152 Prison Essay Topics & Corrections Topics for Research Papers

Welcome to our list of prison research topics! Here, you will find a vast collection of corrections topics, research papers ideas, and issues for group discussion. In addition, we’ve included research questions about prisons related to mass incarceration and other controversial problems.

🏆 Best Essay Topics on Prison

✍️ prison essay topics for college, 👍 good prison research topics & essay examples, 🎓 controversial corrections research topics, 💡 hot corrections topics for research papers, ❓ prison research questions.

  • Prisons Are Ineffective in Rehabilitating Prisoners
  • The Comfort and Luxury of Prison Life
  • Prison System Issues: Mistreatment and Abuse
  • Prison Reform in the US Criminal Justice System
  • Norway Versus US Prison and How They Differ
  • Overcrowding in Prisons and Its Impact on Health
  • The Issue of Overcrowding in the Prison System
  • How ”Prison Life” Affects Inmates Lifes As statistics indicate, 98% of those released from American prisons, after having served their sentences, do not consider themselves being “corrected”.
  • Rehabilitation Programs Offered in Prisons The paper, am going to try and analyze some of the rehabilitation programs which will try to deter the majority of the inmates from been convicted of many crimes they are involved in.
  • Prison Reform: Rethinking and Improving The topic of prison reform has been highly debated as the American Criminal Justice System has failed to address the practical and social challenges.
  • Mental Health Institutions in Prisons Mental institutions in prisons are essential and might be helpful to inmates, and prevention, detection, and proper mental health issues treatment should be a priority in prisons.
  • How Education in Prisons Help Inmates Rehabilitate Criminal justice presupposes punishments for committing offenses, which include the isolation of recidivists from society.
  • Mass Incarceration in American Prisons This research paper describes the definition of incarceration and focuses on the reasons for imprisonment in the United States of America.
  • Prisons and the Different Security Levels Prisons are differentiated with regard to the extent of security, including supermax, maximum, medium, and minimum levels. This paper discusses prison security levels.
  • Security Threat Groups: The Important Elements in Prison Riots Security Threat Groups appear to be an a priori element of prison culture, inspired and cultivated by its fundamental principles of power.
  • Prison Makes Criminals Worse This paper discusses if prisons are effective in making criminals better for society or do they make them worse.
  • Prison Life in Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts In the article Larry Goldsmith has attempted to provide a detailed history of prison life and prison system during the 19th century.
  • Prison System in the United States Depending on what laws are violated – federal or state – the individuals are usually placed in either a federal or state prison.
  • The Role of Culture in the School-to-Prison Pipeline The school-to-prison pipeline is based on many social factors and cannot be recognized as only an outcome of harsh disciplinary policies.
  • Prison Culture: Term Definition There has been contention in the area of literature whether prison culture results from the environment within the prison or is as a result of the culture that inmates bring into prison.
  • Women Serving Time With Their Children: The Challenge of Prison Mothers The law in America requires that mothers stay with their children as a priority. Prisons have therefore opened nurseries for children of mothers who are serving short terms.
  • Early Prison Release to Reduce a Prison’s Budget The primary goal of releasing nonviolent offenders before their sentences are finished is cutting down on expenses.
  • Prison Staffing and Correctional Officers’ Duties The rehabilitative philosophy in corrective facilities continually prompts new reinforced efforts to transform inmates.
  • Discrimination in Prison Problem The problem of discrimination requires a great work of social workers, especially in such establishments like prisons.
  • Privatization of Prisons in the US, Australia and UK The phenomenon of modern prison privatization emerged in the United States in the mid-1980s and spread to Australia and the United Kingdom from there.
  • Alcatraz Prison and Its History With Criminals Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary famously referred to as “The Rock”, served as a maximum prison from 1934-1963. It was located on Alcatraz Island.
  • Prison Population by Ethnic Group and Sex Labeling theory, which says that women being in “inferior” positions will get harsher sentences, and the “evil women hypothesis” are not justified.
  • Researching of the Reasons Prisons Exist While prisons are the most common way of punishing those who have committed a crime, the efficiency of prisons is still being questioned.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment Analysis Abuse between guards and prisoners is an imminent factor attributed to the differential margin on duties and responsibilities.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment’s Historical Record The Stanford Prison Experiment is a seminal investigation into the dynamics of peer pressure in human psychology.
  • The Lucifer Effect: Stanford County Prison In 1971, a group of psychologists led by Philip Zimbardo invited mentally healthy students from the USA and Canada, selected from 70 volunteers, to take part in the experiment.
  • The Prison Effect Based on Philip Zimbardo’s Book This paper explores the lessons that can be learned from Philip Zimbardo’s book “The Lucifer Effect” and highlights the experiment’s findings and their implications.
  • Ethical Decision-Making for Public Administrators at Abu Ghraib Prison The subject of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib Prison has garnered global attention and a prominent role in arguments over the Iraq War.
  • Bruce Western’s Book Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison The book by Bruce Western Homeward: Life in the Year after Prison provides different perspectives on the struggles that ex-prisoners face once released from jail.
  • Psychology: Zimbardo Prison Experiment Despite all the horrors that contradict ethics, Zimbardo’s research contributed to the formation of social psychology. It was unethical to conduct this experiment.
  • Economic Differences in the US Prison System The main research question is, “What is the significant difference in the attitude toward prisoners based on their financial situation?”
  • Transgender People in Prisons: Rights Violations There are many instances of how transgender rights are violated in jails: from misgendering from the staff and other prisoners to isolation and refusal to provide healthcare.
  • The Prison-Based Community and Intervention Efforts The prison-based community is a population that should be supported in diverse spheres such as healthcare, psychological health, social interactions, and work.
  • The Canadian Prison System: Problems and Proposed Solutions The state of Canadian prisons has been an issue of concern for more than a century now. Additionally, prisons are run in a manner that does not promote rehabilitation.
  • American Prisons as Social Institutions The prison system of the U.S. gained features that distance it from the theoretical conception of a redemptive control mechanism.
  • Prisons as a Response to Crimes Prisons are not adequate measures for limiting long-term crime rates or rehabilitating inmates, yet other alternatives are either undeveloped or too costly to ensure public safety.
  • The State of Prisons in the United Kingdom and Wales Since 1993, there has been a steady increase in the prison population in the UK, hitting a record highest of 87,000 inmates in 2012.
  • Drug Abuse Demographics in Prisons Drug abuse, including alcohol, is a big problem for the people contained in prisons, both in the United States and worldwide.
  • My Prison System: Incarceration, Deterrence, Rehabilitation, and Retribution The prison system described in the paper belongs to medium-security prisons which will apply to most types of criminals.
  • The Criminal Justice System: The Prison Industrial Complex The criminal justice system is the institution which is present in every advanced country, and it is responsible for punishing individuals for their wrongdoings.
  • Penal Labor in the American Prison System The 13th Amendment allows for the abuse of the American prison system. This is because it permits the forced labor of convicted persons.
  • Private and Public Prisons’ Functioning The purpose of this paper is to discuss the functioning of modern private and public prisons. There is a significant need to change the approach for private prisons.
  • “Picking Battles: Correctional Officers, Rules, and Discretion in Prison”: Research Question The “Picking Battles: Correctional Officers, Rules, and Discretion in Prison” aims to define the extent to which correctional officers use discretion in their work.
  • Recidivism in the Criminal Justice: Prison System of America One of the main issues encountered by the criminal justice system remains recidivism which continues to stay topical.
  • The Electronic Monitoring of Offenders Released From Jail or Prison The paper analyzes the issue of electronic monitoring for offenders who have been released from prison or jail.
  • “Episode 66: Yard of Dreams — Ear Hustle’’: Sports in Prison “Episode 66: Yard of dreams — Ear hustle’’ establishes that prison sports are an important aspect of transforming the lives of prisoners in the correctional system.
  • The Concept of PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) Rape remains among the dominant crimes in the USA; almost every minute an American becomes a victim of it. The problem is especially acute in penitentiaries.
  • Recidivism in the Criminal Justice: Prison System of America The position of people continuously returning to prisons in the United States is alarming due to their high rates.
  • Prisonization and Secure Housing Units in Prisons The main issue of SHUs is that the absence of community forces a person to experience a significant mental crisis because humans are social creatures.
  • Prison’s Impact on People’s Health The paper explains experts believe that the prison situation contributes to the negative effects on the health of the convicted person.
  • Contribution of Prisons to US Racial Disparities The USA showcases persistent racial disparities, especially in the healthcare system. The discriminatory regime has lasted from systemic inequality within essential systems.
  • Prisons in the United States In the present day, prisons may be regarded as the critical components of the federal criminal justice system.
  • Understanding the U.S. Prison System This study will look at the various issues surrounding the punishment and rehabilitative aspects of U.S. prisons and determine what must be done to improve the system.
