Archive for the ‘Corrections’ Category

Rehabilitation and Corrections…

January 15th, 2011 3 comments

Middle management sent out an email recently addressing the concept of rehabilitation with respect to Correctional Officers. One of the ideas equated Oregon’s framework of accountability (within the Oregon Accountability Model) with the concept of rehabilitation. This was in reference to an article by Chris Jones recently published at CorrectionsOne. The article’s title, An officer’s responsibility to rehabilitation, opens a can of worms with well meaning intention. While there is much I’d like to address in this article, I want to keep this post to a reasonable length, so I’ll restrict most of my comments to the first few paragraphs:

I hear this statement from fellow officers all the time: “Rehabilitation doesn’t work.” Those who say it, all of whom are intelligent corrections professionals, cite numerous reasons. Some point to the astronomical recidivism rate. Some say that offenders are wholly uninterested in change. They wonder why we should waste precious time and resources attempting to change a group of individuals who have no interest at all in changing. Who are we, many ask, to question this accepted wisdom?

We are corrections professionals with minds of our own, and the ability to see past the single-minded ideas presented by those — some even within our own ranks — who think that punishment and security are the only things with which correctional officers need to concern themselves.

I’ve also heard time and again, “I’m not a guard. I’m an officer.” I couldn’t agree with more that sentiment. We are not guards, we are correctional officers. We work in security, but we are not security officers. We are not punishment officers. We are correctional officers. Because of that, the things we do — or should be doing — every shift contribute to our departmental and institutional mission of rehabilitation. After all, what is rehabilitation other than correcting attitudes and behaviors?

Even within these first few paragraphs there is much to discuss concerning diction, or the precision with which words are chosen to convey meaning. Moreover, Jones immediately calls into question what he perceives as received wisdom, i.e., “rehabilitation doesn’t work,” and justifies challenging that “wisdom” with the idea that we are “corrections professionals with minds of our own….”

If you have the time, read the whole article, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll be focusing on the words rehabilitation, corrections, and accountability. I realize that what I’m about to say may seem obvious, but typically, when we challenge the meaning of words by challenging the way in which they are used the common defense is – “I’m not going to argue semantics with you.” Now then, I’m going to define four words.

First, semantics is the study of meaning. Saying, “I’m not going to argue semantics with you” when the challenge is about meaning is nothing more than a cowardly retreat or copout. Semantics focuses on the denotation of a word without forgetting its possible connotations. Let’s be honest, meaning is important to effective communications.

Second, rehabilitation isn’t nearly as easy to define! Unless of course, we do without the connotations and focus on denotations, then rehabilitation means the action of restoring something to a former state or capacity. When we go into rehabilitation for alcoholism, we hope to be restored to a sober state. The very word rehabilitate assumes the existence of a prior and preferred state of being. For many inmates there really isn’t a prior and preferred state of being. Still, the idea of rehabilitation carries the seeds of our modern notions of restorative justice, i.e., restoring the offender to an amicable relationship with his community.

Third, being accountable means being subject to giving an account, being answerable for, being responsible for ones actions. Think in terms of money, accounts payable. Holding a party accountable for damages should give us a good idea of what accountability means.

Finally, the word corrections is probably a word that should not have been used for a penal institution unless some very radical changes were orchestrated. Think of this in terms of correcting a math paper, and then corrections are the act of altering or adjusting the problem to some standard or required state. In terms of our penal system, according to Webster’s, it is the act of punishing or disciplining with a view to reforming or improving one’s behavior.

While the last three words are used in the corrections field (our old penal system), they are not synonymous and we do a disservice to our chosen profession when we are not clear about the terms we use to communicate to each other and the public. On Oregon’s Department of Corrections website, there is a page devoted to the mission, vision, and core values of the department – no mention of the word rehabilitate. Look up the Oregon Accountability Model (OAM); you’ll be hard pressed to find the word rehabilitate or rehabilitation. Accountability and restoring the inmate to the community (re-entry) figure large in the OAM, but not rehab. I think this is a good thing, because it isn’t just “old time guards” that doubt the claims of rehabilitation programs; the public tends to share those doubts. Accountability, restoration, and reformation are good words to use within the framework of correctional professionals.

Feel free to tear me up here – after all, I did give short shrift to Jones’ article to keep this one manageable. My primary focus was to correct the notion that you can equate the concepts of rehabilitation and accountability, and that no, rehabilitation really isn’t simply correcting attitudes and behaviors.


