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Article

R.V. Gundur

Prison gangs are often formally referred to as “security threat groups” or “disruptive groups.” Compared to street gangs, they are understudied criminal organizations. As is the case with many organized criminal groups, official definitions of prison gangs tend to be broad, typically defining one as any group of three or more people who engage in disruptive behavior in a carceral setting. Many prison gangs, however, have other, distinct characteristics, such as having formed or matured in adult prisons, being composed primarily of adults, having a clear organizational structure that allows the gang to persist, and having a presence both in and out of prison. Research on prison gangs has been sporadic and focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on the United States. The first studies of inmate life occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, and in prisons that did not have modern incarnations of prison gangs. Until the 1980s, only a few academics described the existence of prison gangs or, their precursor, cliques. The 1980s and early 1990s saw the first studies of prison gangs, notably Camp and Camp’s historical study of prison gangs within the United States from the 1950s to the 1980s and Fong and Buentello’s work that documented the foundation and evolution of prison gangs in the Texas prison system in the 1980s. These studies marked some of the first, and last, significant, systematic studies of prison gangs until the new century. The 21st century brought renewed attention to security threat groups, as scholars from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, criminology, and economics, engaged in the study of prison society and how inmate groups influence it. Some of these scholars introduced new methodologies to the study of prison gangs, thereby significantly increasing the available knowledge on these groups. Research on prison gangs has expanded to consider four broad categories: defining prison gangs and describing their formation and evolution; evaluating prison gangs’ organizational structure and governance in carceral and free settings; assessing the role of prison gangs on reoffending; and gauging how to control prison gangs both in and out of prison.

Article

Elise Sargeant, Julie Barkworth, and Natasha S. Madon

Fairness and equity are key concerns in modern liberal democracies. In step with this general trend, academics and practitioners have long been concerned with the fairness of procedures utilized by the criminal justice system. Definitions vary, but procedural justice is loosely defined as fair treatment and fair decision-making by authorities. In the criminal justice system, the procedural justice of authorities such as police officers, judicial officers, and correctional officers is evaluated by members of the public. Procedural justice in the criminal justice system is viewed as an end in and of itself, but it is also an opportunity to yield various outcomes including legitimacy, public compliance with the law, cooperation with criminal justice officials, and satisfaction with criminal justice proceedings and outcomes.

Article

In the 21st century, an unprecedented rise in the visibility of and social acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people has been accompanied by exponential growth in scholarship on LGBT people generally and their experiences in diverse communities and institutional contexts in the United States and around the globe. A growing body of literature draws on first-person accounts, qualitative analyses, and statistical assessments to understand how and why LGBT people end up in prisons and other types of lock-up facilities, as well as how they experience being imprisoned and the collateral consequences of those experiences. Scholarship in this body of work focuses on (a) the range of abuses inflicted on LGBT prisoners by other prisoners and state officials alike, including mistreatment now widely recognized as human rights violations; (b) the variety of ways LGBT people are managed by prison officials, in the first instance whether their housing arrangements in prison are integrationist, segregationist, and/or some combination of both, including the temporary and permanent isolation of LGBT prisoners; and (c) the range of types of political mobilization that expose the status quo as unacceptable, define, and document the treatment of LGBT people behind bars as human rights violations, demand change, and advocate new policies and practices related to the carceral state’s treatment of LGBT people in the United States and across the globe. The study of LGBT people in prisons and other detention facilities is compatible with larger calls for the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in criminology and criminal justice research by advancing theoretical and empirical understandings of LGBT populations as they interact with the criminal justice system, and by incorporating this knowledge into broader criminological conversations.

Article

Jerry Cederblom

Numerous philosophical theories purport to justify a system of legal punishment. It is doubtful, however, that any of them successfully answer these three questions: Why punish? Whom to punish? How much to punish? Straightforward retributive theories, which justify punishment by looking back at the wrongful harm done by an offender, don’t adequately answer the question of why the offender should be harmed in return for harm done. More sophisticated retributive theories construe punishment as equalizing an unfair advantage taken by an offender. Such theories have difficulty with the question of how much to punish. Consent theories view offenders as willing punishment onto themselves by their voluntary acts. The various versions of this theory all fail to answer one or more of the three questions: why, whom, and how much. Rights forfeiture theories give a question-begging answer to the “why” question and don’t answer the question of how much. Consequentialist theories, which justify punishment by looking forward to results such as deterrence and incapacitation, have difficulties with whom to punish and how much. Arguably, punishing an innocent person who is believed to be guilty could deter potential offenders, and a serious offense might be deterred by a less severe punishment than a minor offense. Some philosophers see insurmountable problems for strictly backward-looking theories that appeal to guilt of the offender and for strictly forward-looking theories that appeal to future consequences. The solution, then, could be a theory that appeals to future results to provide a reason for punishing, but looks back at harm done by the offender to answer the question of whom to punish and how much. However, without a unifying rationale for taking these different approaches to these particular issues, such a mixed theory would be ad hoc if not incoherent. In recent decades, philosophers have offered several approaches that might avoid the pitfalls described above by providing a unified rationale for punishment that is both backward and forward looking. Self-defense theories hold that it is rational and justifiable for the state to threaten punishment in order to defend citizens against offenses. They then move by various strategies from the justifiability of the threat to the justifiability of punishment. Forced choice theories justify punishment as a way of distributing necessary harm to the guilty rather than the innocent. Censure theories attempt to justify punishment as the state’s means of expressing disapproval of offenses against the law. Each of these theories faces difficulties, but proponents might judge that even though they haven’t yet been able to adequately state the justification of punishment, their theory is on the right track. Others view the difficulties faced by all theories and boldly conclude that punishment is not justifiable. There is little support for rehabilitation as an alternative to punishment. The practices associated with restorative justice, although not directly aimed at punishment, typically involve punishment, so they still require a justification for punishment. Whether a system of restitution could take the place of a system of punishment is problematic. The situation is made even more troublesome by the fact that the theories that have been surveyed aim to justify punishment in a society with a just political structure and laws. Even if such a theory succeeds, it is far from clear that it would justify punishment in a society where many of those who are harmed by punishment have also been victims of injustice.

