The American Prison: Imagining a Different Future

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Francis T. Cullen, Cheryl Lero Jonson & Mary K. Stohr

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    Acknowledgements

    For their constant love and occasional wisdom, we are fortunate to be able to dedicate this book to:

    Paula Dubeck and Jordan Cullen by Francis T. Cullen

    Christine Siler and Lori Vick by Cheryl Lero Jonson

    Craig Hemmens and Emily Stohr-Gillmore by Mary K. Stohr

    Preface

    Beginning in the early 1970s, the United States embarked on what Todd Clear poignantly labeled a “penal harm movement.” The lynchpin of this campaign was the idea that locking up more offenders for more time would not only give suffering victims the justice they were seeking but also enhance public safety. As is well known, the size of state and federal prison populations multiplied more than seven-fold from just under 200,00 to over 1.5 million. When all types of confinement were combined (e.g., jails), the inmate count came to surpass 2.4 million— meaning that about 1 in 100 adults in America was behind bars on any given day.

    We, this volume's editors, have spent much of our lives in a context in which getting tough on crime was virtually hegemonic. To be sure, cracks in the penal harm movement existed—for example, calls for rehabilitating offenders were not extinguished fully—but policy makers on both sides of the political spectrum spouted law-and-order rhetoric and, in the words of Jonathan Simon, “governed through crime.” Little concern seemed to exist that inmate populations rose intractably, that institutions became horribly crowded, that many facilities descended into violent warehouses, that the shameful concentration of minorities in custody evoked little national guilt, and that vast sums of the public treasury were gobbled up by a seemingly insatiable correctional system. For us—and most readers, we suspect—there seemed to be no escape from this dismal future.

    Suddenly, however, things changed. In the last few years, a broad policy consensus has been reached that penal harm and mass incarceration have outlived their usefulness. A complete history of this transformation remains to be written, but we can point to three factors that have contributed to the declining popularity of incarceration. First, criminological researchers have produced a growing body of evidence showing that prisons have null or criminogenic effects on inmates' recidivism (i.e., they do not specifically deter), that too many low-risk offenders are needlessly locked up, and that crime saved through incapacitation—although meaningful—might be rivaled if resources were devoted instead to rehabilitation and prevention programs. Second, the “great American crime decline,” as Franklin Zimring calls it, has largely removed law and order as a concern for the American public. Elected officials thus are reaping diminishing political capital for spouting “get tough” rhetoric. Third—and likely most important—the financial collapse of 2008 and beyond has bankrupted state treasuries. Governors, many of them Republicans elected on pledges of lowering taxes and wiping out deficits, now face the stubborn reality that their states' prisons consume too many dollars. Unlike many other areas of state budgets where expenditures are rigidly fixed, corrections offers a tempting plasticity: If inmate populations are lowered and institutions are closed, valued cost savings can be achieved.

    Regardless of the reasons, today's correctional landscape is dramatically different than it was just a short time ago. We no longer face a future that seems foreordained. In fact, we have reached what Malcolm Gladwell has termed a “tipping point.” This is a phenomenon where an idea—in our case reducing prison populations— ascends and, similar to a contagious disease, spreads rapidly. When this occurs, Gladwell notes, “changes happen in a hurry.” In this context, it appears that we have reached a correctional policy tipping point in which state prison populations— which have stopped rising for the first time in nearly 40 years—are starting to decline and could fall precipitously in the immediate time ahead. Indeed, it has become fashionable, rather than a case of political suicide, for elected officials to propose that the number of incarcerated offenders can and should be cut.

    Most criminologists would welcome a shrinking of the nation's prison population. Scholars do not always agree on how many offenders can be safely supervised in the community; some believe that prisons house only a violent few whereas others maintain that a substantial proportion of inmates have records of chronic criminality. Still, these differences aside, there is a virtual consensus that prisons contain far too many inmates and, in particular, are likely have an iatrogenic effect on their low-risk residents.

    Students of corrections, however, cannot be concerned only with the quantity of corrections. Although the enormous size of the prison system warrants all the attention it receives, there is a tendency among scholars and policy makers to focus almost exclusively on how many offenders can be squeezed into or let out of our secure institutions. What is lost in this discussion is the need to give equal weight to the quality of the correctional enterprise.

