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The Future of Reducing the Populations in Our Prisons - Yahoo

Alternate Methods

Misha,Yahoo! Contributor Network
May 11, 2006

In an effort to reduce prison overcrowding and with hopes of reducing recidivism rates, many areas have decided to try alternatives to prison. With community-based programs, like house arrest and drug treatment programs, we have options which are likely to yield better results for non-violent criminals than imprisonment. It is also important to address the need for training which will increase the likelihood of success and reduce the likelihood of repeat offenders. Life skills training can be a valuable tool for helping the reintegration, while community service could help offenders realize the results of their crimes. Both are wonderful tools to help reduce recidivism rates.

Life skills training can also be very helpful. It can be beneficial in assisting the integration of inmates back into society. Due to the fact that "45 percent of parolees have approximately a ninth or tenth grade level education", (A Hard Straight, 2005) there is a high demand for integration assistance for leaving the prison system.

The use of a Life Skills Program is a positive way to enrich inmate's lives. The curriculum specifies that the class lasts for no less than 4 months, and meets for three hours per week. Within the course curriculum, the following subjects are taught: "academics, violence reduction, and applied life skills" (Delaware Department of Corrections, 1998).

The types of academics within the class include; reading comprehension, mathematics, and language expression. In the violence reduction curriculum there are classes such as anger management, conflict resolution training, and Moral Reconation therapy. For the curriculum of applied life skills, there are several classes which are integrated into the program. Some of these classes are; credit /banking, job search, motor vehicle regulations, legal responsibilities, family responsibilities, health issues, and several others. These classes will help to give the inmate a good chance at succeeding in the outside world (Delaware Department of Corrections, 1998).

Most of the curriculum for the program is based around a type of therapy called Moral Reconation Therapy or MRT. This is a specialized therapy that works well with those who have "resistant personalities". Resistant personalities are referred to as those who are considered to be offenders of most types, substance abusers, and batterers (Delaware Department, of Corrections, 1998).

MRT is primarily taught in groups of inmates. It also utilizes workbooks and real life scenarios. The therapeutic life skills class offers a step by step approach to raising moral reasoning. The focal point of MRT is "to change the way that the inmates act, by changing the way that they think." Some of the other requirements of the group are aspects such as setting goals, and the means in which they will need to accomplish these goals, the inmates also complete a relationship assessment, and look at repairing relationships, as well as 20 hours of volunteer work (Delaware Department of Corrections, 1998).

MRT has been proven to work in case studies by "reducing recidivism up to 50 percent, for 1 to 2 years after the MRT treatment." It is estimated that most participants of MRT, "level off" after 3 years. Even after 7 years the recidivism rate is significantly lower with those who participated in MRT than those who did not (Delaware Department of Corrections, 1998).
It is important for the jail inmates to be able to reintegrate back into society once they have successfully completed the classes in jail described above. This type of program is only for the inmates convicted of minor and non-violent offenses. This must first be approved by the court. Once approved, the inmate will begin a work program where he will start a real job in an appropriate business in society again. The twist, however, is that the job will be a laborious one and somewhere he is around less fortunate people.

For example, one of the jobs the inmate may be assigned to could be a soup kitchen. In this position the inmate must continuously serve food to people who are down on their luck and most likely homeless. There will be a wide range of people who utilize the soup kitchen. There will be all types of people ranging from homeless mothers, or entire families who come in with their children, to the alcoholic and drug users. The purpose of this will hopefully show how hard life can be on someone if you do not straighten up now. Another type of job that could be assigned is working as a janitor at a hospital. This will not only instill the value of hard work into the inmate, but also make him be around people who are seriously injured or ill and/or on their deathbed.

Some patients may be pregnant mothers or children who were rushed into the emergency room after being hit by a drunken driver. This job would obviously be best suited for an inmate who was busted on a drug or alcohol charge. This may give the person a wake up call. This could show the person what kind of damage they can do to someone else when they take stupid actions like getting behind the wheel while under the influence of any type of substance. Any job given to the juvenile inmates would definitely have to be supervised and hopefully teach them very important life lessons outside the jail walls.

