Scholars look at Prison

Posted: August 12, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

My daughter is a scholar. She knows her way around academia. She recently sent me these abstracts, which I found fascinating, if sometimes contradictory. But it seems that the academics are leading us away from the punishment model to the rehabilitation model.

The Accountable Prison

1.                         Francis T. Cullen1

2.                         Cheryl Lero Jonson2accountability

3.                         John E. Eck1


Despite being used on a massive scale and consuming huge amounts of the public treasury, prisons have largely failed to reduce offender recidivism. This failure persists both because of archaic beliefs that prisons cannot affect future behavior and because nobody is held accountable for inmate reoffending. Building on lessons from the field of policing, we propose a new era of accountability in corrections—an era in which prison wardens and other correctional officials are mandated to reduce inmate recidivism and are rewarded for doing so. Through a restructuring of incentives, the aim is to create in corrections a sustained interest in making offenders less likely to commit new crimes. More broadly, this approach is intended to transform correctional institutions into “accountable prisons” where concern over offenders’ future community conduct rivals concern over their daily institutional conduct.

A Utopian Prison

Contradiction in Terms?Utopia

1.                         Joycelyn M. Pollock1

2.                         Nancy L. Hogan2

3.                         Eric G. Lambert3

4.                         Jeffrey Ian Ross4

5.                         Jody L. Sundt5


Given the often disquieting history of correctional institutions, we question the notion of a utopian prison and, instead, make suggestions for simply improving existing institutions. First, prisons should adopt a clear commitment to the principles of restorative justice and rehabilitation. Second, the recruitment, training, and retention of staff should be reformed so that staff members are more likely to have a high commitment to such principles. Third, the physical, social, psychological, and moral/ethical safety of the prison must be improved so that individuals can concentrate on change rather than mere survival. Fourth, the evidence supporting rehabilitative programming should be consulted, but, in addition, a more nuanced measure of success should also be considered. Finally, it is necessary to understand the barriers to improving prisons, including the vested interests that profit from the “prison-industrial complex,” public opinion, and budgetary restraints. In conclusion, we argue that prisons will never be utopian, but they can be more just, more humane, and more effective as a place to change lives. Evidence suggests this is what the public wants.

The Therapeutic Prison

1.                         Paula Smith1

2.                         Myrinda Schweitzer1therapy

1.                 1University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA

1.                         Paula Smith, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, PO Box 210389, Cincinnati, OH 45221-0389, USA Email:


Since the founding of the penitentiary, the hope has persisted that incarceration could serve reformative purposes. This intent to create a truly therapeutic prison is no longer a utopian dream. A theoretically informed and evidence-based approach for designing a correctional institution that delivers effective interventions is now available: the Correctional Program Assessment Inventory (CPAI). In this context, the current essay illuminates how the CPAI can be used to guide the development of a prison whose goals and practices advance offender rehabilitation.

The Future of Community Corrections Is Now

Stop Dreaming and Take Actionaction

1.                         Faith E. Lutze1

2.                         W. Wesley Johnson2

3.                         Todd R. Clear3

4.                         Edward J. Latessa4

5.                         Risdon N. Slate5


The political, economic, and social context in which community corrections functions makes it extremely difficult to achieve successful outcomes. The current fiscal crisis, however, is forcing change as many states can no longer support the cost of our 30-year imprisonment binge. As in the past, community corrections will be expected to pick up the pieces of an overcrowded and expensive prison system. The authors argue that community corrections is capable of taking on this challenge and can be successful if policy makers take action to reduce prison and community supervision populations, ensure that agencies are structured to proactively support evidence-based practice, and recognize corrections as a human services profession. The authors present a number of actions that can be taken to promote a new era of shared responsibility in corrections that is framed within a human rights perspective and driven by an ethic of care.