Courage, Ebony, and Ivory

July 26th, 2010 8 comments

The courage to get it right?

Last year, during black history month, Eric Holder, our first black AG, called us “a nation of cowards” when it comes to discussing race. That was the single phrase seized on by many in the media, on both the right and the left, and it was the phrase used to praise or denigrate Holder’s speech and the current state of racial affairs in the United States. The speech itself was lengthy and only somewhat nuanced, but there was a lot more there than most people were willing to discuss – black or white… or any other color for that matter. Let me use a part of the same sentence where the offending phrase was found: I believe that “in too many ways,” Eric Holder was right. Whether you agree with him or not, I’d urge you to listen to the entire speech in context, or of course, read the text of the speech – much faster results.

Part of his point is that while Americans have moved to the point of working, lunching, and attending functions together, on weekends, we pretty much self segregate… and that isn’t good in his view. I am more sanguine about our progress than Holder, but I do believe he is right about our general unwillingness to discuss racial matters in an open and honest manner. Lots of reasons for that little problem, but I’d like to open up this can of worms… because “in too many ways,” not many people are willing to expose themselves to the consequences Holder so blithely suggests we all should risk.

I had several people at work try to dissuade me from heading in this direction (I often bounce some of my more controversial ideas off of several folks I know), but I thought, “Hey, screw it. This blog has had me on the carpet more than once.” And, as some of you know, I have often argued that courage is a thing to value.

Rather than throw a rant on why I think the AG is full of it, I’ll just throw out a few facts, a few statistical certainties, and wait for the charges to fly. Keep in mind here, that I am NOT offering explanations at this point, nor am I making any allegations or interpretations of the facts I’ll be laying out. I’d really like to hear what you have to say – providing you can keep the conversation civil, accurate to the best of your ability (in other words, be prepared to back it up), and really aimed at affording all of us the opportunity to get a better grasp of the realities involved.

In addition to the Bureau of Justice Statistics site, you can also find some of this information at Heather Mac Donald’s Weekly Standard article, Excusing the Oakland Rioters: Looting is not a form of civil rights protest, and the city of New York’s crime statistics.

  • Blacks commit nearly 6,000 murders annually (most of whom are black), and whites & Hispanics commit a little more than 5,300 murders a year (most of whom are white or Hispanic). Whites & Hispanics comprise about 81% of the population, while blacks comprise about 13% of the population. Since the US has just over 300,000,000 people, the math is pretty straight forward. Blacks murder almost 154 people per 100,000 of their own population. Whites & Hispanics murder almost 2.2 people per 100,000. The murder rate for blacks is 70 times higher than the murder rate for whites and Hispanics.
  • The 73rd precinct in New York is mostly black, and “the per capita rate of shootings there is 81 times higher than in the mostly white 68th precinct…”
  • The police stop rate of vehicles in the 73rd precinct is 15 times higher than in the 68th precinct.
  • In New York City, blacks “commit 80 percent of all shootings, whites 1.4 percent, though blacks are 23 percent of the population, and whites 35 percent.”
  • At the beginning of 2009, there were nearly 1800 whites on death row and there were just over 1300 blacks on death row (both the white and black numbers include some Hispanics).
  • During 2008, there were 20 white and 17 black people executed.

As I said earlier, at this point I’m not trying to explain these numbers, nor will I offer any interpretations of the meaning in these numbers. I’ve got questions about these and other numbers. Why are these kinds of numbers rarely if ever mentioned when discussing race in America? Especially on the “big three” news stations, PBS, NPR, CNN when their prolific little series on race air on national television? For the elites that are concerned with the brutality of the police and their unnecessary taking of black lives, why are they not equally concerned with the unnecessary taking of black lives in the inner city? Why don’t these victims get the same care and concern from our nation’s elite, the media, and the professoriate? Especially when they are so obviously more numerous?? Why doesn’t the unnecessary taking of white lives by the police rate the same air time and outrage?

Finally, in closing this post, remember, please keep the comments and email civil, and as important, let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt about our honesty and earnestness in seeking out the truth. I’ll be using the replies to guide some of my follow up posts – posts aimed more at our nation’s intellectuals than at everyday Americans.

Cheers – all of you!