  • American Criminal Justice System: Prison Reform Public safety and prison reform go hand-in-hand. Rethinking the way in which security is established within society is the first step toward the reform.
  • Private Prisons: Review In the following paper, the issues that are rife in connection with contracting out private prisons will be examined along with the pros and cons of private prisons’ functioning.
  • Crimes and the Federal Prison Comparison Boesky and Milken admitted to the charges and sought guilty plea favour while Martha was defensive of not having committed any crime.
  • Arkansas Prison Scandals Regarding Contaminated Blood A number of scandals occurred around the infamous Cummins State Prison Farm in Arkansas in 1967-1969 and 1982-1983.
  • State Prison System v. Federal Prison System The essay sums that the main distinction between these two prison systems is based on the type of criminals it handles, which means a difference in the level of security employed.
  • Prisons in the United States Analysis The whole aspect of medical facilities in prisons is a very complex issue that needs to be evaluated and looked at critically for sustainability.
  • Sex Offenders and Their Prison Sentences Both authors do not fully support this sanction due to many reasons, including medical, social, ethical, and even legal biases, where the latter is fully ignored.
  • Criminal Punishment, Inmates on Death Row, and Prison Educational Programs This paper will review the characteristics of inmates, including those facing death penalties and the benefits of educational programs for prisoners.
  • Prison System for a Democratic Society This report is designed to transform the corrections department to form a system favorable for democracy, seek to address the needs of different groups of offenders.
  • Healthcare Among the Elderly Prison Population The purpose of this article is to address the ever-increasing cost of older prisoners in correctional facilities.
  • Women’s Issues and Trends in the Prison System The government has to consider the specific needs of the female population in the prison system and work on preventing incarceration.
  • What Makes Family Learning in Prisons Effective? This paper aims to discuss the family learning issue and explain the benefits and challenges of family learning in prisons.
  • Overcrowding in Jails and Prisons In a case of a crime, the offender is either incarcerated, placed on probation or required to make restitution to the victim, usually in the form of monetary compensation.
  • Unethical and Ethical Issues in the Prison System of Honduras Honduras has some of the highest homicide rates in the world and prisons in Honduras are associated with high levels of violence.
  • Prison Reform in the US Up until this day, the detention facilities remain the restricting measure common for each State. The U.S. remains one of the most imprisoning countries.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment Review The video presents an experiment held in 1971. In general, a viewer can observe that people are subjected to behavior and opinion change when affected by others.
  • Whether Socrates Should Have Disobeyed the Terms of His Conviction and Escaped Prison? Socrates wanted to change manners and customs, he denounced the evil, deception, undeserved privileges, and thereby he aroused hatred among contemporaries and must pay for it.
  • Psychological and Sociological Aspects of the School-to-Prison Pipeline The tendency of sending children to prisons is examined from the psychological and sociological point of view with the use of two articles regarding the topic.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline: Roots of the Problem The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the tendency of children and young adults to be put in prison because of harsh disciplinary policies within schools.
  • US Prisons Review and Recidivism Prevention This research paper will focus on prison life in American prisons and the strategies to decrease recidivism once the inmates are released from prison.
  • Administrative Segregation in California Prisons In California prisons, administrative segregation is applied to control safety as well as prisoners who are disruptive within the jurisdiction.
  • Meditation in American Prisons from 1981 to 2004 Staggering statistics reveal that the United States has the highest rate of imprisonment of any country in the world, with the cost of imprisonment of this many people is now at twenty-seven billion dollars.
  • Impact of the Stanford Prison Experiment Have on Psychology This essay will begin with a brief description of Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment then it will move to explore two main issues that arose from the said experiment.
  • Use of Contingent Employees at the Federal Bureau of Prisons Contingent employment is a staffing strategy that the Federal Bureau of Prisons can use to address its staffing needs as well as achieve its budgetary target.
  • Death Penalty from a Prison Officer’s Perspective The death penalty can be considered as an ancient form of punishment in relation to the type of crime that had been committed.
  • Recidivism in American Prisons At present, recidivism is a severe problem for the United States. Many prisoners are released from jails but do not change their criminal behavior due to a few reasons.
  • The Grizzly Conditions Prisoners Endure in Private Prisons The present paper will explore the issue of these ‘grizzly’ conditions in public prisons, arguing that private prisons need to be strictly regulated in order to prevent harm to inmates.
  • Keeping Minors and Adult Inmates Separate to Address the Problem of Violence in Prisons Managing aggressive behaviors in prison and preventing the instances of violence is a critical issue that warrants a serious discussion.
  • Evaluation of the Stanford Prison Experiment’ Role The Stanford Prison Experiment is a study that was conducted on August 20, 1971 by a group of researchers headed by the psychology professor Philip Zimbardo.
  • Women in Prison in the United States: Article and Book Summary A personal account of a woman prisoner known as Julie demonstrates that sexual predation/abuse is a common occurrence in most U.S. prisons.
  • American Prison Systems and Areas of Improvement The current operation of the prison system in America can no longer be deemed effective, in the correctional sense of this word.
  • Prison Crowding in the US Most prisons in the United States and other parts of the world are overcrowded. They hold more prisoners that the initial capacity they were designed to accommodate.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline in Political Aspect This paper investigates the school-to-prison pipeline from the political point of view using the two articles concerning the topic.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline in American Justice This paper studies the problem by reviewing two articles regarding the school-to-prison pipeline and its aspects related to justice systems.
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment The Stanford prison experiment is an example of how outside social situations influence changes in thought and behavior among humans.
  • Prison Population and Healthcare Models in the USA This paper focuses on the prison population with a view to apply the Vulnerable Population Conceptual Model, and summarizes US healthcare models.
  • Prisoners’ Rights and Prison System Reform Criminal justice laws are antiquated and no longer serve their purposes. Instead, they cause harms to society, Americans and cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
  • Contracting Out Private Prisons The issue of contracting the private prisons for accommodating the inmates has been challenged by various law suits over the quality of service that this companies offer to the inmates.
  • Drugs and Prison Overcrowding There are a number of significant sign of the impact that the “war on drugs” has had on the communities in the United States.
  • Prison Dog Training Program by Breakthrough Buddies
  • Prison Abuse and Its Effect On Society
  • The Truth About the Cruelty of Privatized Prison Health Care
  • Prison Incarceration and Its Effects On The United States
  • The United States Crime Problem and Our Prison System
  • Prison Overcrowding and Its Effects On Living Conditions
  • General Information about Prison and Capital Punishment Impact
  • Problems With The American Prison System
  • Prison and County Correctional Faculties Overcrowding
  • People Who Commit Murder Should Be A Prison For An Extended
  • African American Men and The United States Prison System
  • Prison Gangs and the Community Responsibility System
  • Prison Overcrowding and Its Effects On The United States
  • Prison Should Not Receive Free College Education
  • Pregnant Behind Bars and The United States Prison System
  • Prison Life and Strategies to Decrease Recidivism
  • Penitentiary Ideal and Models Of American Prison
  • The Various Rehabilitation and Treatment Programs in Prison
  • Prison and Mandatory Minimum Sentences
  • Prisoner Visit and Rape Issue In Thai Prison
  • Private Prisons Are Far Worse Than Any Maximum Security State Prison
  • Prison Gangs and Their Effect on Prison Populations
  • Overview of Prison Overcrowding and Staff Violence
  • Classification and Prison Security Levels
  • Prison and Positive Effects Rehabilitation Assignment
  • Can Prison Deter Crime?
  • What Are the Two Theories Regarding How Inmate Culture Becomes a Part of Prison Life?
  • What Prison Is Mentioned in the Movie “Red Notice”?
  • What’s the Worst Prison in Tennessee?
  • What Causes Students to Enter the School of Prison Pipeline?
  • How Can the Prison System Rehabilitate Prisoners So That They Will Enter the Society as Equals?
  • Should Prison and Jail Be the Primary Service Provider?
  • How Can Illegal Drugs Be Prevented From Entering Prison?
  • How Does the Prison System Treat Trans Inmates?
  • What Is the Deadliest Prison in America?
  • Should Prison and Death Be an Easy Decision for a Court?
  • Why Is It Called Black Dolphin Prison?
  • Does Prison Strain Lead to Prison Misbehavior?
  • Why Is the American Prison System Failing?
  • What Country Has the Best Prison System?
  • Does Prison Work for Offenders?
  • Should Prison for Juveniles Be a Crime?
  • What Is the Most Infamous Prison in America?
  • What Is the World’s Most Secure Prison?
  • What Do Russian Prison Tattoos Mean?
  • What Causes Convicted Felons to Commit Another Crime After Release From Prison?
  • What Are the Implications of Prison Overcrowding and Are More Prisons the Answer?
  • Can Private Prisons Save Tax Dollars?
  • Is Incarceration the Answer to Crime in Prison?
  • What Are Prison Conditions Like in the US?
  • Who Escaped From Brushy Mountain Prison?
  • Why Does the Public Love Television Show, Prison Break?
  • What Is the Scariest Prison in the World?
  • When Did Brushy Mountain Prison Close?
  • Which State Has the Most Overcrowded Prison?

