Our system is suffering: Why we need change in corrections

The pendulum has shifted to favor the inmate population


Corrections, believe it or not, used to be nothing more than an abstract thought, a well-intended ideal with little clout and no support. Punishment was corrections and the two were anything but synonymous. In “Punishment and Responsibility” Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart defined punishment as being something administered in response to the breaking of an established rule and involving pain or any consequence normally perceived as being unpleasant or distasteful. Before the ideal of the penitentiary dawned on the United States, archaic punishments were readily being utilized to enforce rules and to punish individuals perceived of committing wrongdoings.

Colonial life primarily revolved around three central concepts: community, church and family. In “American Penology: A History of Control” Karol Lucken and Thomas G. Blomberg wrote that punishment was doled out upon those who violated any moral doctrine that went against the three aforementioned concepts. For example, crime was viewed as a sin and punishments were required for crimes such as drunkenness, profanity, adultery, not attending church regularly and other incidents of a similar nature. Punishments such as fines, the stocks, whippings, mutilation, shaming, death and banishment were the most prominent during this era of time and, due to the closeness of most communities, were relatively easy to implement.

Corrections has endured astronomical changes throughout American history and continues to face immeasurable amounts of scrutiny and change. With stockades, formalized public shaming, mutilation, and public execution being abandoned, the penal system and the ideal of corrections became the dominant thought process. What bearing does this have on contemporary corrections? Does this seemingly mundane history impact our current correctional system? The answer is an emphatic yes.

The tightknit communities of colonial times do not presently exist in the United States. An ever expanding population, immigration, the ease of mobility and social media have created a society dependent on anonymity. Monetary gains have instead become the focal point of our society and it seems that civility, humanity and fairness have suffered tremendously. Budgetary issues have replaced humanitarian issues and fiscal responsibility has replaced civil responsibility.

Today’s correctional system

To demonstrate my postulation, let’s examine the current American corrections system. The CO salary can range from $12.51 per hour (State of Tennessee) to $44,479.00-$83,028.00 per year (State of New Jersey). Please keep in mind that there are states that pay less than Tennessee and states that pay more than New Jersey. Corrections is a service industry centered on housing convicted criminals, attempting to acclimate said criminals to rules, regulations and structure, allowing for rehabilitative efforts to be implemented and maintaining control over turbulent, unpredictable populations.

In the past, I have voiced my dismay in corrections training and my disillusionment with how corrections is treated by the State. Corrections academies can be anywhere from a two-week orientation to a 16-week specialized academy. Corrections is not uniform nationwide and the discrepancies in training and respect have instigated many issues. As of late, I have seen stories about escaped inmates, catastrophic assaults on inmates and officers and prolific riots. I have seen inmates on social media as well as inmates organizing nationwide movements. It all comes down to funding (or lack thereof).

Need for change

We can no longer ignore this profession and the impact it has on our society. Understaffed, underpaid and blatantly ignored, our system is suffering and the pendulum has shifted to favor the inmate population. Staff are outnumbered upwards of 70:1 and, in the majority of the nation, COs make barely above minimum wage.

Corrections needs to be recognized, funded and reformed. To a degree, we need to retrogress corrections to that of colonial times. We need to treat corrections as a necessary, integral part of society and recognize that COs and inmates alike are a part of the community. Punishment needs to be feared and rehabilitation needs to be encouraged. We need to regain control of the inmate population.

Inmates have control

As it stands, inmates have all the power. Inside our nations’ prisons you will find narcotics, pornography, cell phones and cable television. You will find overworked and underappreciated staff along with a relentless and dominate inmate population. You may see administrations resorting to pacifying the inmates due to a sickening lack of funds. Inmates should not be dictating their own respective incarcerations. Alas, that is exactly what is occurring in today’s prison system.

I support rehabilitation to the fullest, but I will stick to a notion that I have repeated numerous times. America, we need to incapacitate those who are not capable of rehabilitation. Predators, habitual offenders and inmates with criminogenic factors far surpassing that of normality need to fear incarceration – it is the only deterrent we have. We need to mend the mendable and disable the incorrigible.

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