History of Corrections
Criminal Justice: History of Corrections
Historical Foundation of American Correction System
It was believed that the American correction system originated during the colonial years, between the years 1620 and 1776. Due to the fact that America was under the England rule, the country had to adopt the practices and laws of its colonizer (Clear, et. al. 2012, p. 15). During this time, death, corporal punishment, banishment, and pillory were the penalties generally observed. There was is still no concept of jails or correction houses until William Penn arrived in 1682. Penn introduced the concept of Great Law, which “emphasized hard labor in a house of correction as punishment for most crimes” (Clear, et. al. 2012, p. 15). In a nutshell, jails during the colonial era were primarily used to house people who could not pay their debts or those waiting for court action.
Another development in correction system happened in 1790s to 1860s, thus, the introduction of penitentiary system. This system assumes that “criminal behavior was part of human nature to a belief that offenders could be reformed” (Clear, et. al. 2012, p. 15). People who were offended were punished according to the severity of their crime. They were usually isolated and asked to render labor.
Reformatory period of American correction system happened in 1860s to 1890s, where parole, rehabilitative programs, and indeterminate sentences were introduced. There was also separate treatment introduced for juvenile offenders. The main aim of this movement was to reform the offenders so they could return to their community (Clear, et. al. 2012, p. 19). The first ever reformatory system happened in New York in 1876. The medical model of American correction system was perceived as another milestone, which reflects the rise of positivist schools. The main aim of this model was to treat “criminals as people whose social, psychological, or biological deficiencies had caused them to engage in illogical activity” (Clear, et. al. 2012, p. 20). Thus, during this time, the correction system shifted its focus in rehabilitating the offender by classification and psychological testing. Also, there were various kinds of institutions, programs, and treatments introduced to aid the system in realizing its goal.
The period 1960s and 1970s were regarded as the disruptive years as United States faced “civil rights movement, the war on poverty, and resistance to Vietnam War” (Clear, et. al., 2012, p. 21). The continuous rise of prison population pushed the people to question the current system and advocated the reintegration of prisoners into the society. This led to the shift of model from medical to community corrections, which emphasized the idea that “prisons were to be avoided because they were artificial institutions that interfered with the offender’s ability to develop a crime-free lifestyle” (Clear, et. al., 2012, p. 21). Vocational and educational programs were introduced during this period. Presently, the correction system maintains a crime control model.
It should be noted that for each period of American correction system, different ideological or philosophical foundations were uphold. The colonial era uphold the religious law, where by “doctrine of predestination” was perceived as the overarching rule (Clear, et. al., 2012, p. 24). The ideological foundation of the penitentiary period was anchored to the Enlightenment Period, which also covers the declaration of America’s independence from their colonizers. Thus, power of reformation, power of reason, human perfectability, and religious penitence were among the ideas that shaped the adoption of a new system (Clear, et. al., 2012, p. 24). During the Reformatory period of American correction system, part of the Declaration of Principles of the National Prison Association is the philosophy that crime is a moral disease and criminals are “victims of social disorder” (Clear, et. al., 2012, p. 24).
Progressive model upholds the positivist ideology brought by the Age of Reform. Programs and treatments were focused on the offender and adopted punishments were designed according to the offender’s needs. During the period of medical model, American correction system adopted the ideology of biomedical science, highlighting the importance of incorporating psychology and psychiatry. Lastly, during the community period, criticisms of prison emerged. The civil rights movement influenced the people to challenge the current correction system.
The criminal law of United States generally follows three procedures – “offense, guilt, and punishment” (Clear, et. al., 2012, p. 8). This mirrors the three institutions of American justice system. The American justice system is composed of three parts which, ideally, should work hand-in-hand to promote justice. These three groups are the police, courts and corrections.
The decisions that courts make have important consequences for other components of the criminal justice system…The operations of law enforcement and corrections have a major impact on the judiciary. The more felons the police arrest, the greater the workload of the prosecutors; and the more overcrowded the prisons, the more difficult it is for judges to sentence the guilty (Neybauer and Fradella 2011, p. 8).
There are basically three overlapping roles found in the American criminal justice system. The police are expected to arrest the criminals. On the other hand, the court is responsible to give its judgment, whether the arrested individual is guilty or not. If the offender found guilty, the court is also expected to give the right sentence. The correction institution then will impose the penalty to the criminals (Neubauer &Fradella, 2011, p. 7). These three separate institutions work interdependently.