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StudyCorgi . 2021. "152 Prison Essay Topics & Corrections Topics for Research Papers." December 21, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ideas/prison-essay-topics/.

These essay examples and topics on Prison were carefully selected by the StudyCorgi editorial team. They meet our highest standards in terms of grammar, punctuation, style, and fact accuracy. Please ensure you properly reference the materials if you’re using them to write your assignment.

This essay topic collection was updated on January 9, 2024 .

A better path forward for criminal justice: Changing prisons to help people change

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Christy visher and christy visher professor - university of delaware john eason john eason associate professor - university of wisconsin.

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Below is the third chapter from “A Better Path Forward for Criminal Justice,” a report by the Brookings-AEI Working Group on Criminal Justice Reform. You can access other chapters from the report here .

Prison culture and environment are essential to public health and safety. While much of the policy debate and public attention of prisons focuses on private facilities, roughly 83 percent of the more than 1,600 U.S. facilities are owned and operated by states. 1 This suggest that states are an essential unit of analysis in understanding the far-reaching effects of imprisonment and the site of potential solutions. Policy change within institutions has to begin at the state level through the departments of corrections. For example, California has rebranded their state corrections division and renamed it the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. For many, these are not only name changes but shifts in policy and practice. In this chapter, we rethink the treatment environment of the prison by highlighting strategies for developing cognitive behavioral communities in prison—immersive cognitive communities. This new approach promotes new ways of thinking and behaving for both incarcerated persons and correctional staff. Behavior change requires changing thinking patterns and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based strategy that can be utilized in the prison setting. We focus on short-, medium-, and long-term recommendations to begin implementing this model and initiate reforms for the organizational structure of prisons.

Level Setting

The U.S. has seen a steady decline in the federal and state prison population over the last eleven years, with a 2019 population of about 1.4 million men and women incarcerated at year-end, hitting its lowest level since 1995. 2   With the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, criminal justice reformers have urged a continued focus on reducing prison populations and many states are permitting early releases of nonviolent offenders and even closing prisons. Thus, we are likely to see a dramatic reduction in the prison population when the data are tabulated for 2020.

However, it is undeniable that the U.S. will continue to use incarceration as a sanction for criminal behavior at a much higher rate than in other Western countries, in part because of our higher rate of violent offenses. Consequently, a majority of people incarcerated in the U.S. are serving a prison sentence for a violent offense (58 percent). The most serious offense for the remainder is property offenses (16 percent), drug offenses (13 percent), or other offenses (13 percent; generally, weapons, driving offenses, and supervision violations). 3 Moreover, the majority of people in U.S. prisons have been previously incarcerated. The prison population is largely drawn from the most disadvantaged part of the nation’s population: mostly men under age 40, disproportionately minority, with inadequate education. Prisoners often carry additional deficits of drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical illnesses, and lack of work experience. 4

According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average sentence length in state courts for those sentenced to confinement in a state prison is about 4 years and the average time served is about 2.5 years. Those sentenced for a violent offense typically serve about 4.7 years with persons sentenced for murder or manslaughter serving an average of 15 years before their release. 5 Thus, it is important to consider the conditions of prison life in understanding how individuals rejoin society at the conclusion of their sentence. Are they prepared to be valuable community members? What lessons have they learned during their confinement that may help them turn their life around? Will they be successful in avoiding a return to prison? What is the most successful path for helping returning citizens reintegrate into their communities?

Regrettably, prison life is often fraught with difficulty. Being sentenced to incarceration can be traumatic, leading to mental health disorders and difficulty rejoining society. Incarcerated individuals must adjust to the deprivation of liberty, separation from family and social supports, and a loss of personal control over all aspects of one’s life. In prison, individuals face a loss of self-worth, loneliness, high levels of uncertainty and fear, and idleness for long periods of time. Imprisonment disrupts the routines of daily life and has been described as “disorienting” and a “shock to the system”. 6 Further, some researchers have described the existence of a “convict code” in prison that governs behavior and interactions with norms of prison life including mind your own business, no snitching, be tough, and don’t get too close with correctional staff. While these strategies can assist incarcerated persons in surviving prison, these tools are less helpful in ensuring successful reintegration.

Thus, the entire prison experience can jeopardize the personal characteristics required to be effective partners, parents, and employees once they are released. Coupled with the lack of vocational training, education, and reentry programs, individuals face a variety of challenges to reintegrating into their communities. Successful reintegration will not only improve public safety but forces us to reconsider public safety as essential to public health.