Friends… And the Cause of Crime? (Part 2)

January 11th, 2010 6 comments

Does poverty cause crime?

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, and she recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal that garnered quite a range of responses. Tom, over at Responsibility, was kind enough to send me a link. I think Mac Donald’s title pretty much covers the premise of her article: A Crime Theory Demolished: If poverty is the root cause of lawlessness, why did crime rates fall when joblessness increased? (WSJ, 20100104). This actually raises the specter of crime theories – there are a number of them. They are worth mentioning simply because the “root causes” notion of poverty is so well embedded in popular belief (even amongst law enforcement practitioners) that other theories are simply not a part of the conversation.

Perhaps the only theory (apart from “I’m poor, that’s why I…”) that is also a part of the vernacular is the so-called Classical Theory. I say “so-called” because criminal justice text-book authors have chosen that label. Essentially, this theory boils down to free-will, a choice. Though much is made of the “age” of this theory, there are plenty of modern day advocates (e.g. Stafford & Warr, Patternoster, Cornish & Clarke, and a few others) who have provided a new label: Rational Choice or Deterrence Theories. This newer version emphasizes the notion of a “costs v. benefits” analysis, but it still is heavy on the free-will concept. Those are just two theories that are a part of popular dialogue; however, there are a host of others that are not a part of our community conversation:

  1. Positivist – crime is caused or determined by biological, psychological, sociological factors. Claims to use science to determine the factors associated with crime.
  2. Trait Theory – this theory believes that criminals differ from non-criminals on a number of biological and psychological traits, and in conjunction with the environment… well, cause crime.
  3. Anomie / Social Disorganization Theory – as communities break down, informal social controls fail to control crime and criminal cultures emerge.
  4. Differential Association, General Strain, Strain, Control, Control/Balance, Feminist, Postmodernist, Chaos Theory…. You get the idea – lots. Most have some basis for deserving a portion of the “market share” he he he.

I’m a fan of eclecticism, because sometimes, one explanation just isn’t enough. Of course, people from both the right and the left say moderates are simply unable to get the fence post… So, let me remove the fence post from my posterior and say I think Mac Donald is right. As theories of crime go, I believe the notion that “the root cause of crime lies in the income inequality and social injustice” (WSJ, 20100104) has been thoroughly discredited. This is especially true if we remember the difference between causation and correlation. As comments and emails have made plain in response to the last post on this subject, while many readers doubt poverty is the “cause” of crime, they do believe it plays a part in the scheme of things criminal.

Thanks largely to Johnson’s “Great Society” brain trust, this particular brand of “root cause” theory was widely accepted and turned into public policy. These ideas did enough damage that some strange conclusions were drawn, as Mac Donald points out:

If crime was a rational response to income inequality, the thinking went, government can best fight it through social services and wealth redistribution, not through arrests and incarceration. Even law enforcement officials came to embrace the root causes theory, which let them off the hook for rising lawlessness. Through the late 1980s, the FBI’s annual national crime report included the disclaimer that “criminal homicide is largely a societal problem which is beyond the control of the police.” Policing, it was understood, can only respond to crime after the fact; preventing it is the domain of government welfare programs (WSJ, 20100104). (Added emphasis is emphatically mine.)

Despite what many on the left continue to claim, data-driven policing continues to be effective in combating crime. Mac Donald’s article is worth the read for that alone, because she amply demonstrates the effectiveness of the “Compstat” mentality and makes it plain that:

mentality is the opposite of root causes excuse-making; it holds that policing can and must control crime for the sake of urban economic viability. More and more police chiefs have adopted the Compstat philosophy of crime-fighting and the information-based policing techniques that it spawned. Their success in lowering crime shows that the government can control antisocial behavior and provide public safety through enforcing the rule of law. Moreover, the state has the moral right and obligation to do so, regardless of economic conditions or income inequality (WSJ, 20100104).

She follows this up with a warning, and it is prudent – crime rates could still be affected by public safety funding cuts driven by the recession.

With all that being said, I think it’s worth noting that Mac Donald still runs a little loose with her observations. Even if national crime statistics are better than ever, it is also true that there is a substantial positive correlation between poverty stricken areas and crime rates. The bottom line here is that crime tends to be heavier in low income areas than in more upscale neighborhoods. Using a national statistic to “demolish” a local phenomenon isn’t quite true to the use of those statistics – and Mac Donald should know better than to be that misleading.

