Alternatives to Prison

Topics: Prison, Recidivism, Penology Pages: 5 (1725 words) Published: April 24, 2005
Prisons, facilities maintained for confining people convicted of committing crimes, were used to rehabilitate offenders while keeping them isolated from the community. The Quakers built the first prison in 1790 in order to seclude criminal offenders from society to think about their wrongdoing and to seek forgiveness in a kind, and spiritual environment. (Inciardi 497) Currently, there are three types of prisons within the Federal, State, and County governments. These are categorized by the degree of security they provide. Minimum security prisons, which are also known as county jails, provide minimal supervision. These jails are generally used as holding cells for offenders awaiting trial or release. Medium security and maximum security prisons are utilized for the offenders serving a sentenced amount of time for their offenses. Their levels of security and prison design are more intense than the minimum security prisons. The effectiveness of prisons has decreased due to progressive overcrowding, and the lack of conclusive alternatives. The need for alternatives has grown immensely over the last decade. Nonetheless, the State and Federal governments are desperate for competent, less expensive solutions. Costs of keeping a prisoner imprisoned vary among states and facilities. Each prisoner kept in minimum-security prison generally costs us approximately $25,000 per year, while a prisoner held in a maximum-security prison costs between $35,000 to $74,862 per year. (Smolowe 56) These costs include basic transportation to and from the prison, infirmaries, kitchens and dining area, power plants used for electricity, sewage disposal, prison schools, labor buildings and locations, and salaries for the staff members. As the prison costs increase, the chance of layoffs among personnel increases, which would ultimately result in more violence and much less rehabilitation. In 1993, 21 correction agencies opened 48 new institutions, adding 42,899 beds at an average cost of $47,153 per cell. (Jacobs et al. 120) "In an era of tight money, spending on construction and operations of prisons is increasing twice as fast as the growth in overall spending". (Holmes 3) These rising costs are another reason alternatives to prison are being pursued. In 1980, the United States housed 329,821 total inmates in State and Federal prisons. (Allen et al. 221) As of 1994, this population count expanded to 1,053,738 inmates; a 219% increase. (Allen et al. 221) "The world's highest incarceration rate has seesawed in recent years between the Untied States and Russia, with both far outdistancing other nations". ("Get Tough" 24) Consequently, " the United States finds itself in the midst of an unparalleled prison building boom". (Holmes 3) Overcrowding occurs when prisoners are forced to share cramped cells with many different prisoners. This has always been a problem for prisons and it continues to be a serious, escalating problem. It contributes to brutal prison violence between other prisoners and guards, therefore, lowering the effectiveness of rehabilitation and security within the prison. According to a Justice Department report released in January 1997, "U.S. Prisons and jails held more than 1,630,000 people in mid 1996, more than double the number from the mid 1980's" ("Get Tough" 24). As of 1993, federal prisons had a rated design to hold 59,849 people, in which the average capacity is 136% of that amount. (Jacobs et al. 108) This doesn't include prisoners sent to local jails due to overcrowding. Federal and State governments have been searching for successful alternatives to prison because of the severity of overcrowding and costs. The effectiveness of the available alternatives is competitive to incarceration. Many violent and repeat offenders are released early from prison due to the overcrowding problems.(Smolowe 56) It seems more sensible to keep the violent offenders in prison than those criminals convicted...

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