Despite the toll of difficult conditions of prison, people who are incarcerated believe that they can be successful citizens. In surveys and interviews with men and women in prison, the majority express hope for their future. Most were employed before their incarceration and have family that will help them get back on their feet. Many have children that they were supporting and want to reconnect with. They realize that finding a job may be hard, but they believe they will be able to avoid the actions that got them into trouble, principally committing crimes and using illegal substances. 7 Research also shows that most individuals with criminal records, especially those convicted of violent crimes, were often victims themselves. This complicates the “victim”-“offender” binary that dominates the popular discourse about crime. By moving beyond this binary, we propose cognitive behavioral therapy, among a host of therapeutic approaches, as part of a broader restorative approach.

Despite having histories of associating with other people who commit crimes and use illegal drugs, incarcerated individuals have pro-social family and friends in their lives. They also may have some personality characteristics that make it difficult to resist involvement in criminal behavior, including impulsivity, lack of self-control, anger/defiance, and weak problem-solving and coping skills. Psychologists have concluded that the primary individual characteristics influencing criminal behavior are thinking patterns that foster criminal activity, associating with other people who engage in criminal activity, personality patterns that support criminal activity, and a history of engaging in criminal activity. 8  While the context constrains individual behavior and choices, the motivation for incarcerated individuals to change their behavior is rooted in their value of family and other positive relationships. However, most prison environments pose significant challenges for incarcerated individuals to develop motivation to make positive changes. Interpersonal relationships in prison are difficult as there is often a culture of mistrust and suspicion coupled with a profound absence of empathy. Despite these challenges, cognitive behavioral interventions can provide a successful path for reintegration.

Many psychologists believe that changing unwanted or negative behaviors requires changing thinking patterns since thoughts and feelings affect behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) emerged as a psycho-social intervention that helps people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and emotions. It focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and developing personal coping strategies that target solving current problems. 9  In most cases, CBT is a gradual process that helps a person take incremental steps towards a behavior change. CBT has been directed at a wide range of conditions including various addictions (smoking, alcohol, and drug use), eating disorders, phobias, and problems dealing with stress or anxiety. CBT programs help people identify negative thoughts, practice skills for use in real-world situations, and learn problem-solving skills. For example, a person with a substance use disorder might start practicing new coping skills and rehearsing ways to avoid or deal with a high-risk situation that could trigger a relapse.

Since criminal behavior is driven partly by certain thinking patterns that predispose individuals to commit crimes or engage in illegal activities, CBT helps people with criminal records change their attitudes and gives them tools to avoid risky situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a comprehensive and time-consuming treatment, typically, requiring intensive group sessions over many months with individualized homework assignments. Evaluations of CBT programs for justice-involved people found that cognitive restructuring treatment was significantly effective in reducing criminal behavior, with those receiving CBT showing recidivism reductions of 20 to 30 percent compared to control groups. 10 Thus, the widespread implementation of cognitive behavioral therapy as part of correctional programming could lead to fewer rearrests and lower likelihood of reincarceration after release. CBT can also be used to mitigate prison culture and thus help reintegrate returning citizens back into their communities.

Thus, the widespread implementation of cognitive behavioral therapy as part of correctional programming could lead to fewer rearrests and lower likelihood of reincarceration after release.

Even the most robust CBT program that meets three hours per week leaves 165 hours a week in which the participant is enmeshed in the typical prison environment. Such an arrangement is bound to dilute the therapy’s impact. To counter these negative influences, the new idea is to connect CBT programming in prison with the old idea of therapeutic communities. Therapeutic communities—either in prison or the community—were established as a self-help substance use rehabilitation approach and instituted the idea that separating the target population from the general population would allow a pro-social community to develop and thereby discourage antisocial cognitions and behaviors. The therapeutic community model relies heavily on participant leadership and requires participants to intervene in arguments and guide treatment groups. Inside prisons, therapeutic communities are a separate housing unit that fosters a rehabilitative environment.

Cognitive Communities in prison would be an immersive experience in cognitive behavioral therapy involving cognitive restructuring, anti-criminal modeling, skill building, problem-solving, and emotion management. These communities would promote new ways of thinking and behaving among its participants around the clock, from breakfast in the morning through residents’ daily routines, including formal CBT sessions, to the evening meal and post-dinner activities. Blending the best aspects of therapeutic communities with CBT principles would lead to Cognitive Communities with several key elements: a separate physical space, community participation in daily activities, reinforcement of pro-social behavior, use of teachable moments, and structured programs. This cultural shift in prison organization provides a foundation for restorative justice practices in prisons.

Accordingly, our recommendations include:

Short-Term Reforms

Create Transforming Prisons Act

Accelerate decarceration begun during pandemic.

Medium-Term Reforms

Encourage Rehabilitative Focus in State Prisons

Foster greater use of community sanctions.

Long-Term Reforms

Embrace Rehabilitative/Restorative Community Justice Models

Encourage collaborations between corrections agencies and researchers, short-term reforms.

To begin transforming prisons to help prisons and people change, a new funding opportunity for state departments of correction is needed. We propose the Transforming Prisons Act (funded through the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance) which would permit states to apply for funds to support innovative programs and practices that would improve prison conditions both for the people who live in prisons and work in prisons. This dual approach would begin to transform prisons into a more just and humane experience for both groups. These new funds could support broad implementation of Cognitive Communities by training the group facilitators and the correctional staff assigned to the specialized prison units. Funds could also be used to broaden other therapeutic programming to support individuals in improving pro-social behaviors through parenting classes, family engagement workshops, anger management, and artistic programming. One example is the California Transformative Arts which promotes self-awareness and improves mental health through artistic expression. Together, these programs could mark a rehabilitative turn in corrections.

While we work to change policies and practices to make prisons more humane, we also need to work towards decarceration. The COVID-19 crisis has enabled innovations in diverting and improving efforts to reintegrate returning citizens in the U.S. During the pandemic, many states took bold steps in implementing early release for older incarcerated persons especially those with health disorders. Research shows that returning citizens of advanced age and with poor health conditions are far less likely to commit crime after release. This set of circumstances makes continued diversion and reintegration of this population a much wiser investment than incarceration.

MEDIUM-TERM REFORMS

In direct response to calls to abolish prisons and defund the police, state prisons should move away from focusing on incapacitation to rehabilitation. To assist in this change, federal funds should be tied to embracing a rehabilitative mission to transform prisons. This transformation should be rooted in evidence-based therapeutic programming, documenting impacts on both incarcerated individuals and corrections staff. Prison good-time policies should be revisited so that incarcerated individuals receive substantial credit for participating in intensive programming such as Cognitive Communities. With a backdrop of an energized rehabilitative philosophy, states should be supported in their efforts to implement innovative models and programming to improve the reintegration of returning citizens and change the organizational structure of their prisons.

In direct response to calls to abolish prisons and  defund  the police, state prisons should move away from focusing on incapacitation to rehabilitation.

As the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, current U.S. incarceration policies and practices are costly for families, communities, and state budgets. Openly punitive incarceration policies make it exceedingly difficult for incarcerated individuals to successfully reintegrate into communities as residents, family members, and employees. A long-term policy goal in the U.S. must be to reduce our over-reliance on incarceration through shorter prison terms, increased reliance on community sanctions, and closing prisons. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that decarceration poses minimal risk to community safety. Given this steady decline in the prison population and decline in prison building in the U.S. since 2000, we encourage other types of development in rural communities to loosen the grip of prisons in these areas. Alternative development for rural communities is important because the most disadvantaged rural communities are both senders of prisoners and receivers of prisons with roughly 70 percent of prison facilities located in rural communities.