I suppose the final critique here is that unemployment, the basis for Mac Donald’s tag line in the title, is NOT poverty. Consider the number of households with more than one income, the number of unemployment claims being filed, and the few who are sustaining themselves on odd jobs and savings – with those considerations in mind, equating unemployment with poverty at this point approaches being disingenuous.

Just in case you weren’t sure, I do believe crime is a choice. Having grown up in what passes for poverty here in the United States, I don’t believe it causes crime… though it does limit one’s choices. On the other hand, perhaps my grandmother was right (being a voracious reader, I’m sure she was quoting someone): “We’re not poor, we’re broke. Huge difference. Being broke we can change, being poor is a state of mind.”

P.S.     Tune in next time when we show how engineering students living in Europe, waiting on their next check from home, were somehow living in squalor and utter wretchedness, and decide to fly a few planes into some buildings because they were… poor?

Cheers all!

Finally! Felony Disenfranchisement

December 10th, 2009 8 comments

jail1A tremendous body of advocacy writing concerning felony disenfranchisement spends its time comparing us to European countries and waxing long on our failure to be like them… Screw that, let’s be like us, and if we want to change the way we do business let’s keep it internally consistent! Let’s do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because somebody else is doing it. Sheesh!!

That’s the second to last paragraph of last week’s post. Just a reminder of where I’d prefer decisions about our political and legal life to be, rooted in our country’s history – socially, politically, and especially legally. I don’t really think I trust any lawyers when it comes to arguments; they strike me as waaaay too much like the sophists. It really isn’t about finding the truth of the matter; it’s all about winning the argument… even if the winning argument ignores evidence that might be deemed “exculpatory.” If the opposition fails to find the exculpatory evidence, then really, “it simply isn’t my concern.” Don’t get me wrong here; I’m certain there are honest lawyers out there somewhere – just like there are honest politicians. Simon Cameron said it best, “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.”

Unfortunately, most of the advocacy writing on this subject (felony disenfranchisement), and the associated “research,” is done by lawyers or think tanks aimed at a specific agenda. Apart from many lawyers associations, especially the American Trial Lawyers Association (an exclusive group of “the best” 100 lawyers from each state that caters only to the defense side of a trial) and the ACLU, there are also other groups like The Sentencing Project that one might think are more balanced. Again, unfortunately, the aim of The Sentencing Project is focused sharply on defense attorneys. Moreover, the lion’s share of the material tries to invoke international law, U.N. Treaties, or the practices of other nations. When it is not trying to do that, the authors use descriptive statistical information precisely as one might expect of a lawyer rather than a statistician or scientist. In other words, one finds lawyers repeatedly trying to use descriptive statistics to prove discriminatory practices. This tool describes a population, it doesn’t prove or explain anything – other than the description.

Before I actually give my position, I’d like to lay out just one more example of the kinds of arguments and commentary coming from this rather one sided group of defense attorneys – primarily because it’s just a little funny. It’s worth a direct quote from the Alabama Law Review, Vol. 58:

Though felony disenfranchisement has been present in this country since its inception, the outrage over this process has gained serious momentum in recent years. The reason for this new found interest in felony disenfranchisement laws can be traced to the 2000 presidential election.1 This presidential election was the closest in the history of the United States2 and resulted in President George W. Bush winning the election while losing the popular vote.3 In fact, the election was so close that the result hinged on one state: Florida.4 The Republican nominee, George W. Bush, won the state of Florida by accumulating fewer than 1,000 more votes than the Democratic nominee Al Gore.5 In such a closely contested election, some commentators believe that if felons were allowed to vote, Al Gore would have become the forty-third President of the United States.6 (emphasis mine)

Come on, seriously, if criminals could register to vote, then they’d certainly register as democrats… That’s directly from the opening paragraph. What happened to the proof reader? You might expect me to make mistakes like that; I don’t have an editorial staff to make sure I don’t walk away with my foot in my mouth. But you don’t really expect that from an established journal. Regardless, the article is one of the few I really enjoyed because it focused on American Law, why it probably would not be practical to challenge disenfranchisement laws through the courts, and finally, why concerned citizens must move their legislators to change the laws.