    It remains to be seen how far federal, state, and local officials will go in restricting the flow of offenders into their custodial institutions. But let us assume a promising scenario in which prison and jail populations were cut by, say, 20%—a figure that would require changes in sentencing laws and practices. If this were to occur, about 1.8 million convicts would still remain behind bars on any given day. And of these, 1.2 million would still reside in a federal or state prison. Even in California, which has been forced by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce its prison populations by upwards of 30,000 inmates due to unconstitutional medical and safety conditions, prisons will continue to house over 130,000 offenders. In short, the heartening news that the spread of the mass imprisonment epidemic has finally been halted should not divert us from understanding what has been left in its wake.

    In this regard, we contend that the correctional tipping point now at hand offers ideological space to discuss not only ways of reducing inmate populations but also how corrections might serve, in Francis Allen's words, a broader social purpose. Over the past several decades, punitive rhetoric and policies have made it acceptable to envision prisons as a means of delivering pain—and little more. Prisons were thus socially constructed as a “cost” that, if high enough because sentences were long and living conditions were deplorable, would teach the wayward that crime does not pay. This stance produced a moral blindness that too often allowed correctional institutions to descend into domains that at best kept inmates on ice and at worst were criminogenic and personally damaging. As taxpayers and as a good people, Americans have the right to expect much more from corrections. In fact, opinion polls have shown repeatedly that the nation's citizenry opposes prisons that function as mere warehouses and favors prisons that save offenders from a life in crime.

    Importantly, existing social realities can serve as a powerful constraint to thought and action. We come to accept a bloated, ineffective prison system as ines-capable—as beyond anyone's power to control or change. The only future that is imagined is the one we have experienced—again, for much or all of our lives. But when informed by a broader historical perspective, we learn that even lengthy periods of continuity have a shelf life and that change is inevitable. But when change is possible, which direction will it take? It is here that ideas have consequences. It is here that imagining a different future is the first step to making that future—or one close to it—the new reality.

    This project, The American Prison, thus is intended to initiate a sustained conversation about what today's prisons might entail. Written by talented corrections scholars, the volume includes 12 different ideas, divided into six parts, on how to improve the American prison. Thus, each chapter imagines a transformative correctional future—one that moves beyond the failed policies and practices of the past four decades. Taken together, the chapters offer a diverse agenda for moving forward in the change process—insights on how to make prisons truly reformative, capable of transforming the hearts and minds of offenders, more just, less harmful, fresh and inventive, and perform at a higher level. Still, despite this rich compendium of advice, we can identify at least three cross-cutting themes that inform the chapters to follow.

    First, we must do a better job in our correctional system. Overcrowded, unsafe, unhealthy, damaging, and ineffective prisons are inexcusable; the banality of evil should not prevail. Those in charge must be held accountable for a higher level of performance. We have an obligation to rehabilitate offenders and to restore them to the community—and to do so in an institutional environment that is moral, healthy, and safe. We should do this in a way that not only lowers recidivism and thus protects public safety but also makes offenders more able to contribute as members of civil society. An ethos of penal help must replace an ethos of penal harm (see Chapter 13 for a more detailed discussion of the need for penal help). Second, a dose of utopianism is a good thing, especially if it moves us to consider fresh alternatives to the failed policies and practices that now prevail. Again, a future must be imagined before it can become possible. Reformers must be inspired to take action sooner rather than later. Third, we are fortunate to have a growing body of evidence on what can be done to improve correctional administration and intervention. In particular, the well-grounded insights on “what works” to build moral and effective agencies and what works to rehabilitate and improve the lives of offenders should be understood and implemented.

    Thus, we stand at an important juncture in the nation's history. The opportunity for real change that leaves behind a mean season in corrections is at hand. It is time to think and act boldly. We trust that this volume will play a large role in inspiring readers to imagine and bring about such a new correctional future.