LONG-TERM REFORMS

Public safety and public health goals can be achieved through Community Justice Centers—these are sites that act as a diversion preference for individuals who may be in a personal crisis due to mental health conditions, substance use, or family trauma. Recent research demonstrates that using social or public health services to intervene in such situations can lead to better outcomes for communities than involving the criminal justice system. To be clear, many situations can be improved by crisis intervention expertise specializing in de-escalation rather than involving the justice system which may have competing objectives. Community Justice Centers are nongovernmental organizations that divert individuals in crisis away from law enforcement and the justice system. Such diversion also helps ease the social work burden on the justice system that it is often ill-equipped to handle.

Researchers and corrections agencies need to develop working relationships to permit the study of innovative organizational approaches. In the past, the National Institute of Justice created a researcher-practitioner partnership program , whereby local researchers worked with criminal justice practitioners (generally, law enforcement) to develop research projects that would benefit local criminal justice agencies and test innovative solutions to local problems. A similar program could be announced to help researchers assist corrections agencies and officials in identifying research projects that could address problems facing prisons and prison officials (e.g., safety, staff burnout, and prisoner grievance procedures).

Recommendations for Future Research

Some existing jail and prison correctional systems are implementing broad organization changes, including immersive faith-based correctional programs, jail-based 60- to 90-day reentry programs to prepare individuals for their transition to the community, Scandinavian and other European models to change prison culture, and an innovative Cognitive Community approach operating in several correctional facilities in Virginia. However, these efforts have not been rigorously evaluated. New models could be developed and tested widely, preferably through randomized controlled trials, and funded by the research arm of the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), or various private funders, including Arnold Ventures.

Correctional agencies in some states may be ready to implement the Cognitive Community model using a separate section of a prison or smaller facility not in use. Funding is needed to evaluate these pilot efforts, assess fidelity to the model standards, identify challenges faced in implementing the model, and propose any modifications to improve the proposed Cognitive Community model. Full-scale rigorous tests of the Cognitive Community model are needed which would randomly assign eligible inmates to the Cognitive Community environment or to continue to carry out their sentence in a regular prison setting. Ideally, these studies would observe the implementation of the program, assess intermediate outcomes while participants are enrolled in the program, follow participants upon release and examine post-release experiences in the post-release CBT program, and then assess a set of reentry outcomes at several intervals for at least one year after release.

Prison culture and environment are essential to community public health and safety. Incarcerated individuals have difficulty successfully reintegrating into their communities after release because the environment in most U.S. prisons is not conducive to positive change. Normalizing prison environments with evidence-based programming, including cognitive behavioral therapy, education, and personal development, will help incarcerated individuals lead successful lives in the community as family members, employees, and community residents. States need to move towards less reliance on incarceration and more attention to community justice models.

Recommended Readings

  • Eason, John M. 2017. Big House on the Prairie: Rise of the Rural Ghetto and Prison Proliferation . Chicago, IL: Univ of Chicago Press.

Travis, J., Western, B., and Redburn, S. (Eds.). 2014. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. National Research Council; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Committee on Law and Justice; Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Orrell, B. (Ed). 2020. Rethinking Reentry . Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.

Mitchell, Meghan M., Pyrooz, David C., & Decker, Scott. H. 2020. “Culture in prison, culture on the street: the convergence between the convict code and code of the street.” Journal of Crime and Justice . DOI:  10.1080/0735648X.2020.1772851 .

Haney, C. 2002. “The Psychological Impact of Incarceration: Implications for Post-Prison Adjustment.” https://aspe.hhs.gov/basic-report/psychological-impact-incarceration-implications-post-prison-adjustment .

  • Carson, E. Ann. 2020. Prisoners in 2019. NCJ 255115. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • Travis, Jeremy, Bruce Western, and Steven Redburn, (Eds.). 2014. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. National Research Council; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Committee on Law and Justice; Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration . Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  • Kaeble, Danielle. 2018. Time Served in State Prison, 2016. NCJ 252205. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • Haney, Craig. 2002. “The Psychological Impact of Incarceration: Implications for Post-Prison Adjustment.” Prepared for the Prison to Home Conference, January 30–31, 2002. https://aspe.hhs.gov/basic-report/psychological-impact-incarceration-implications-post-prison-adjustment .
  • Visher, Christy and Nancy LaVigne. 2021. “Returning home: A pathbreaking study of prisoner reentry and its challenges.” In P.K. Lattimore, B.M. Huebner, & F.S. Taxman (eds.), Handbook on moving corrections and sentencing forward: Building on the record (pp. 278–311). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Latessa, Edward. 2020. “Triaging services for individuals returning from prison.” In B. Orrell (Ed.), Rethinking Reentry . Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute.
  • Nana Landenberger and Mark Lipsey. 2005. “The positive effects of cognitive-behavioral programs for offenders: A meta-analysis of factors associated with effective treatment.” Journal of Experimental Criminology , 1, 451–476.

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Why Do We Have Prisons in the United States?

The Enlightenment brought the idea that punishments should be certain and mild, rather than harsh with lots of pardons and exceptions.

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What is prison for? That’s a question a growing movement is asking as it looks beyond reforming prisons and sentencing laws, and imagines abolishing incarceration altogether. To think about what that might look like, it’s worth considering  how the U.S. prison system began , as historian Jim Rice did in his analysis of an early Maryland penitentiary.

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Maryland based its criminal law on English precedent, which meant terrifying punishments like hanging for minor theft, but also selective enforcement of the penalties with frequent pardons that demonstrated the mercy of officials. But where English lawmakers feared poor migrants wandering the country, Maryland’s upper classes needed more laborers than they could find. So, in place of the death penalty, thieves in the state were typically lashed and fined, keeping them alive while plunging them into debt. Those who couldn’t pay might be sold into servitude.

Then, in 1789, as Baltimore grew from a village to a city desperately in need of public works crews, the state passed the “Wheelbarrow Act.” This made most serious offenses punishable with hard labor on roads and the Baltimore harbor—up to seven years for free men or 14 for enslaved men.

But the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was an era of criminal justice reform on both sides of the Atlantic. The Enlightenment brought the idea that punishments should be certain and mild, rather than harsh with lots of pardons and exceptions, and that they should relate only to the crime, not the status of the person being punished. This also offered a more formal way to address crime in growing urban areas where officials could no longer respond to lawbreaking based on personal familiarity with the participants in a dispute.

In 1809, Maryland joined the growing ranks of U.S. states and European countries punishing crimes at penitentiaries. As the word suggested, the theory behind the institutions was that inmates could be induced to repent and reform. Not surprisingly, Maryland determined that a key tool in this project was “labour of the hardest and most servile kind,” including textile work, nail-making, and housekeeping. And while reformers expected penitentiaries to provide religious education and tailor work assignments to the goal of character improvement, in practice they were geared toward the fiscal needs of the institution, which the state expected to be self-supporting.

Another key divergence between theory and practice involved black convicts. Lawmakers assumed that African-Americans—free or enslaved—were inherently unreformable and that “prison life too closely resembled everyday black life to hold any real terror,” Rice writes. Nonetheless, black people flooded into the penitentiary.

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From the start, the penitentiary system didn’t fulfill reformers’ dreams. But the system made sense to officials who needed to keep order in bustling cities and supply labor to growing industries. The question today is what role prisons fill for the people who support them, and what alternatives might work better for the communities that bear the brunt of punishment.