I happen to agree that these laws need to be changed, but not for the reasons typically offered by lawyers concerning things outside the internal consistency of our own laws and intentions. Leave it to a Canadian, specifically members of their Supreme Court, to avoid an argument based on international law and to focus on the internal consistency of the thing itself! From a paper by The Sentencing Project on page 29:

The court concluded that the policy [of disenfranchisement] did not communicate a clear lesson to the nation’s citizens about respect for the rule of law. The court stated: “Denying a citizen the right to vote denies the basis of democratic legitimacy. It says that delegates elected by the citizens can then bar those very citizens, or a portion of them, from participating in future elections. But if we accept that governmental power in a democracy flows from the citizens, it is difficult to see how that power can legitimately be used to disenfranchise the very citizens from whom the government’s power flows.”

That’s an argument that should resonate with many Americans familiar with the American State Papers, i.e., our Constitution, Declaration, Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers. Here in Oregon, felons are disenfranchised during their incarceration and are automatically enfranchised upon release. If there is to be any disenfranchisement at all, then surely after the debt is paid the most important right of a citizen should be restored – especially if we are serious about wanting this member of our society to exercise the duties and responsibilities of a citizen.

countyjailI’m not so bold as to say all felons are democrats… because I know a few Independents that are ex-cons. Ha, you thought I was going to say republicans – all republicans are felons. Hahahaha. Seriously though, what do you think? Considering we have over 5,000,000 people unable to vote, doesn’t that have a pretty large impact on our notions of democracy – let alone the functioning of our democracy? What do you think?

Cheers all! And as me Da says: “Polite? Yes. Politically correct? Don’t hold your breath.”

Cell Phones, Prisons, and Plans…

July 17th, 2009 No comments

Here’s another interesting tidbit! Hat tip to my friend John for emailing the link 😉 That prisons have a problem with cell phones ought not to be a surprise to people working in corrections – it might be a surprise to those who don’t work in the system. An article by William Saletan at Slate not only highlights some of the obvious problems (including drug dealers inside setting up deals and murders outside), but also highlights some of the possible technological solutions *GASP* an industry policing itself?? CTIA (wireless carriers’ association) convened to help solve the problem… Nope, guess I’m kind of in Saletan’s camp:

Good for you, CTIA. But I don’t believe for a minute that you’d be working hard on these alternatives if you weren’t facing the threat of federally authorized jamming. And this is one reason why I’m not a pure libertarian. Can technology help the good guys stay ahead in the cell-phone arms race? Yes. Is industry better than government at coming up with creative, pinpoint solutions? Yes. Will industry do this without the threat of clumsy, burdensome government intervention? No.

So thank you, senators, for applying the heat. And don’t forget the same lesson as you’re legislating health care reform. Government-run alternatives don’t always have to outperform private industry. They just have to scare it.

The article is short and hits the mark – a great read! Thanks John.

Cheers all!

Another Quickie!

July 15th, 2009 No comments

Drop by Blue Oregon for a look at someone coming to their senses about mandatory minimum sentencing. Ignore the lazy characterizations of opposition parties and focus on a good look at a “law-and-order” type realizing that the mandatory minimums are much too expensive… perhaps Oregon voters jumped before looking. Skim through the comments – I made mine, but it was directed more at some of the rhetoric about the criminal justice system. It’s worth a look!

Are Prisons Morally Desirable?

July 14th, 2009 No comments

I’m off on a short excursion this week, though hopefully it’s pretty easy to see how this fits with the overall direction of the last few posts. I’ve just read and am now studying a book by John J. DiIulio, Jr. entitled Governing Prisons: a comparative study of correctional management. He makes a fine point at the end of his book concerning future research. I can’t say it any better than he states it, so here’s the deal:

Future prisons research must address two basic sets of issues, one empirical, the other philosophical. The empirical issues concern the governability of prisons and the conditions under which prisons can be improved. At this stage, the need is for comparative evaluations of prison practices that have already been tried. The present study may serve as something of a model for such works, but only in the way that the Ford Model-T served as a model for the Ford Mustang. The philosophical issues concern the legitimacy of imprisonment as a form of punishment. Even if we knew how to improve prisons, this would not in and of itself justify their existence. At present, the bulk of contemporary writing suggests that imprisonment is a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It remains to be seen whether a compelling case can be made that – given the possibility of prisons where levels of order, amenity, and service are indisputably high – imprisonment is a morally desirable form of punishment.