American correctional facilities contain a hodge-podge of inmates, varying from race, gender, age, and mental conditions. The differences of the inmates in race, class and gender shows the differences of the crimes being committed (Wakefield &Uggen, 2010, p.391). United States has gained the status of having the most number of prisoners in the world. According to Webb (2009), despite the fact that the US composed 5% of the total world’s population, the country gets 25% of the prison population all over the world. This suggests that for every 31 American adults, 1 is sent to prison.
According to Loic (2002), there are a higher number of black prisoners than whites in the United States. The ratio of black American men who carry criminal records is 1 out of 3, with a higher rate in the population of men over women. The author further claimed that a drug crime among black population was higher than the whites but in reality, whites have higher substance abuse. There is also a high rate of mental illnesses inside the prison. In fact, in the United States alone there are higher numbers of mentally ill persons in prison than hospitals. Mentally ill people are now twice higher in terms of number in prison than the general population (Fellner 2006, p. 391). With the growing number of offenders and criminals every year, mentally ill offenders contribute to the overcrowding of jails. Their percentage is one of the biggest chunks in the jails and prisons. The most common mental illnesses inside the prisons are psychosis or schizophrenia, anxiety and PTD (Wakefield & Uggen, 2010, p. 396).
There is also high number of juvenile offenders in the prison. Mears (2006) suggested that policy makers’ impression in particular conditions of the juvenile offenders, such as urban poverty, race, and “broken homes directly and indirectly affect their decision towards juvenile incarceration (Mears, 2006, p.474). For example, when the juvenile offender came from the Black population, he will likely be sentenced to incarceration, because this kind of social condition is viewed by policy makers as “dangerous classes.”
Lastly, in most current years, the female population in prison has increased. Across the globe, there are more than 625,000 women behind bars. Of the total prison population, 2% to 9% represent the female prisoners (Covington, 2007, p. 181). In the United States, California has the biggest number of women behind the bars. Majority of women serving their time in jail are mothers. 64% of the women behind bars support children below the age of 18 when arrested (Kelly, et al., 2007, p. 230).
Due to the growing problems in population and policies inside the correction system, many scholars advocate to adopt alternative ways to prison. For instance, the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums or FAMM (2011), enumerated community corrections, drug court, halfway houses, electronic home-monitory or home confinement, and fines and restitution as viable alternatives to prison. It should be noted that there are other alternatives aside from the above mentioned ways. Community correction is a probation, which “keeps the offender in the community but put limits and obligations on his freedom” (FAMM, 2011, p. 2). Drug court is another alternative way to prison, whereby it supervised community and drug treatment to offenders guilty of substance abuse. Halfway houses or also known as residential reentry or community correction centers, are used to house offenders who have already served a particular prison sentence in order to help them return to their community (FAMM, 2011, p. 3). Lastly, home confinement or home arrest allows the offender to “to stay in their homes except when they are in certain pre-approved areas” (FAMM, 2011, p. 3). They are usually monitored through electronic home-monitoring devices (e.g. CCTV).
Cahalan, M. & Parson, L. (1986). Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States: 1850-1984. US Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Clear, T. et. al. (2012).American Corrections in Brief. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Covington S. (2007). Women and the criminal justice system. Women’s Health Issues 1(17): 180-182.
FAMM (2011). Alternatives to Incarceration in a Nutshell. Washington: FAMM.org. Retrieved http://famm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/FS-Alternatives-in-a-Nutshell-7.8.pdf on April 14, 2015.
Kelly P. et al. (2007). Health interventions with girls in the juvenile justice system. Women’s Health Issues 17 (4), 227-36.
Loic, W. (2002). From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Rethinking the ‘race question’ in the US. New Left Review: 41-60.
Mears, D. (2006). Exploring State-Level Variation in Juvenile Incarceration Rates. Sage Publications.
Neubauer, D. & Fradella, H. (2011). America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Wakefield, S. & Uggen, C. (2010). Incarceration and Stratification. Annual Review of Sociology 1(2): 387-406.
Webb, J. (2009). Why We Must Reform Our Criminal Justice System. Huff Post: The Blog.
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