An argument in favor of classification reform
Corrections is a split system in which there is a clear, concise, and substantiated difference between habitual criminality/violent criminality and non-habitual criminality/non-violent criminality
By Curtis Isele
In my last article — An argument in favor of good-time reform — I stated that corrections is a multifaceted conundrum, influenced by a host of social phenomena. Aside from good-time reform, classification is also a vital segment of the collective corrections system.
This article will examine classification and will advocate reformation. There are undoubtedly systems in existence that bare similarities to this structure, however, many influences exist (such as overcrowding and fiscal obstacles) that may hinder the process and not allow for classification to be operationalized in such a way as to reach its full potential.
I believe it is paramount to view corrections as a split system in which there is a clear, concise, and substantiated difference between habitual criminality/violent criminality and non-habitual criminality/non-violent criminality. With this difference in mind, and after speaking in-depth with classification personnel, a set of proposed criterion was developed as follows for classification:
1. Current offense
2. Number of past convictions
3. Length of time between convictions
4. Past institutional conduct (when applicable)
5. Security Threat Group status
6. Mental health diagnosis (when applicable)
The goal of these criteria collectively is to ascertain the violent propensity, criminal habituality, gang affiliation, and mental health of an offender. Ultimately, the classification will/should be able to determine the offender’s risk level and distinguish the offender’s conduct and proclivities from their actual charge(s). Class I will be designated for offenders who meet the following criterion:
1. Current offense must be a non-violent conviction.
2. < or = 3 prior felony, non-violent convictions; the current offense is not included in this number.
3. If the offender has ever had a violent offense, there must be no less than ten (10) years between the conclusion of that offense (to include incarceration and/or community supervision) and the current, non-violent conviction.
4. The offender cannot be a self-reported and/or confirmed member of any security threat group (henceforth to be referred to as STG). If the offender wants to defect from a STG, this can be assessed on an individual basis and will include a comprehensive review.
5. The offender cannot have active psychosis. Any and all mental health needs must be addressed and the approval of the psychological department is required.
6. Class I inmates will be eligible for good-time. However, Class I inmates can only be granted good-time based upon performance, class attendance AND participation, and/or the awarding of a degree/certificate. These inmates must be placed in certain tracts to be fully eligible.
Class I facilities will be based on the open-dorm module and have an emphasis on rehabilitation, intervention, and reintegration. The open-dorm module is typically far more conductive as far as programming and sense of community are concerned (Peguese & Koppel, 2003) and, in addition to its community allure, this setting also is considerably more cost effective (US Government Accountability Office, General Government Division, & United States of America, 1992).
Class I facilities will be charged with the responsibility of breaking the convict code, allowing offenders to live without the presence of excess violence/gang activity, and fostering both educational and vocational activities that will assist offenders with the reintegration process. These facilities, theoretically, will be the gateway from corrections to society. The ultimate goal is to transform offenders into both a law-abiding and taxpaying citizens, freed from past debts and indiscretions. However, in order for Class I facilities to truly be effective, Class II facilities must serve as a punitive, far more restrictive counter measure. Class II facilities and all corresponding criterion will be discussed in-depth in my next article (on February 16, 2016).
Classification, to me, plays a pivotal role in the success of corrections and needs to be treated with high regard. To reiterate, this is not a proposed panacea — it is but a piece of the puzzle. These articles are merely attempting to isolate issues and exploring possibilities for improvement.
Peguese, J., & Koppel, R. (2003). Managing High-Risk Offenders in Prison Dormitory Settings. Corrections Today, 65(4), 82-85.
US Government Accountability Office, General Government Division, & United States of America. (1992). State and Federal Prisons: Factors That Affect Construction and Operations Costs.