After the inmates have successfully completed their classes in jail and have been placed into a work program, they can then be placed back into their family homes on a trial basis. This would allow a more humane arrangement for them by not being torn away from their families as well as saving expenses for the jail system. This set up would definitely save the system a significant amount of money, and at the same time rehabilitate the juveniles in a more effective manner. "Why should it invariably be the jails that inflict so relentless a burden on taxpayers, turn lightweight offenders into more dangerous criminals, and do nothing to help them confront their basic problems" (Cusac, 2001)? This work program is intended to make the juveniles law-abiding and productive community members.

These programs could significantly reduce overcrowding, and possibly lower recidivism rates. These programs are geared towards those who want to change their lives for the better. They are challenging, but are also lifestyle changing programs which will enable and enrich the participant's lives. It is believed that those who participate in these types of pro-active programs are more likely to succeed than those who do not participate. There are many options that need to be explored outside of incarceration without rehabilitation.

House arrest is a great alternative to prison for offenders who have been convicted of minor crimes. The impact of home confinement, along with electronic monitoring, may be just as beneficial as a prison sentence. While the criminal has the benefit of being in his own home, privileges which may be taken for granted, such as attending weddings, birthday parties, and family functions, or even running errands to help the family, are no longer allowed.

This can be a great deal of strain on the family and often makes the family feel like they are being punished as well. "Having to sit by while family members shift roles and do double duty causes a great deal of guilt and stress for the offender," (Keen. 1999). The stress on the family and guilt felt by the offender may be enough punishment in itself. The use of confining criminals to their homes will help to reduce overcrowding in prisons across the country.

House arrest is not currently a widespread or mandatory program; it has been growing in popularity. Studies show that there seems to be no increase in recidivism associated with house arrest as a means to alternative sentencing. "It may be that the greatest value of electronic house arrest is its lower cost and its ability to be used as a community-based program in which treatment services can be delivered," (Martin, 2003).

In an effort to defray some of the costs associated with the house arrest programs, many states require the offenders to pay a portion of the cost. Payments can range in price from $5 a day as in Ohio (Coshocton County Municipal Court, n.d.) to $14 a day as in Alaska (Ketchikan Correctional Center, n.d.). The offender often must pay for the installation of the electronic monitoring equipment and other costs, such as required drug testing or damaged monitoring equipment.

House arrest is a privilege given to offenders. These monetary payments can be viewed as the offenders literally having to pay for their crimes, which may serve as a further deterrent. At the same time, the state saves valuable space and money in our overcrowded and under funded prisons. When dealing with non-violent offenders, house arrest is often a win-win situation.
Jail does not always work for everyone, especially for the non-violent offenders. The juveniles who were charged with drug offenses and were non-violent in nature are eligible for a drug treatment alternative program. This drug treatment program "demonstrates that we don't have to throw away the key for repeat drug addicted offenders, even those who sell drugs to support their habit" (Drug Treatment Alternative, 2003).

These drug offenders can actually have the hopes of becoming responsible citizens with the success of their treatment and training combined. They also know that if they do not comply with this program, then they will be punished with jail time. This drug treatment program would range anywhere between 15 to 24 months of residential drug treatment depending upon each individual's situation. "Sentencing is deferred upon program participation; if participants complete the program, their guilty plea is withdrawn and the charges dismissed" (Drug Treatment Alternative, 2003).

This type of program has been proven successful in other states. An evaluation was done on a very similar alternative drug treatment program and found "that participants who graduated from the program were 33 percent less likely to be rearrested, 45 percent less likely to be re convicted, and 87 percent less likely to return to [jail]" (Drug Treatment Alternative, 2003). It was also found that a large percentage of the participants either held full or part time employment. The percentage for participants who successfully participated in this type of program and found employment was at 92 percent. Drug addiction is an illness and treatment is more likely to rehabilitate drug users. It is not always wise to have these people sitting in jail all day when they can turn into new law-abiding citizens.

In conclusion, the programs could significantly reduce overcrowding, and possibly lower recidivism rates. These programs are geared towards those who want to change their lives for the better. They are challenging, but are also lifestyle changing programs which will enable and enrich the participant's lives. It is believed that those who participate in these types of pro-active programs are more likely to succeed than those who do not participate. These different programs and alternative described above are all available and proven effective to help reduce jail overcrowding.