The contemporary criminal justice system in the United States of America is rapidly evolving, leading to significant changes in the ways that policing, court administration, and corrections are carried out. The correctional system operates within criminal justice so that to entail a variety of measures and responsible bodies that enforce punishment and rehabilitation for criminals with the aim of their reintegration in society. Since its inception, the correctional system has undergone numerous changes making the imprisonment and its alternatives the standard correctional measures. However, this system is not perfect, and some more modifications are required to increase the results and make it more like rehabilitation, not dehumanization. The purpose of this paper is to explore and analyze the corrections from the historical perspective of such elements as community corrections, probation, and parole to identify space for possible improvements.
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The Corrections of the Colonial Period
The correctional system emerged together with the entrance of laws into the lives of Americans. Many English prisoners were transported to colonial Georgia, and physical punishment became rather common in the United States (Clear et al., 2018). To punish offenders, the death penalty, maiming, flogging, branding, pillories, and stocks were used rather frequently. It is rather interesting that jails were built to hold prisoners awaiting sentencing or trial but were not considered to be punishment itself (Clear et al., 2018). Colonial Pennsylvania was an exception and never charged the prisoners for housing and food. Moreover, in Pennsylvania, physical punishments were replaced with hard labor and imprisonment, and executions for all crimes except homicide were abolished (Clear et al., 2018). To sum up, since the Colonial period, the citizens of the United States abided by the British punishment system that involved either incarceration or the death penalty as a punishment for a crime (Clear et al., 2018). Then, the U.S. correctional system became more independent and started to change.
Development and Improvement of the Correctional System
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the system was modified according to the belief in the ability of criminals to rethink and rehabilitate. By World War I, the use of strict discipline replaced the idea of using rehabilitative and educational approaches. However, a little later, penitentiaries were introduced for separate individual incarceration for correctional purposes (Clear et al., 2018). During this time, labor is considered a powerful tool for encouraging behavioral change in inmates. Pennsylvania system, Auburn system, the Cincinnati Declaration, and other reforms used to influence and change the corrections. With the development of human rights and the movement of philosophical ideas toward positivism, the correctional system acquired new features. They included introducing the marks system, which allowed inmates to shorten their sentences by labor and good behavior and parole, community corrections, and probation in the later years.
Effective Correctional Measures
Probation and parole have entered the criminal justice system relatively recently and have proved to be effective correctional measures. Probation is a court order used instead of incarceration and exposes a criminal to control and supervision by a probation officer and requires abiding by specific rules (Labrecque, 2017). This method helps to keep offenders easiest to rehabilitate out of the reformatories (Labrecque, 2017). Parole is an early release of a criminal from confinement under the right behavior conditions, which is inherent in the marks system (Latessa & Smith, 2015). Community corrections are the measures of providing a criminal with socialization and support opportunities from the community to enhance rehabilitation and eliminate criminal behavior. Overall, these correctional measures were favorably perceived by the public until the 1970-s, when the correctional effect was estimated as insufficient, and imprisonment rates increased (Latessa & Smith, 2015). However, in the 2000-s, the role of rehabilitation within the realm of corrections was reaffirmed and grounded on new proactive supervision and control.
Current Role of the Correctional System
At present, the criminal justice system believes that successful correction is possible through strict supervision and criminal control, which are implemented via parole, probation, and community services. Nowadays, the role of the correctional system of America is not only to monitor inmates in prison but also to handle conditionally released offenders, offer counseling in preparation for re-entry into society, and organize educational opportunities. Moreover, those people who are issued penalties requiring not imprisonment but legally prescribed supervision are also the responsibility of the corrections. Unlike the prisons of the past, now they are maintained for both reform and punishment. Actually, the philosophy that highly reflective of the current correctional system of the U.S. is a more archaic ideology of offender management that focuses on retribution and punishment instead of rehabilitation.