Now, I’m a big fan of empirical research that can actually be used for the purposes of developing policy. Making policy decisions based on an old fashioned crunching of the numbers and finding valid statistical significance in well formed research projects seems more appropriate than making observations and policy decisions based on untested theoretical systems. That’s just me, but what really caught me was DiIulio’s starkly honest statements concerning the moral desirability of prisons in the first place. After spending an entire book poking holes in the sociological model/perspective concerning prisons and showing that a political science perspective answers more questions and predicts more results than does the sociological perspective, he questions the validity of having the prisons in the first place.

It’s an excellent book. Even though some sociologists believe he was hitting below the belt, they also acknowledge that his book is one of the top three books written on prisons over the past 50-60 years! Unfortunately, I believe you must have a subscription to the Prison Journal to access the article The Champion, Contender, and Challenger: Top-Ranked Books in Prison Studies, so here is a quick quotation concerning DiIulio’s work:

After all, he is (rightly or wrongly) highly critical of prison sociology’s ability to provide useful policy-oriented knowledge to corrections practitioners. DiIulio tells his readers, in fact, that officials responsible for prison policy have been the “slaves of some defunct sociologist” (p. 14).There is no doubt that DiIulio’s “in-your face” approach to shifting focus away from the inmate social system and toward prison administration has angered more than one prison sociologist, and rightly so. To some, then, DiIulio’s comparative analysis of prison management may not constitute a “knockout punch” to traditional prison sociology but rather a “punch below the belt.”

I also purchased the other two books, and they are also worth the read. But the real reason for the post: Is anybody willing to take on the notion that prisons may not be morally desirable? And the corollary, if they are not morally desirable, then what is/are suitable alternative(s)? Maybe even justifying the prison system in America would be worth a look…

Cheers all.

“C-Cubed” and Being Accountable for Recidivism

July 7th, 2009 6 comments

This week I’m heading back to “Why have prisons?” This isn’t a rhetorical question, but judging by some of the emails, some respondents either believed I meant it as a rhetorical question or just took it as an opportunity to rant about my being a part of the “rightwing noise machine.” On the other hand, there were a few emails that not only took a shot at answering the question, but also ventured commentary on our criminal justice system from start to finish.

While I was in the military, “C2” or “C Squared,” was a shorthand term used for “Command and Control.” In the criminal justice system we might try “C3” or “C Cubed” as a shorthand term for “Cops, Courts, and Corrections.” One of my oldest friends here in the valley, I’ll call him Mr. Grim, shares a view commonly believed to be widespread in the rightwing ranks. It’s best to quote him directly:

…my personal belief remains to the extent that I think that prisons and the incarceration of law-breakers in said prisons should serve three out of the four reasons you listed as options.  Retribution (punishment), deterrence and incapacitation should all be equally valid answers to the “Why have prisons?” question.  Rehabilitation is a bonus if it does happen.  Hopefully at least some of those guilty of committing crime(s) and are convicted “learn their lesson” so to speak and are effectively “rehabilitated” after serving out the punishment for their crime(s).  But we both know that doesn’t happen as often as it should and thus the point that rehabilitation is a bonus. ~Mr. Grim

Part of my reason for posing the question was simple curiosity. The reason for the curiosity is my primary reason for posing the question. My curiosity was aroused by an interesting and important piece of research published by Richard Tewksbury of the University of Louisville, and Elizabeth Ehrhardt Mustaine of the University of Central Florida entitled Correctional Orientations of Prison Staff. Tewksbury and Mustaine split deterrence into two parts: specific deterrence (meaning “to punish each prisoner and discourage him or her from committing crime”) and general deterrence (meaning “to punish prisoners as an example and discourage other people from committing crime”).[1]

The reference link below is to the abstract which I’ll quote in full here, but I believe you must subscribe to the journal in order to access the full research article:

Beliefs about the purpose and goals of incarceration are important determinants of how policy makers and practitioners perceive correctional operations. Drawing on survey data from 554 corrections staff persons in Kentucky, this research explores perceptions of important and primary goals for incarceration and factors influencing the endorsement of 5 correctional ideologies (rehabilitation, retribution, incapacitation, specific deterrence, and general deterrence). Results show that all five ideologies are perceived as somewhat important, with rehabilitation receiving the strongest support. Demographic influences include female staff being more supportive of rehabilitation, administrators and program staff being most supportive of rehabilitation, and security staff providing the strongest support for retribution. [1]

