As long as they have existed, correctional facilities have been discussed in terms of their exact purpose and levels of effectiveness. Such dialogue often concerns the actual purpose that a prison should serve, whether it is to punish a criminal for their conduct or to focus on rehabilitating them to ensure a successful return into society. In an ideal world, a correctional facility would meet both of these requirements, but the truth remains that it is exceptionally difficult to strike a harmonious balance between such diverse aspirations.
The secondary issue centers on how effective correctional facilities are in achieving either aim. As contemporary facilities have leant towards rehabilitation and modifying values and behaviour through learning, there has been criticism that this ethos actually creates an environment that is far too comfortable for inmates and convicted felons. Such an atmosphere does little to encourage a criminal to learn or change their conduct, nor does it act as any form of punishment for a particular crime that has been committed.
Crime and Punishment
Many correctional facilities across the world are designed with different concepts and ideologies in mind. In Eastern European and Asian cultures, such facilities are feared and renowned for appalling conditions and brutality, whereas western prisons are far more developed and built to suit rehabilitation and personal improvement. Each has their own sets of supporters and critics, but it is the western and US correctional facilities that are considered the most effective in a civilized society.
Before assessing the statistics however, it is important to understand the relationship between crime and punishment. This correlation is key in determining how correctional facilities function, and also how they approach the task of reprimanding and assisting criminals. The most prominent notion in western thinking is that the nature of the punishment for the crime is irrelevant when compared to the certainty of capture, and therefore that a combination of incarceration and therapy is best suited to rehabilitating a criminal mindset.
Incarceration and Probation Statistics
With this in mind, it is interesting to assess the criminal statistics prevalent in the US. Although it is well known that crime rates have increased in various geographical areas in the country, the number of adults either incarcerated or on probation has actually remained constant over the last 5 years. These figures also suggest that there has been a slight decrease in the number of repeat offenders that frequent correctional facilities, and therefore act as some verification for the merits of rehabilitation amongst convicts.
In 2009, 3.2 percent of the adult population were involved in some stage of the criminal correctional program. The figure has been consistent and steady between 3.1 and 3.3 percent since 1998, and arrested the continual rise in the criminal fraternity that persisted through the 1990’s. The majority of this number was on probation, and therefore perpetrators of minor or often inconsequential crime, while a combined total of approximately 1.5 million were either on parole or in jail awaiting trial or sentencing.
In total, there were just over 1.5 million adults in prison throughout 2009, which although represented a slight rise on the number recorded in 2008, was actually influenced more by the increasing population figures rather than increased criminal activity or sentencing. The meld of figures concerning felons who are either incarcerated, on probation or at some point in between is encouraging, as there appears to be no significant rise in the percentage of the adult population who have been punished for or are awaiting judgement on perpetrated criminal acts.
The Balance between Punishment and Correction
Governments and human rights activists will insist that the current statistical analysis shows that it is possible for prisons to remain enhanced and humane places, without compromising the loss of personal freedom and need for rehabilitation. This analysis also seems to support the notion that it is not severe punishment and brutality that makes an individual regret their crimes, but the deprivation of freedom, personal liberty and also a structured learning and rehabilitation program. These assertions may well be true, but there is no doubt that the balance needs to be maintained, and that there is some element of punishment and behavioural modification involved in correctional facilities.
There has been an increasing emphasis on the level of human rights that prisoners are allowed, as well as a concerning number of unreasonable law suits claimed by convicts against victims of crime and dutiful officers or prison wardens. These instances could be indicative of a worrying trend in terms of the liberties that are afforded to criminals, and only serve to undermine the purpose of any US correctional facility.