Needed Changes and the Ways to Employ Them
The Victim and Parole
It is hard to disagree that effective measures such as parole and probation allow to provide criminals with another chance on a new life and reduce the level of recidivism. However, this process is not perfect, and there are some issues that require improvements in the modern-day correctional system. For example, according to Rhine et al. (2015), the inclusion of victims in the decision-making concerning parole is insufficient in the modern correctional system. Indeed, victims should have the right to make statements concerning parole opportunities to influence the decision of the parole board.
Of course, in addition to their opinion, a significant number of factors should be taken into account when making the final decision. However, if the victims have well-founded fears for their lives or their families’ well-being, this cannot but matter (Rhine et al., 2015). A possible way to introduce such a change is to interview the victim twice: first, soon after the offender was imprisoned, and second, when the question of the parole is raised. Two questions of whether the victim agrees to the parole and what reasons he or she has for any of the decisions should be asked and taken into account.
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Overcrowding and Lack of Funding
Another issue remains unsolved throughout the whole history of the U.S., and a proper solution is not found yet. Unfortunately, there is a strong relationship between overcrowding and funding of prisons (Ball, 2016). The conditions in which prisoners are held for years leave much to be desired. Due to lack of budget, new prisons or blocks are not being built, which is why existing buildings are becoming overcrowded (Ball, 2016). This problem can cause or exacerbate some related issues such as suicide, violence, self-harm, mental health problems, and lack of privacy.
Therefore, it is crucial to encourage improvements to the modern corrections system to facilitate its effectiveness. Probably asking ordinary people and some non-governmental organizations for help may be an extraordinary but successful solution. It is necessary to let the citizens and leaders of various companies understand that they can contribute to reducing the level of crimes and recidivism by improving the conditions in prisons. It is essential to be able to forgive those who used to make mistakes, and people who are ready to help can donate some money to make the living conditions for offenders better.
Parole Supervision Conditions
When prisoners are released, they are placed under a parole agency’s supervision and must observe certain conditions. The fact that some of these parole supervision conditions are not relevant and can cause confusion is considered to be another problem requiring changes. Moreover, currently, a significant number of parolees are “ordered to pay supervision fees as well as fees for drug and alcohol testing and community service” (Rhine et al., 2015, p. 102). This does not seem right or appropriate and should be canceled or limited.
Several steps that may help to address this issue can be taken in the nearest future. According to Rhine et al. (2015), “conditions of release should be realistic – few in number and attainable; relevant – tailored to individual risks and needs; and research-based” (p. 102). In other words, they need to be supported by proof that they will result in reintegration outcomes, improved public safety, and changes in behavior. Finally, parole supervision fees should be seriously limited or eliminated.
To draw a conclusion, one may say that organizing a healthy and fair correctional system is a challenging and severe process. However, it is always necessary to remember that prisons are needed to help those people who make mistakes and not break or dehumanize them. Therefore, a number of required changes should be considered and brought to life as soon as possible so that the corrections can become the process of making the offenders better.
Ball, W. D. (2016). “A false idea of economy”: Costs, counties, and the origins of the California correctional system. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 664(1), 26-42. The article views the problem of prison’s overcrowding from the historical perspective. The issues of free funding of prisons and its impact on prison overcrowding are analyzed to emphasize the need for change.
Clear, T. R., Reisig, M. D., & Cole, G. F. (2018). American corrections. Cengage learning. The book overviews and explains the history and the contemporary state of American correctional system.
Labrecque, R. M. (2017). Probation in the United States: A historical and modern perspective. In O. H. Griffin III & V. H. Woodward (Eds.), Handbook of corrections in the United States (pp. 155-165). Routledge. This book chapter concentrates on the history, contemporary state, and the problematic issues concerning probation as a correctional measure.
Latessa, E. J., & Smith, P. (2015). Corrections in the Community. Routledge.The book is aimed at covering the correctional measures that involve community support, criminal control, rehabilitation, and supervision as alternatives to incarceration.
Rhine, E. E., Petersilia, J., & Reitz, K. R. (2015). Improving parole release in America. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 28(2), 96-104. The journal article presents a ten-step improving program for facilitating the enforcement of parole release in the U.S. The most tentative issues are enlisted and followed by potential improvements.