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Prisons: America's Criminal Warehouses

Essay by   •  September 4, 2011  •  Case Study  •  2,420 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,828 Views

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I. History of the Prison Reform

A. Progressive Era

1. Howard Zinn and his view of prisons

2. Changes in the Progressive Era

B. Medical Model

1. Federal Prisoner Rehabilitation Act

2. Components of the Medical Model

3. Public view of incarceration

4. Resistance against the Medical Model

C. Success in the Supreme Court and Government

1. Cooper v. Pate

2. Johnson v. Avery

3. Medical testing prohibited by government

a. at Holmesburg Prison

D. Attica Prison

E. Move Towards Punishment

1. More Conservative Public

2. Robert Martinson's report

II. Current Problems with the Correctional System

A. Introduction to current prison concerns

1. 2.2 Million imamates in the United States

2. Lack of rehabilitation programs

B. Argument against poor working conditions

1. Thomas Murton and William Selke

2. Poor conditions leads to violence and less rehabilitation

C. Basic living conditions for inmates

1. Lack of clean water

2. Decreasing health care

D. Sexual Abuse and HIV

1. 60,500 inmates were victims of sexual violence

2. Prisons' rate of HIV infection is almost five times larger than the nation's rate

E. Overcrowding

1. Leads to many problems, such as safety concerns, health problems, and failure of rehabilitation

2. California and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

3. Most inmates commit nonviolent crimes

F. Prison Spending

1. 50 billion dollars being spent a year on prisons

2. The third-largest state expenditure

Away from the mainstream concerns of the American people, an ignored issue is draining billions of dollars the United States' yearly budget. Prisons across the country act as warehouses for millions of the nation's criminals, more than half of which will be returning to prison after three years of being released. Recent budget crises and the rapid increase of incarceration rates are forcing states to re-examine the effectiveness and efficiency of their jail systems. It is clear that it is time to move away from a model of massive, remotely-located prisoner warehouses, which only breed more crime, to facilities with improved rehabilitation and community reentry programs designed to reduce crime and enhance public safety.

In his influential and radical book, Howard Zinn wrote, "The prisons in the United States had long been an extreme reflection of the American system itself: the stark life differences between rich and poor, the racism, the use of victims against one another, the lack of resources of the underclass to speak out, the endless "reforms" that changed little" (Zinn 515). History shows the tendency of the United States to disregard the correctional system, while abusing and neglecting its prisoners. The Progressive Era in the early 1900s welcomed a new perspective on the purpose of prisons (Dougan). Rehabilitation was now considered the primary goal of the prison system. The nation sought to rehabilitate prisoners and to prepare them for re-entry into society as productive citizens. Work programs were established that kept prisoners busy and productive.

During the years immediately following World War II, the medical model of prison gained force. The Federal Prisoner Rehabilitation Act provided a variety programs designed to help inmates reintegrate into society, such as diagnostic programs, counseling, halfway house and work release opportunities. Rehabilitation efforts were the highest during the 1960s as part of the "Medical Model" theory, which states that criminal tendencies can be diagnosed and treated (Treatment of Prisoners Timeline). Public opinion and some legislatures of state and federal governments not only encouraged correctional professionals but forced them to adopt this model (Carlson 11). The three components of the model were diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment. In most state systems and within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, newly designed diagnostic centers were built to help inmates and spread the medical model of prison. Many leaders welcomed the new philosophy on prisons and its inmates, but others did not believed in the medical model, nor did they accept the idea of "gentle" incarceration. Many wardens and superintendants had a hard time tolerating the changes because of their loss of power and authority. In spite of the deterioration of their power in the postwar period, wardens had to become accustomed, or they would face the rage of higher authorities trying to gain a grip in the new correctional management hierarchy.

Prison Reform made many victories in the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1960s. In 1960, the total number of prisoners in the U.S. reached 200,000 (Treatment of Prisoners Timeline). In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Cooper v. Pate that state prison inmates have the right to sue prison officials who deprive them of their constitutional rights. This case marked the end of the courts' hands-off policy regarding the administration of prisons. A couple years later, the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Johnson v. Avery gave prisoners the right to use jailhouse lawyers if they do not have adequate legal representation. In 1970, the testing of pharmaceutical products on prison inmates in the U.S. diminished sharply after revelations of the abuse were made. Some of the worst abuse took place at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia where inmates were paid to test items and were exposed to radioactive, hallucinogenic and carcinogenic chemicals. Before this time, approximately 90 percent of all pharmaceutical products were tested on prison inmates (Treatment of Prisoners Timeline).




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