The Closer, a TV show I’ve watched on occasion, had a great line that I’ll quote as closely as I can recall: “If you’re a carpenter, everything looks like a nail.” Clearly, if you work toward rehabilitation your orientation is likely to be supportive of rehabilitation. After reading the entire research article, the abstract is somewhat misleading concerning the stated results. These views, as stated in the title of the research, are all by corrections workers, including the administrative, program, industries, services and security staff. I’d like to find some research that investigates the orientation of you, the general public. As indicated in my post “Why have prisons?” and the research above, “Beliefs about the purpose and goals of incarceration are important determinants of how policy makers and practitioners perceive correctional operations.”[1]

This brings me to the next question: “Should correctional facilities, prisons, penitentiaries, etc., be held accountable for recidivism rates?” Clearly, if you believe the purpose of a prison is for retribution, then holding a facility accountable for recidivism is not sensible. However, if you believe the purpose of prison is rehabilitation, then it is clear that correctional facilities should actually “correct behavior” and reduce recidivism – meaning of course that the system should be held accountable.

This brings me to the Oregon Accountability Model (OAM) and the Mission of the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). The OAM states:

The Oregon Accountability Model encompasses the simultaneous, coordinated and efficient implementation of many Department of Corrections initiatives and projects that provide a foundation for inmates to lead successful lives upon release. ~OAM

This logically leads to the ODOC Mission Statement:

The mission of the Oregon Department of Corrections is to promote public safety by holding offenders accountable for their actions and reducing the risk of future criminal behavior. ~ODOC – Mission, Vision, and Core Values

Oregon, in terms of its Department of Corrections (which of course represents you, the governed), clearly believes that reducing recidivism is of primary importance for its mission. This is in step with the PEW Center on the States’ Executive Summary entitled Ten Steps Corrections Directors Can Take to Strengthen Performance. So finally, the question once again:

“Should correctional facilities, prisons, penitentiaries, etc., be held accountable for recidivism rates?” Whether your answer is “yes” or “no,” please provide at least a brief account of why you believe the answer is yes or no. Please feel free to answer in the comments or email, and if by email, let me know if it’s OK to quote you directly. Thanks!

Cheers all!

[1] Tewksbury, R., and Mustaine, E. E., The Prison Journal 2008; 88; 207, “Correctional Orientations of Prison Staff.”

Friends, Christians, and Communists

June 30th, 2009 No comments

This is a post from the old site, but one that fits the direction I’m headed. I received about 25 emails in response to last week’s post… of course; only 15 of them actually provided anything worth reading. Some spam, a little ranting, and a couple accusing me of being part of “the right wing conspiracy/noise machine.” I’m not certain why this (email) seems better than commenting, but either way I’m game for a continuing conversation. Along the way you will be meeting a friend of mine, Mr. Grim. Additionally, you’ll meet a few others with views from “both sides of the aisle.” I get a few responses in the comments section, but the lion’s share are spammers and trolls, I hope that changes some time soon.

Back to this post – remember last week I posed the question, “Why have prisons?” This post might seem an unusual continuation, but it fits the current theme in both corrections and criminal justice. Anyway, keep it in mind as you read through this post.

I’ve heard that nasty word “social justice” once again, and I’m always interested enough to ask my erstwhile conversation partner what he means by this interesting compound idea. Erstwhile? Former conversation partners because I’m generally opposed to the common or popular notion of what “social justice” constitutes, and my opposition seems to color me as Satan himself to some of the liberal nutroots I’ve engaged in conversation (despite their intense opposition to religion, it is ok to label opponents as the minions of Beelzebub). Taking the adjective social away from the concept at least leaves the actual noun being modified in some fashion. Make no mistake, English works precisely this way.

“No, no, no, you don’t understand. It wasn’t simply a man; it was a little green man!”

Granted, that’s poking a little fun, but whether used rationally or irrationally, that’s the way we use our language. Clearly, progressives are trying to make it plain that they are NOT talking about the classical meaning of justice, and hence, the adjective “social.” I had always thought justice by nature and definition must be social. Something else is meant in this case – so, for comparison, let’s take a look at the origin of the word “justice.” I’ll use the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1140, “the exercise of authority in vindication of right by assigning reward or punishment,” from O.Fr. justise, from L. justitia “righteousness, equity,” from justus “upright, just.” The O.Fr. word had widespread senses, including “uprightness, equity, vindication of right, court of justice, judge.” The word began to be used in Eng. c.1200 as a title for a judicial officer. Meaning “the administration of law” is from 1303. Justice of the peace first attested 1320. In the Mercian hymns, L. justitia is glossed by O.E. rehtwisnisse.

