put care on display, and every opportunity to observe and evaluate the care displayed must be realized.
The first step towards putting care on display is to make care “The Law of the Land.” To this end, the Care Prison must be governed by one cardinal rule, in addition to state law and local ordinance, that rule is: Care must be displayed at all times, in all ways, towards all persons and possessions. The Care Prison must have a quarantine or trial period to weed out the obvious game players.
The convicts daily schedule must, in essence, be a care/citizenship training and testing ground. A typical daily schedule should consist of approximately 6-8 hours of self-supporting labor, 3-4 hours of community service activities, and 3-4 hours of lay group counseling and/or individual counseling, as required. Conditions in the Care Prison should be Spartan, with as few possessions or distractions as possible. On the other hand, the Care Prison should be as community like as possible within the constraints of an institutional setting. A convict should be required to pay for food, lodging, clothing, basic services, and elective medical services via a token system or what might be termed a care exchange.
The present staff to convict ratio is totally inadequate, even under present policies, and would be incapable of processing the information a Care Prison would provide. The number of observers/evaluations required, and the fiscal realities, preclude and possibility of staffing exclusively with or by paid staff. Clearly then we must discover and enlist large numbers of highly motivated, cost effective, correctional aides to supplement the paid staff. The only practical solution to this problem is to utilize volunteers. While using large numbers of volunteers would be foolhardy in the present system, the circumstances and conditions of a Care Prison would assure the safety of the participants. For security reasons all volunteers would be processed in and out using technical systems such as retinal scans.
To adequately evaluate convicts they must be observed throughout the majority of their waking hours. Volunteers would be used extensively in the community service activities, with the ratio ideally being 1:1 in this area. Volunteers would also operate the lay group counseling program. Each group would be limited to no more than 9 members, 6 convicts to 3 volunteers. These two areas provide 6-8 hours of extremely close observation/evaluation opportunities. Volunteers would also be used on labor assignments, as aides to paid staff, and in other lesser areas within the functions of a Care Prison. Staff and volunteers would “grade” convicts on their performance throughout every day, as a convict strives t earn the required credits towards their “Care Degree.” Grading would be based on all the standard attributes and aspects of constructive, productive, and caring citizenship.
Although the Care Prison is effectively a parole system in that it constantly tests, and rejects, those who would recidivate in the community, parole is a necessary adjunct to the corrections system. The safety of the community is so vital that there must be a final performance evaluation in a community setting. Parole also gives the community the ability to realize a return, under contractual obligation, on the investment it makes in the criminal justice system. Convicts should be required to serve a stipulated parole period with the primary parole requirement being extensive community service works. To become eligible for parole consideration a convict must earn the required Care Degree, and be sponsored by at least 5 staff/volunteers, each of whom must have worked with that convict extensively and know him/her with conviction.
Although the incarceration prisons can, and should, be operated by the state, the operational control of the Care Prison should be ceded to the community. While this re-allocation of authority and responsibility might seem drastic, it is a very necessary, logical, and rational step considering the following factors:
1. The community has the jurisdictional responsibility to assure the safety and security of the citizens within that community. Consequently, the community has an intrinsic right to govern if, when, and under what conditions convicted criminals are allowed to return.
2. The community experiences the negative and positive results of the correctional policies and practices most immediately and personally. Thus the community is/would be the entity most motivated to assure that the system operates properly.
3. Meaningful rehabilitation requires that the cooperation of the offender’s community—both during and after incarceration. A criminal must be reintegrated into the community with the aid of a network of supporters and contracts ho have a relationship of mutual trust, dependence, and care developed through extensive interactive experiences.
4. The critical need for community volunteers, who are motivated by an intense personal concern for their community, make it essential that the prison be conveniently located within or near that community.
5. The combination of community control/responsibility and volunteers would mitigate against systematic, or individual, corruption with the Care Prison system.
6. In addition to being as self-supporting as possible through gardens etc., the Care Prison must devote the majority of their community service hours toward the task of meeting the needs of those on welfare in their community to relieve the taxpayer burden.