Article

Positive criminology is an innovative perspective that underlies existing theories and models emphasizing the positive forces that influence and assist individuals at risk and offenders in their recovery process. The theories and models included in positive criminology (e.g., peacemaking criminology, social acceptance, crime desistance, restorative justice) are not new; its novelty lies in their inclusion in a unique and distinct conceptualization. This has led to a shift in discourse and research in criminology, which goes beyond focusing on risk and criminogenic factors while focusing on the positive factors and strengths that help individuals to rehabilitate and successfully integrate into the community. Studies and practices developed over the past decade have confirmed and reinforced the assumptions of the positive criminology perspective. Despite its specific limitations, positive criminology provides a promising platform for further developments and innovations in research in theory (e.g., positive victimology, spiritual criminology) and in practice (e.g., restorative justice, problem-solving courts, community policing).

Article

Kathryn L. Schwaeble and Jody Sundt

The United States is unique in its reliance on incarceration. In 2018 the United States had the largest prison population in the world—more than 2.1 million people—and incarcerated 655 per 100,000 residents, the highest incarceration rate in the world. The U.S. public also holds more punitive attitudes in comparison to citizens of other Western, developed countries. For example, when presented with the same description about a hypothetical criminal event, Americans consistently prefer longer sentences compared to residents of other countries. Attitudes about the death penalty are also instructive. Although international support for the death penalty has declined dramatically over time, the majority of Americans are still in favor of capital punishment for certain crimes. In comparison, Great Britain abolished the death penalty in 1965, and only 45% of its citizens continue to support capital punishment. This raises an important question: Can understanding the will of the public help explain how governments respond to crime? The answer to this question is more complicated than expected upon first consideration. The United States generally starts from a more punitive stance than other countries, in part because it experiences more violent crime but also because Americans hold different moral and cultural views about crime and punishment. U.S. public officials, including lawmakers, judges, and prosecutors, are responsive to trends in public attitudes. When the public mood became more punitive during the 1990s, for example, U.S. states universally increased the length of prison sentences and expanded the number of behaviors punishable by incarceration. Similarly, the public mood moderated in the United States toward the end of the 2000s, and states began reducing their prison populations and supporting sentencing reform. It is also true, however, that public officials overestimate how punitive the public is while citizens underestimate how harsh the justice system is. Moreover, the public supports alternatives to tough sentences including prevention, treatment, and alternatives to incarceration, particularly for juveniles and nonviolent offenders. Thus public opinion about punishment is multifaceted and complex, necessitating the exploration of many factors to understand it. Looking at public attitudes about punishment over time, across culture and societies, and in a variety of ways can help explain why social responses to crime change and why some people or groups of people are more punitive than others. Two ideas are helpful in organizing motivations for punishment. First, public support for punishment may be motivated by rational, instrumental interests about how best to protect public safety. Public concern about crime is a particularly important influence on trends in the public mood, but fear of crime and victimization are inconsistently related to how individuals feel about punishment. Second, attitudes about punishment are tied to expressive desires. Attitudes are influenced by culture and moral beliefs about how to respond to harm and violations of the law. Thus attitudes about punishment are relevant in understanding how the public thinks about the problem of crime, as how people think and feel about crime influences what they think and feel should be done about it.

Article

Christopher Seeds

Life without parole sentencing refers to laws, policies, and practices concerning lifetime prison sentences that also preclude release by parole. While sentences to imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole have existed for more than a century in the United States, over the past four decades the penalty has emerged as a prominent element of U.S. punishment, routinely put to use by penal professionals and featured regularly in public discourse. As use of the death penalty diminishes in the United States, life without parole serves as the ultimate punishment in more and more U.S. jurisdictions. The scope with which states apply life without parole varies, however, and some states have authorized the punishment even for nonviolent offenses. More than a punishment serving purposes of retribution, crime control, and public safety, and beyond the symbolic functions of life without parole sentencing in U.S. culture and politics, life without parole is a lived experience for more than 50,000 prisoners in the United States. Life without parole’s increasing significance in the United States points to the need for further research on the subject—including studies that directly focus on how race and racial prejudice factor in life without parole sentencing, studies that investigate the proximate causes of life without parole sentences at the state and local level, and studies that examine the similarities and differences between life without parole, the death penalty, and de facto forms of imprisonment until death.