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Criminal Justice

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History and evolution of correctional systems.

This article explores the intricate history and evolution of correctional systems in the United States, spanning from the early colonial era to contemporary times. Beginning with the roots of punishment in colonial America, the narrative delves into the emergence of the penitentiary system and its subsequent influence on the shaping of correctional philosophy. Examining pivotal moments such as the Progressive Era reforms and the Great Depression, the article analyzes how these historical contexts molded the trajectory of American corrections. A critical exploration of 20th-century challenges, including the impact of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, sets the stage for an examination of contemporary trends and innovations, such as evidence-based practices and alternatives to incarceration. The article concludes by reflecting on the ongoing evolution of correctional systems, acknowledging both the strides made in rehabilitation and the persisting challenges in achieving a balanced and just approach to criminal justice. In adherence to the APA style, in-text citations substantiate key assertions and provide readers with access to scholarly sources.

Introduction

Correctional systems represent a crucial facet of the criminal justice process, encompassing a spectrum of institutions and practices designed to address and rehabilitate individuals involved in criminal activities. This article delves into the multifaceted history and evolution of correctional systems in the United States, offering a scholarly exploration of the intricate developments that have shaped this integral component of the criminal justice landscape. To comprehend the contemporary state of correctional systems, it is imperative to scrutinize their historical roots and trace the trajectory of their evolution. This introduction aims to define correctional systems, emphasizing their role in society, and underscores the significance of studying their history. A concise overview of the developmental milestones in corrections in the United States sets the stage for a comprehensive analysis of the various epochs that have influenced the present state of American correctional philosophy. The article’s purpose is to provide readers with a nuanced understanding of the forces and ideologies that have molded correctional systems, while its scope extends from the colonial era to contemporary times, encompassing pivotal reform movements, challenges, and innovative trends within the field.

Historical Roots of Correctional Systems

The roots of correctional systems in the United States trace back to the early forms of punishment in colonial America. During this era, punishment predominantly manifested through corporal penalties and public shaming, reflecting a society where physical retribution served as a deterrent. The utilitarian philosophy, emphasizing the greatest good for the greatest number, influenced these early approaches to punishment.

The transformational shift towards more systematic correctional practices began with the emergence of the penitentiary system. Inspired by Enlightenment ideals and the reformist movement, the notion of rehabilitation gained prominence. This era saw the establishment of two influential models: the Pennsylvania and Auburn systems. The Pennsylvania model focused on solitary confinement and reflection, while the Auburn model incorporated congregate labor in silence.

The 19th century witnessed a substantial growth in prison populations, a phenomenon propelled by urbanization and industrialization. The surge in crime rates, coupled with societal changes, led to an increased reliance on imprisonment as a method of punishment. However, this period also brought to light challenges such as overcrowding and inadequate living conditions within burgeoning prison facilities. As correctional systems grappled with these issues, the stage was set for further developments and reforms in the evolving landscape of American corrections.

Reform Movements and Progressive Era

The reform movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries mark a pivotal period in the evolution of correctional systems in the United States, notably influenced by the contrasting Auburn and Pennsylvania models. The Auburn system, emphasizing congregate labor and enforced silence, left an indelible mark on the landscape of prison labor. This model, with its focus on productivity, laid the groundwork for the emergence of modern penitentiaries where labor played a central role in the rehabilitative process.

The Progressive Era, spanning the late 19th to early 20th century, brought about substantial reforms in correctional philosophies. Departing from the punitive measures of previous eras, rehabilitation emerged as a guiding principle. This shift in ideology aimed at addressing the root causes of criminal behavior rather than merely punishing offenders. Educational and vocational programs gained prominence within prisons as tools for reform, reflecting a broader societal belief in the transformative power of education.

A significant development during this era was the rise of parole and probation as alternatives to traditional incarceration. The indeterminate sentence, allowing for flexibility in the duration of imprisonment based on an individual’s progress and behavior, became a cornerstone of Progressive Era reforms. Parole boards were established to assess inmates’ readiness for reintegration into society, fostering a more individualized approach to criminal justice.

The intertwining of these reforms not only reshaped the physical structures of correctional facilities but also redefined the overarching goals of the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation and reintegration took precedence over mere punishment, reflecting a progressive vision that sought to address the complex interplay of social, economic, and psychological factors contributing to criminal behavior. The legacy of these reforms continues to influence contemporary correctional practices, laying the groundwork for ongoing debates about the balance between punishment and rehabilitation in the criminal justice system.

Challenges and Transformations in the 20th Century

The 20th century witnessed a series of challenges and transformations that significantly impacted the landscape of correctional systems in the United States. The Great Depression, a defining economic downturn of the 1930s, had profound implications for corrections as financial constraints led to severe cutbacks in funding. This period saw a decline in rehabilitation efforts, with correctional facilities struggling to meet basic needs, thereby affecting the overall effectiveness of the system.

The introduction of the Medical Model in the mid-20th century marked a paradigm shift in correctional philosophy. This model, emphasizing the diagnosis and treatment of offenders as patients, influenced the design of treatment programs within prisons. The focus shifted from punishment to rehabilitation, with an increased emphasis on addressing underlying psychological and behavioral issues contributing to criminal behavior.

Deinstitutionalization emerged as another transformative force in the 20th century. The movement aimed to reduce the reliance on large, centralized institutions, advocating for community-based treatment and support. However, the unintended consequence of deinstitutionalization was the strain it placed on the prison population. Individuals with mental health issues, lacking adequate community support, often found themselves within the criminal justice system, contributing to the challenge of overcrowded prisons.

The latter half of the century saw the initiation of the War on Drugs, a socio-political campaign that led to a significant increase in incarceration rates. The punitive measures associated with this campaign contributed to the rise of mass incarceration, raising questions about the efficacy of such approaches in addressing the root causes of drug-related offenses.

Criticism of correctional systems intensified, with a particular focus on issues of racial disparity. The disproportionate impact of law enforcement policies on minority communities became a focal point, highlighting systemic inequalities within the criminal justice system. This period also witnessed a heated debate between proponents of rehabilitation and those advocating for a more punitive approach to justice, reflecting ongoing tensions within the field.

The challenges and transformations of the 20th century laid the groundwork for the complexities and controversies surrounding modern correctional systems. The intersection of economic factors, shifting philosophies, and social issues set the stage for a reevaluation of the goals and methods of incarceration, prompting a renewed focus on addressing systemic shortcomings and promoting justice within the criminal justice system.

Contemporary Trends and Innovations

The turn of the 21st century has witnessed a dynamic shift in correctional paradigms, marked by the emergence of contemporary trends and innovative approaches that seek to address the shortcomings of traditional correctional systems. One notable trend is the widespread adoption of evidence-based practices, emphasizing the integration of scientifically validated methods into correctional interventions. This shift reflects a commitment to programs and strategies proven to be effective in reducing recidivism and promoting rehabilitation, thereby aligning with broader efforts to enhance the overall efficacy of the criminal justice system.

Technological advancements have played a pivotal role in reshaping correctional management. From surveillance technologies to electronic monitoring systems, these innovations have enhanced the efficiency and security of correctional facilities. Additionally, advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence are increasingly being leveraged to assess risk factors, tailor rehabilitation programs, and optimize resource allocation within correctional systems.

A significant contemporary focus is placed on reentry programs and community corrections, acknowledging that successful reintegration into society is a key component of effective correctional practices. Programs designed to facilitate a smooth transition from incarceration to community life, including job training, counseling, and support networks, aim to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and contribute to the overall well-being of the individuals involved.