    Before embarking on this collective exercise in imagining a different future for the American prison, we must acknowledge those who have helped to make this volume possible. We start with Chris Eskridge who, as General Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, asked us to edit a special issue that came to fruition as “American Corrections in Crisis: Imagining a Different Future” (Volume 28, Issue 1, 2012). By generously presenting this opportunity, Chris allowed us to begin considering what the future of corrections might hold. We also appreciate the contributors to this special issue whose creative ideas made us realize the importance of continuing to explore how the American prison might be refashioned. These include Brandon K. Applegate, Todd R. Clear, John E. Eck, Nancy L. Hogan, W. Wesley Johnson, Ken Kerle, Eric G. Lambert, Edward J. Latessa, Lynette C. Lee, Faith E. Lutz, Joycelyn M. Pollock, Jeffrey Ian Ross, Myrinda Schweitzer, Risdon N. Slate, Paula Smith, Jeanne B. Stinchcombe, Stan Stojkovic, and Jody L. Sundt.

    Two works that appeared in the journal's special issue are reprinted here: “The Therapeutic Prison” by Paula Smith and Myrinda Schweitzer, and “The Accountable Prison” by Francis T. Cullen, Cheryl Lero Jonson, and John E. Eck. Portions of the issue's Introduction also are included in this Preface. We should note as well that the current volume includes one other reprinted work, “The Virtuous Prison” by Francis T. Cullen, Jody L. Sundt, and John F. Wozniak, which appeared in Henry N. Pontell and David Shichor (Eds.), Contemporary Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice: Essays in Honor of Gilbert Geis (pp. 265–286). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.

    We must express special gratitude to Jerry Westby, who once again has supported our efforts to bring a book to press with SAGE Publications. We write for SAGE largely because of Jerry, who shows us unfailing loyalty and who respects us enough to tell us even difficult truths. Jerry also has the wisdom to surround himself with the best staff possible. In this regard, we share our special thanks with Laureen Gleason, Kristin Bergstad, and Brittany Bauhaus.

    Further, we want to recognize the guidance provided by those scholars who reviewed the book's prospectus. They encouraged the book's further development and gave us much to consider in this process. Thus, our thankfulness must be extended to:

    No book is possible without the encouragement and assistance of those who touch our lives on a daily basis. We thus would like to express our appreciation to our colleagues at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, and Missouri State University. Our most special gratitude, however, is reserved for our families. We dedicate this book to Paula Dubeck and Jordan Cullen, Christine Siler and Lori Vick, and Craig Hemmens and Emily Stohr-Gillmore.

  • About the Editors

    Francis T. Cullen is a Distinguished Research Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, where he also holds a joint appointment in sociology. He received a Ph.D. (1979) in sociology and education from Columbia University. Professor Cullen has published over 300 works in the areas of corrections, criminological theory, white-collar crime, public opinion, the measurement of sexual victimization, and the organization of criminological knowledge. His recent publications include Reaffirming Rehabilitation (30th Anniversary Edition), Correctional Theory: Context and Consequences, Unsafe in the Ivory Tower: The Sexual Victimization of College Women, the Encyclopedia of Criminological Theory, The Origins of American Criminology, and The Oxford Handbook of Criminological Theory. Professor Cullen is a Past President of the American Society of Criminology and of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. In 2010, he received the ASC Edwin H. Sutherland Award.

    Cheryl Lero Jonson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Xavier University. She received a Ph.D. (2010) in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. Her publications include Correctional Theory: Context and Consequences and The Origins of American Criminology. Her work has appeared in Criminology and Public Policy, Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, and Victims and Offenders. Her current research interests focus on the impact of prison on recidivism, sources of inmate violence, the use of meta-analysis to organize criminological knowledge, early intervention and crime prevention, and work-family conflict among law enforcement officials.

    Mary K. Stohr is a Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Missouri State University. She received a Ph.D. (1990) in political science, with specializations in public administration and criminal justice, from Washington State University. Professor Stohr has published over 75 academic works in the areas of correctional organizations and operation, correctional personnel, inmate needs and assessment, gender, victimization, and program evaluation. Her publications include Corrections: The Essentials, Correctional Assessment, Casework and Counseling, Corrections: A Text Reader, Criminal Justice Management: Theory and Practice in Justice Centered Organizations, and The Inmate Prison Experience. Within the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, she is a past two-term treasurer, received the Academy's Founders Award in 2009, is a co-founder of the Corrections Section, and is currently ACJS's Executive Director.