Article

Mass imprisonment in the United States is an epidemic that has spread across five generations affecting millions of individuals, their families, and hundreds of communities. The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world—with over 2 million behind bars and another 5 to 7 million under community supervision on parole and probation. With 5% of the world’s population, the United States has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. This U.S. system imposes many punitive policies, holding more of its citizens in isolation and solitary confinement than all the other prisons of the world combined and imposing the highest rates of life sentences of any nation. This public health analysis of mass incarceration in the United States (first proposed in Ernest Drucker’s 2011 book, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America) must therefore also address the high rates of prisoner reentry that accompany it—with over 600,000 U.S. prisoners reentering society each year—with the highest recidivism rate of any nation. This population is disproportionally poor and members of America’s large minority populations (African Americans and Latinos). The public health model provides a new tool for ending the American epidemic of mass imprisonment and, of equal importance, healing those who have survived its blows. This stage of the American story of mass incarceration is covered in Drucker’s 2018 book, Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health. But releasing people from prisons is not enough—the taint of punishment has a long-lasting and debilitating effect on the millions who return from prison to their home communities—facing social stigma and the many restrictions placed upon them as part of the conditions of parole—including limits of their access to public education, healthcare, and housing—as well as convicted felons’ loss of the right to vote. The United States badly needs a paradigm shift that replaces these impediments to successful reentry after prison, creating instead a positive place and normal life for this population in the outside world.

Article

James M. Binnall and Maryanne Alderson

Reentry is the process of ending a period of incarceration, leaving jail or prison, and returning to society. Not to be confused with reintegration or recidivism, reentry is not a measure of success or failure. Instead, reentry is a journey, and no two reentries are analogous. The reentry process is individualized and highly dependent on a number of factors including a reentering individual’s sentence structure, incarceration experience, and postrelease resources. Depending on these factors, a reentering individual may find his or her return to the free world a relatively smooth transition or a task riddled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. To navigate such obstacles, most reentering individuals need assistance. Traditionally, reentry assistance was provided by the state, through correctional programming in prison or by parole authorities tasked with monitoring a reentering individual postrelease. In recent years, nonprofit and faith-based organizations have increasingly been a part of innovative reentry initiatives. There has also been a recent expansion of Internet-based reentry resources, such as reentry.net and exoffenders.net, which allow those experiencing reentry to obtain reentry resources online. Reentry initiatives typically take two forms: deficit-based and strengths-based. Deficit-based reentry models use actuarial assessments to identify a reentering individual’s criminogenic risks and needs. In theory, deficit-based models then address those risks and needs through measured, tailored responses. Critics of deficit-based models argue that by focusing only on risks and needs, such approaches overlook reentering individuals’ talents and skills. Acknowledging these criticisms, many reentry initiatives have shifted away from the traditional deficits-centered model of reentry and toward a strengths-based approach. Rather than focusing on the risks and needs of a reentering individual, strengths-based approaches highlight the attributes of reentering individuals and draw on the experiences of former offenders who have successfully navigated their own reentry and best understand the pitfalls of the process. Recent, albeit limited empirical and experiential evidence supports the strength-based approach to reentry, suggesting that the concerns and insights of those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system make the transition from incarceration to freedom a smoother one.

Article

Tackling racism in prisons has a relatively long policy, practice, and research history in England and Wales. However, clear evidence of success in reducing racism in prisons has been, and still is, difficult to find. This article is based on a unique study that was carried out either side of the new millennium (late 1999 to mid-2001), but no equivalent exercise has been repeated since. Due to a unique set of circumstances at the time the study was carried out, it became possible to employ an action research approach that required policymakers, practitioners, volunteers, and researchers to agree on: an emergent research design; implementation; intervention; and measurement. There are many forms of action research, but this study could best be defined as a “utilization-focused evaluation, which is particularly applicable to the criminal justice environment. This approach also included elements of participatory action research.” The emphasis here is to show how the action research approach can be both more systematic and more flexible than traditional social science approaches. This applies to both epistemological and research methods considerations, because, by combining theory and action, action research can provide a more viable way of ensuring that policy works in practice, and is sensitive to unique institutional exigencies. Throughout, discussion is contextualised using policy, research and methodology texts from the period when the research was commissioned, but given an overall methodological context by referencing more recent methodology text books. The article first outlines the context in which the action research study was commissioned, before providing a summary of the international research findings on race relations in prisons, from which key concepts for the project were initially operationalized. The chapter then explains how the specific participatory action research approach was selected as the most appropriate design, the extent to which the approach was successful, and why. The article ends with a discussion of the implications of findings and conclusions from this study for current policy and methodological approaches.