The recognition of alternatives to traditional incarceration has gained momentum, fostering a more nuanced approach to criminal justice. Drug courts, mental health courts, and restorative justice programs exemplify this trend, diverting individuals away from punitive measures and towards rehabilitative interventions tailored to address specific needs. Drug courts, for instance, aim to treat underlying substance abuse issues rather than imposing lengthy sentences, reflecting a paradigm shift towards a more therapeutic approach.

However, the contemporary landscape of correctional systems is not without challenges and debates. Persistent issues such as overcrowding, the impact of mandatory minimum sentences, and questions surrounding the privatization of prisons continue to be subjects of intense discussion. Moreover, the ongoing debate between punitive measures and rehabilitative approaches underscores the complex balancing act that correctional systems must navigate in the pursuit of justice.

As the field of corrections evolves, these contemporary trends and innovations provide a glimpse into a future where evidence-based practices, technological advancements, and a holistic understanding of rehabilitation and reentry form the foundation of a more effective and humane criminal justice system. The ongoing dialogue surrounding these issues reflects the dynamic nature of correctional systems and their continued efforts to adapt to the complex challenges of the modern era.

In retrospect, the journey through the history and evolution of correctional systems in the United States reveals a tapestry woven with key historical developments that have shaped the contemporary landscape of criminal justice. From the early forms of punishment in colonial America to the emergence of the penitentiary system, the influence of the Auburn and Pennsylvania models, and the transformative reforms of the Progressive Era, each epoch reflects a response to societal needs and evolving philosophies.

The 20th century presented its own set of challenges and transformations, from the impact of the Great Depression to the adoption of the Medical Model, deinstitutionalization, and the complexities brought about by the War on Drugs. The criticism of correctional systems and the debates surrounding issues of racial disparity and the dichotomy between rehabilitation and punishment underscored the ongoing struggle to strike a balance between justice, punishment, and societal reintegration.

Contemporary trends and innovations, such as evidence-based practices, technological advancements, and the emphasis on reentry programs and alternatives to incarceration, signify a dynamic shift toward a more nuanced and rehabilitative approach. Yet, amid these positive strides, challenges persist, and debates about the fundamental principles of corrections endure.

The ongoing evolution of correctional systems beckons a reflection on the future of corrections in the United States. As we navigate an era marked by advancements in technology, a renewed emphasis on evidence-based strategies, and a growing recognition of the importance of community reintegration, the future holds the promise of a more responsive and effective criminal justice system. The intersection of historical context, contemporary challenges, and evolving philosophies invites scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to engage in a continued dialogue that seeks not only to understand the past but also to shape a future where corrections serve as a catalyst for rehabilitation, justice, and societal well-being. In this dynamic landscape, the evolution of correctional systems remains an ongoing narrative, inviting further exploration and commitment to the principles that underpin the pursuit of a just and equitable society.

Bibliography

  • Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press.
  • Beck, A. J., & Shipley, B. E. (1989). Recidivism of prisoners released in 1983. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • Clear, T. R. (2007). Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes disadvantaged neighborhoods worse. Oxford University Press.
  • Clear, T. R., & Frost, N. A. (2014). The punishment imperative: The rise and failure of mass incarceration in America. NYU Press.
  • Clear, T. R., Reisig, M. D., & Cole, G. F. (2012). American corrections. Cengage Learning.
  • Feeley, M. M., & Simon, J. (1994). The new penology: Notes on the emerging strategy of corrections and its implications. Criminology, 30(4), 449-474.
  • Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Vintage Books.
  • Garland, D. (1990). Punishment and modern society: A study in social theory. University of Chicago Press.
  • Irwin, J., & Austin, J. (1997). It’s about time: America’s imprisonment binge. Wadsworth Publishing Company.
  • Latessa, E. J., & Smith, P. (2011). Corrections in the community. Routledge.
  • Lerman, A. E., & Weaver, V. M. (2014). Arresting citizenship: The democratic consequences of American crime control. University of Chicago Press.
  • Mauer, M., & Chesney-Lind, M. (2002). Invisible punishment: The collateral consequences of mass imprisonment. The New Press.
  • Rothman, D. J. (1971). The discovery of the asylum: Social order and disorder in the new republic. Little, Brown.
  • Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear. Oxford University Press.
  • Spelman, W. (1995). Criminal incapacitation. Springer.
  • Thompson, C., & Bynum, T. S. (2011). Historical dictionary of the American criminal justice system. Scarecrow Press.
  • Vito, G. F., & Holmes, R. M. (2010). Corrections: A critical approach. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Walker, S., & Katz, C. M. (2011). The police in America: An introduction. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Zimring, F. E. (2003). The contradictions of American capital punishment. Oxford University Press.

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Corrections and Criminal Justice

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Corrections is an umbrella terms describing a variety of functions typically carried out by government agencies, and involving the punishment, treatment, and supervision of persons who have been convicted of crimes. These functions commonly include imprisonment, parole, and probation. A typical correctional institution is a prison. A correctional system, also known as a penal system, thus refers to a network of agencies that administer a jurisdiction's prisons, and community-based programs like parole, and probation boards.

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  • Front Matter
  • Chapter 1: Crime, Criminal Justice, and Criminology
  • Chapter 2: Defining and Measuring Crime and Criminal Justice
  • Chapter 3: Criminal Law
  • Chapter 4: Criminal Justice Policy
  • Chapter 5: Criminological Theory
  • Chapter 6: Policing
  • Chapter 7: Courts
  • Chapter 8: Corrections
  • Chapter 9: Community Corrections
  • Chapter 10: Juvenile Justice
  • Back Matter

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  • 1: Concepts of Corrections as a Sub-system of the Criminal Justice System
  • 2: Judicial Process and Sentencing Practices for Misdemeanants, Felons and Juveniles
  • 3: Correctional Clients
  • 4: Alternatives to Incarceration
  • 5: Types of Correctional Facilities
  • 6: Institutionalization of Inmates in Correctional Facilities
  • 7: Innovative Programs in Correctional Facilities
  • 8: Juvenile Corrections
  • 9: Special Populations in a Correctional Setting
  • 10: Correction as a Career Field

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  • 1: The Criminal Justice System and the Community
  • 2: Improving Human Relations and Understanding Non-verbal Communication
  • 3: The Evolving Nature of Multiculturalism and Community Engagement
  • 4: Multicultural Populations
  • 5: Understanding the Dynamics of a Community
  • 6: Policing and Policed Community
  • 7: Court and the Community
  • 8: Managing Culturally Diverse and Specific Populations in Correctional Settings
  • 9: Multicultural Treatment Considerations in Corrections
  • 10: Strategies for Facilitating Conflict Resolution in a Multicultural Society

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  • 1: Briefing Cases
  • 2: The 4th Amendment
  • 3: Consensual Encounters – Investigative Contacts
  • 4: Detentions Based on Reasonable Suspicion
  • 5: Arrests Based on Probable Cause
  • 6: Search and Siezure of Things
  • 7: The Exclusionary Rule
  • 8: The Plain View Doctrine
  • 9: Abondonment, Open Fields, and Border Searches
  • 10: Vehicle Searches
  • 11: Probation and Parole Searches
  • 12: Exigency and Community Caretaking
  • 13: The Warrant Process
  • 14: Police Use of Force
  • 15: 5th Amendment Protections
  • 16: Suspect Identification
  • 17: Jailhouse Undercover Operations
  • 18: Constitutional Rights of the Accused
  • 19: Sentencing
  • 20: Victims Rights