Moving Toward Utopia

Visions of Progress for American Jails

1.                         Jeanne B. Stinchcomb1

2.                         Brandon K. Applegate2

3.                         Ken Kerle3

4.                         Stan Stojkovic4


Even the most distant utopian dreams are fundamentally anchored in present reality, since it is only by assessing where we are today that it is possible to determine how far we have to go to achieve tomorrow’s goals. For America’s jails, that begins with the analysis of an organizational identity that has traditionally been mired in custodial and security considerations, in contrast to the more reformative human service orientation of a utopian perspective. Moving toward such a renewed identity means operationalizing far-reaching conceptual ideals—from diverting the mentally ill to treating substance abusers. Because accomplishing these advancements depends on a foundation of capable staff, it also means creating an organizational culture where theory, policy, and utopian goals can be translated into operational practices–since it is ultimately the workforce who breathes life into the system, determining whether jails are destined to remain anchored in tradition or are designed to ascend toward a more utopian future.

What is your opinion of these abstracts? Do you agree with some but not others?

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  1. Catana says:

    Basically, they’re all suggestions and critiques by academics who have absolutely no power to change anything. They’re the usual optimistic wishful thinking that ignores the reality of harsher sentencing, and the move to private prisons. Unfortunately, we’re living in an era in which more and more activities, many of them supposedly protected by law, are being criminalized. It’s also an era in which the masses are being encouraged to fear any action which could conceivably be defined as dangerous, so that they will support extended sentences and harsh punishments.

  2. The common estimation is that the main barrier to stopping recidivism is the mindset of the criminals. In fact, they do a pretty good job of this all by themselves: most stop in their twenties and ‘persistents’ usually in their forties, when they recalibrate their choices. It turns out that crime pays poorly for most of them (those in lucrative aspects are seldom caught and even more rarely punished) and the milieu is ugly, dangerous, not as exciting as hoped, and dead-end. They decide they would rather have a nice little life, like the rest of us. Incarceration and other sanctions, on the other hand, play a very small role in this–no better than the encouragement they provide for more crime.
    There are lots of documented institutional and community rehabilitational programs that substantially reduce recidivism, although they are not widespread. The problem is that prison administrators and staff are poorly (or not at all) qualified to conduct them, they despise the inmates, lack funding–the amount devoted to rehabilitation in Canada is pathetically small–and, most of all, they can’t be bothered, since their clients lack any effective means of complaint.
    Innovation is hampered by the fact that the prisons are not a “system”, but a collection of institutions that do pretty much as they like, which is to say, when it comes to rehabilitation, as little as possible. I wonder if Vic Toews decision to become a judge instead of remaining Solicitor-General is because nobody would do what he wanted, “fundamental transformation” or not.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you, Chris. Your comments remind me of something I read about treating crime as a profession. Poor pension, high risks, good pay on occasion, no pay at others, set your own work hours and so on. It discouraged anyone from taking on crime as an occupation

      • Joanne says:

        I would like to add that there are those prisoners who do not see crime as an occupation at all. They do crime for many other reasons. Some very violent prisoners, for example, behave aggressively because they have come to see the world as a very threatening place and believe they have to lash out procactively or become a victim.

        My point is that programs that are one-size-fits-all do not address the very different reasons that people turn to crime. If we are serious, as a society, about rehabilitation, then it will likely be a very costly venture to ensure that all people can get the specific help they need. Politicians do not do well when they put forth tax money for unpopular causes. All people seem to think in the short term. They prefer money in their pockets now, even if it means it’ll be forcibly removed later by someone who is released from prison with no rehabilitation.

  3. Some seem to find crime a better alternative to supporting themselves than the, for them, effectively non-existent alternatives (explains the overrepresentation of desperately poor and racially marginal) and have very poor skills for coping with even the standard crises of everyday life (explains the often frequent drinking and drugs). Both of these could be dealt with constructively in prison and afterwards, of course but this, along with anything else for the benefit of the prisoner, is apparently beyond the capacity of CSC staff, despite their constantly pretending otherwise. In fact, the opposite is true of Parole Officers, who ignore increasing capacity and success at coping, and slam them back in prison at every opportunity for technical violations. It is almost as if CSC staff resents it when a prisoner is doing well.

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