    About the Contributors

    Francis T. Cullen is a Distinguished Research Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, where he also holds a joint appointment in sociology. He received a Ph.D. (1979) in sociology and education from Columbia University. Professor Cullen has published over 300 works in the areas of corrections, criminological theory, white-collar crime, public opinion, the measurement of sexual victimization, and the organization of criminological knowledge. His recent publications include Reaffirming Rehabilitation (30th Anniversary Edition), Correctional Theory: Context and Consequences, Unsafe in the Ivory Tower: The Sexual Victimization of College Women, the Encyclopedia of Criminological Theory, The Origins of American Criminology, and The Oxford Handbook of Criminological Theory. Professor Cullen is a Past President of the American Society of Criminology and of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. In 2010, he received the ASC Edwin H. Sutherland Award.

    John E. Eck is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. For over three decades, he has assisted local police services in developing more effective approaches to reducing crime. His work helped to establish problem-oriented policing as a major worldwide strategy for police in democratic societies. He has written extensively on police matters in academic journals and for practitioners.

    Craig Hemmens is Department Head and Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Missouri State University. He holds a J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law and a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University. He has published 19 books and more than 100 articles on a variety of criminal justice–related topics. His primary research interests are criminal law and procedure and corrections. He has served as the editor of the Journal of Criminal Justice Education and as a guest editor of The Prison Journal and The Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.

    Kristi Holsinger is an Associate Professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Her research interests are in the areas of theory, correctional interventions and policy related to criminalized females, innovations in teaching, and youth mentoring programs. Her publications include a newly released book, Teaching Justice: Solving Social Justice Problems TroughUniversity Education, and articles in Feminist Criminology, Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, Journal of Criminal Justice Education, and Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.

    Byron R. Johnson is a Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. He is the founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) as well as Director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior. Before joining the faculty at Baylor University, Professor Johnson directed research centers at Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania. He recently completed a series of studies for the Department of Justice on the role of religion in prosocial youth behavior and is a member of the Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Presidential Appointment). He is a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based initiatives, and criminal justice. His recent publications have examined the impact of faith-based programs on recidivism reduction and prisoner reentry.

    Cheryl Lero Jonson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Xavier University. She received a Ph.D. (2010) in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. Her publications include Correctional Theory: Context and Consequences and The Origins of American Criminology. Her work has appeared in Criminology and Public Policy, Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, and Victims and Offenders. Her current research interests focus on the impact of prison on recidivism, sources of inmate violence, the use of meta-analysis to organize criminological knowledge, early intervention and crime prevention, and work-family conflict among law enforcement officials.

    Benjamin Meade received his Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice from the University of South Carolina in 2012. He currently works as an Assistant Professor in the Justice Studies Department at James Madison University. His research interests focus on issues related to corrections, the link between religion and deviance, and the role of religion in corrections. His recent and forthcoming work appears in the Journal of Criminal Justice, the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, and Justice Quarterly.

    Roberto Hugh Potter has spent the past two decades researching and working at the intersections among criminal justice, public health, health care, and social control. For 10 years he worked on violence prevention, substance abuse, and correctional health issues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), before returning to academia in his native Florida. This experience culminated in the text Epidemiological Criminology: A Public Health Approach to Crime and Violence (Akers, Potter, & Hill, 2013). Parts of his chapter here can be traced to one of his projects at the CDC, the never-published Surgeon General's Call to Action on Corrections and Community Health, that explored the nexus between health care delivery in correctional facilities and the nonexistent public health care delivery system in the United States. Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona used that project as an example of science-based projects that were “interfered with” by political entities in congressional testimony. He continues his interest in the use of noncriminal justice forms of social control to regulate daily behaviors, which he and Jeffrey W. Rosky have described as “the iron fist in the latex glove.” He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Florida in 1982 and returned to the Florida University System at the University of Central Florida in 2008, where he serves as the Director of Research Partnerships and Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice.

    Lois Presser is an Associate Professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee. She studied at Cornell University (B.S., 1987), Yale University (M.B.A., 1994), and the University of Cincinnati (Ph.D., 2002). Her scholarly work pertains to intersections of culture and harm, power, and justice, and to restorative justice practices. She is the author of Been a Heavy Life: Stories of Violent Men (University of Illinois Press). Her work has been published in such journals as Justice Quarterly, Signs, and Social Problems. Her next book, Why We Harm (in press, Rutgers University Press), presents a general cultural theory of harmful action.