Generally, “the administration of law” was once a common understanding of the term “justice.” On the other hand, the term “social justice” uses the adjective “social” to incorporate the notions often associated with socialism/communism. The always popular “take from those who are more prosperous and give to those who are less prosperous” – whether on a national or global scale depends largely on who is promoting the idea. For example, Anthony Brunt at the University of Iowa puts it this way:

The first component of social justice is a minimum standard of living in the realms of employment, health, housing, and education. This is the portion of social justice that is best dispensed through government agencies. According to the 1999 U.N. Human Development Report, for forty billion dollars the most disadvantaged portions of the world can achieve basic healthcare, education, sanitation facilities, potable water, and an adequate food supply for all. To contrast this amount in relative terms, last year Microsoft chairperson Bill Gates had an estimated net worth of fifty-two billion dollars. I do not believe that allocating an additional forty billion dollars will strain those living in a state of luxury.

Only somewhat tongue in cheek, Kfir Alfia and Alan Lipton in A Field Guide to Left-Wing Wackos, says that communists are “Anyone who likes the things you have, wants them for his own, and doesn’t mind if a totalitarian state is what it takes to make that happen.” This idea of using a government to accomplish their ends is highlighted by Brunt in the next paragraph of his paper, albeit for logistical concerns.

Why even mention this topic? Because I find it at least a little ironic and humorous that this unusual group of liberals shares so much in common with the very people they are so opposed to having any influence on our society. Truly, the only real difference between the liberal nutroots and the Christians in this case is the means by which we ameliorate poverty. I really cannot say it better than C.S. Lewis on this topic, and he makes the point so forcefully, I’ll close with a small portion of The Problem of Pain:

Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere “opiate of the people” have a contempt for the rich, that is , for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from “liquidation,” and place in them the only hope of the human race. But this is not compatible with a belief that the effects of poverty on those who suffer it are wholly evil; it even implies that they are good. The Marxist thus finds himself in agreement with the Christians in those two beliefs which Christianity paradoxically demands – that poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed. (C.S. Lewis, 1940, pp. 108-109)

P.S. “And that’s Entertainment”


Why Have Prisons?

June 23rd, 2009 No comments

Seriously, “Why have prisons?” Knowing what the goals for incarcerating law breakers are should help to define the strategic and tactical policy that is carried out behind prison walls. Though I plan on discussing the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODOC) Oregon Accountability Model (OAM), let’s leave the OAM out of this particular discussion for the moment. Again, “Why have prisons?” If we are at least moderately honest with ourselves, then often enough this is a question for which we rarely seek specific answers. But those answers are most often the defining determinants of how politicians, policy makers, and management (policy wonks) create the strategic policy which correctional practitioners struggle to turn into tactical policy.

Unfortunately, this is often a political question that has too many possible answers. In fact, this myriad of possible answers is one of the most glaring problems with developing effective, coherent, and reasonably operational policy. Oh, and let’s leave out the matter of the price tag and effective training.

Why bring this up? Because I think a general discussion of the most common answers to the question, “Why have prisons?” at least starts not only corrections practitioners, but the general public, in a reasonable discussion of the purpose and goals of Oregon’s prisons (more to the point, the purpose and goals of ODOC). As a start, here are four of the most common reasons/answers to the question.

  1. Retribution – punishment, “just desserts,” getting what one deserves for a crime committed
  2. Rehabilitation – to change or alter inmates through treatment or education to make them productive citizens upon release
  3. Deterrence – this is generally understood to mean the punishment of criminals as an example in order to discourage others from committing crimes.
  4. Incapacitation – prevent criminals from committing more crimes by locking them up and isolating them from society

Knowing these, I’d be most interested in what others think the answer(s) to the question is/are. Without referring to the OAM, I’m interested in what Oregonians believe the purpose of the corrections element of our criminal justice system actually is. Whether by email (the link at right) or by comment, please, let me know what you think. Until next time,


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