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  • 1: Foundations in Criminal Court
  • 2: Criminal Process Overview
  • 3: Sources and limitations of criminal law
  • 4: Criminal Investigation
  • 5: Search Warrants
  • 6: Defining Search warrants and the exclusionary rule
  • 7: The Arrest
  • 8: Interrogation, Self-Incrimination and Confessions
  • 9: Identifying Information
  • 10: Criminal Court Players
  • 11: Official Misconduct and the Exclusionary
  • 12: Pretrial Court Process and Plea Agreements.
  • 13: Trial and Conviction
  • 14: Sentencing, Appeals and Habeus Corpus

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  • 1: Chapters

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  • 1: Ethical Behaviour
  • 2: Ethical Systems
  • 3: Ethical Dilemmas and the Process of Effective Resolution
  • 4: Key Ethical Issues within Law Enforcement
  • 5: Accountability and Investigation
  • 6: Policing
  • 7: Discretion, Supervision, and Leadership
  • 8: The Culture of Law Enforcement

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Correctional Officer Safety and Wellness — What We Learned from the Research Literature

Correctional officers play a pivotal role within the prison system. Yet, working as a correctional officer brings with it stressful and dangerous conditions that are unique to this line of work. Research has shown that correctional officers experience high stress levels, burnout, and a variety of other mental health-related consequences as a result of their jobs.

Together, the negative physical and mental health outcomes for correctional officers can have harmful effects on the wider prison institution. Staffing shortages and officers missing work create a dangerous cycle where low officer-to-incarcerated person ratios and high turnover in staffing threaten a correctional facility’s ability to implement appropriate security mandates.

The dangers that correctional officers face are explored in an NIJ-supported paper that analyzes existing research. In drafting this paper, the authors identified risks officers confront in their work environment, assessed the officers’ perspectives regarding workplace risk, noted key limitations in literature related to this topic, and recommended policies designed to enhance officer well-being.

As documented by the research on institution-related dangers, officers in today’s correctional environments are being asked to accomplish more with fewer resources, which elevates their mental health risks. For prison facilities to operate efficiently, it’s important that they be staffed with officers who are physically and mentally sound and able to respond to the numerous challenges that this line of work presents.

The authors identified three broad categories of dangers correctional officers confront: work-related, institution-related, and psycho-social dangers. These categories cover everything from gangs and contraband, to demanding work obligations, to work and family conflicts.

Each category is associated with a number of negative outcomes for correctional officers and corrections agencies, including negative health effects such as higher stress levels and injuries. Diminished work performance, burnout, and absenteeism among officers, for example, can lead to higher incarcerated person-to-officer ratios and reduced security levels within entire penitentiaries.

This research also shows that correctional officers are aware of the dangers they face. Even low-level security and juvenile detention facility officers expressed some degree of concern about their general safety and wellness. Across a range of facilities, officers reported that they think they were (or are) at higher risk for injury and other negative outcomes as a result of their jobs. These perceptions could also contribute to consequences such as stress, burnout, and turnover.

Finally, researchers found that various policies and programs have been introduced across prison facilities with the specific purpose of enhancing officer well-being. However, few of these programs have been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation, thus limiting the understanding of their effectiveness.

According to the authors, in general, the health and safety concerns of correctional officers have been largely neglected by correctional researchers, administrative officials, and prison systems. This is a crucial area of focus given the important role that officers play in maintaining order in correctional facilities.

The authors state that improvement of correctional officer health starts by changing the mindset of administrative officials and other stakeholders in the corrections field. Administrative officials are encouraged to consider policy interventions designed to minimize the injury risk connected to dangers such as contraband, incarcerated persons with mental illness, and gangs.

Policies that could be implemented (if a facility has not already done so) include:

  • Heightened intake procedures to identify problematic incarcerated persons.
  • Improved communication channels between correctional line staff so they can discuss potentially threatening persons convicted of a crime and what can be done to handle them.
  • Separation of gang members to limit their ability to correspond with one another.
  • Ensuring that officers always have backup support when dealing with troublesome persons who have been convicted of a crime.
  • Instruction and training for officers on mediation tactics that de-escalate volatile situations.
  • Provision of additional therapeutic services for persons convicted of a crime who have mental disorders.

The implementation of such policies, targeted at decreasing and addressing dangers in correctional environments, could have the dual benefits of enhancing officer wellness and establishing wider institutional order.

About This Article

This article is based on the paper Correctional Officer Safety and Wellness Literature Synthesis (pdf, 36 pages) by Frank Valentino Ferdik, University of West Florida, and Hayden P. Smith, University of South Carolina.

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Exploring Institutional Corrections: A Critical Overview

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Concept of the Institutional Corrections, Its Importance, and Examples

Introduction, the institutional correction facilities and technology, depiction of correction professionals in media, mental state and health of correction officers.

Institutional corrections and their efficiency is the topic that extremely interests me. Nowadays, the institutional corrections are enhanced by various technologies that improve the metal detection capability, management of the Internet access among the inmates, and various devices that help officers ensure that no illegal action will take place (e.g. X-Rays to identify any contraband, cameras that capture movement in the zones where no movement is allowed, etc.). At the same time, such use of sensitive technology leads to the technology dependence in jails and prisons, which can significantly complicate the work of officers.

If the institutional correction facilities are so dependent on technology, is there any way to prevent any crimes or illegal actions that might be committed when there is a malfunction in the technological devices used in jails? I believe that the technology in institutional correction facilities is necessary but, at the same time, the reliance of officers on it can lead to various consequences, including escapes or wrong judgment.

At the same time, the potential of technologies in such facilities is incredible because it allows predicting trouble spots in jails and monitoring any suicide attempts that the inmates might consider or plan. The prediction of trouble spots can help officers evaluate the overall safety of the facility and address the specifics of such places, which will help them understand what exactly is the cause of the rising violence. At the same time, the suicide-watch warning system is cost-effective because it does not require additional training (as officers do) and does not interfere with officers’ duties. I believe that the value of life is often diminished in institutional correction facilities, but such a system has the potential to prevent tragic outcomes of imprisonment that still happen sometimes.

Another issue I would like to address is the depiction of correction professionals in media. One of my relatives (a former correction officer) pointed out that correction professionals are often depicted as mean or evil (or antagonists even) in TV series and films (see “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile”, TV series “Daredevil”, “Luke Cage”, for example). Despite the difficulties and dangers correction officers have to face every day, their work often remains unpraised or overlooked. Sometimes, such work is perceived as simple or unimportant, but the correctly performed duties of correction officers secure the citizens’ safety and ensure that law institutions work accurately and precisely.

I also believe that the mental state and health of correction officers often remains unaddressed or even tabooed because of the specifics of this profession. Nevertheless, the dangers and the difficulties these professionals have to endure need to be addressed more often, both in media and by citizens. The recognition of correction professionals would show them that their work is valued and appreciated and that they are not perceived in the way series and films like to present them.

The image of correction officers as brutal, dumb, revengeful, and corrupt individuals harms not only the society that loses trust in those people but also the officers themselves who feel underappreciated or even hated for their duties. Such portrayals lead viewers to assumptions that correction officers love to abuse their power and engage in destructive behavior as often as possible. The correction officers remain to be the outsiders among the workers who ensure citizens’ safety and well-being. The officers need to be reminded that the society cannot function properly without their engagement.

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