    Jeffrey W. Rosky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida. He received his Ph.D. (2010) in criminal justice from Washington State University. He also holds a B.A. in statistics from Rutgers University and an M.S. in biometrics from the University of Colorado. His work has appeared in Criminology and Public Policy, Sexual Abuse, Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, and American Journal of Criminal Justice. His research interests include criminological theory, jail systems, prison health care delivery, correctional treatment programs, sex offending, and research methods. Prior to his academic career, he worked as a researcher in the Montana and Colorado state correctional systems and as a biostatistician in environmental science, public health, infectious disease, and cardiac research.

    Myrinda Schweitzer is an Associate Director with the Corrections Institute at the University of Cincinnati. She received her B.A. in psychology from the University of Cincinnati and her M.A. in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She has published two works on the implementation of evidence-based practices in the community and in a prison setting. She has managed over 30 projects, including a statewide correctional treatment program evaluation, the development and implementation of cognitive-behavioral programs, and recent initiatives to implement effective practices for community supervision. She also has practical experience working in both juvenile and adult rehabilitation programs.

    Paula Smith is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice and Director of the Corrections Institute at the University of Cincinnati. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of New Brunswick, Saint John, in 2006. She has coauthored the book Corrections in the Community, and written over 30 publications in the area of corrections. Her research interests include meta-analysis, the assessment of offender treatment and deterrence programs, the development of risk and need assessments for clinicians and managers in prisons and community corrections, the effects of prison life, and the transfer of knowledge to practitioners and policy makers. She has also directed federal- and state-funded research projects, including studies of prisons, community-based correctional programs, juvenile drug courts, probation and parole departments, and mental health services.

    Benjamin Steiner is an Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. His research interests focus on issues related to juvenile justice and to institutional and community corrections. He has published over 50 journal articles and book chapters related to these topics. Some of his most recent work has appeared in Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Law and Society Review, Justice Quarterly, and Crime and Delinquency. He is currently the coprincipal investigator on a study funded by the National Institute of Justice that examines the effects of exposure to different types of violence on inmate maladjustment. His other current projects involve examining the causes and correlates of inmate victimization and rule breaking, along with the official responses to inmate rule violations.

    Mary K. Stohr is a Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Missouri State University. She received a Ph.D. (1990) in political science, with specializations in public administration and criminal justice, from Washington State University. Professor Stohr has published over 75 academic works in the areas of correctional organizations and operation, correctional personnel, inmate needs and assessment, gender, victimization, and program evaluation. Her publications include Corrections: The Essentials, Correctional Assessment, Casework and Counseling, Corrections: A Text Reader, Criminal Justice Management: Theory and Practice in Justice Centered Organizations, and The Inmate Prison Experience. Within the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, she is a past two-term treasurer, received the Academy's Founders Award in 2009, is a co-founder of the Corrections Section, and is currently ACJS's executive director.

    Jody L. Sundt is an Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the Division of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University. Her research focuses on the effectiveness of correctional policy, religion in prison, and public attitudes toward crime and punishment. The American Society of Criminology's Division of Corrections and Sentencing named Dr. Sundt a Distinguished New Scholar in 2006.

    John F. Wozniak is Chair and Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Western Illinois University. He received a Ph.D. (1993) in sociology at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada). Professor Wozniak served two years as president of the Justice Studies Association. He is a coeditor of Transformative Justice: Critical and Peacemaking Themes Influenced by RichardQuinney. His published works on peacemaking criminology and other criminal justice topics have appeared in Criminology, Crime and Delinquency, the Journal of Criminal Justice, Contemporary Justice Review, Crime, Law, and Social Change, and the Journal of Criminal Justice Education. His current research interests include green criminology and critical criminology.

    Kevin A. Wright is an Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. He earned his Ph.D. in criminal justice from Washington State University in 2010. His research interests include criminological theory and correctional policy, with particular emphasis placed on how they intersect. His published work has appeared in Criminology and Public Policy, Justice Quarterly, and the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation.


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