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Evaluating the effect of imprisonment on the later criminal career development of those imprisoned is complicated by many factors (Nieuwbeerta et al,2009). One is that a previous, even the sign of the effect of the prison experience on subsequent criminality is unpredictable. There have been on going arguments on if the experience of imprisonment either increases or decreases criminal propensity. Further, the effect may be dependent on previous imprisonment, the age and the progress and development of criminal career (Bales and Piquero, 2012 and Nieuwbeerta et al,2009). Imprisonment as punishment is selectively imposed. Offenders who are sentenced to prison usually have committed more serious crimes and have more extensive prior records of offending, on average, than their counterparts who receive noncustodial sanctions (Tonry, 2013) and all these differences must be carefully accounted for to isolate statistically the effect of imprisonment on subsequent criminal behaviour.
McCormick (1950), the high number of offenders incarcerated does not guarantee the success of imprisonment at reducing re-offending but shows the retributive nature of imprisonment as a punishment. Prison sentences have not succeeded in turning majority of offenders away from crime because, prison operated based on simply retribution would only produce more criminals than prevent or reduce it. Some research studies have shown that offenders sentenced to prison have a higher rate of re-offending after their release (Tonry, 2013; Apel and Diller, 2017). In a study conducted by Cunliffe and Shepherd in 2007 for the Home Office, found that a large percentage of all those released from prison are likely to re-offend within two years, a majority of males between the ages of 18- 20 are more likely to get reconvicted, compared to a lesser percentage of offenders who are likely to get reconvicted within two years after serving a community sentence, even though, the fact remains that it cost less to sentence offenders to non-custodial punishment. In a report released by the Social Exclusion Unit (2002), It was stated that prisoners released in 1997, 57 per cent were convicted of another crime within two years, 36 per cent were back inside on another prison sentence. The system has struggled particularly to rehabilitate young offenders. 18-20-year-old male prisoners were reconvicted at a rate of 72 per cent over the same period, 47 per cent received another prison sentence.
Criminal behaviour is influenced by a wide range of intricate factors, that may usually be outside the scope of most prison facilities and the vast criminal justice system. Therefore, even though prison authorities may implement programs and interventions geared towards reducing re-offending, recidivism rates are mostly not considered to be convenient way to measure the performance of the prison (Ross and Guarnieri, 1996; Rugge and Dauvergne, 2003). Despite that, recidivism, as a gauge for reducing re-offending, remains a degree of central interest; especially when considered alongside other criminal justice statistics such as crime rates, imprisonment rates, changes in prisoner numbers and program evaluations (Maltz, 1984).
The term ‘recidivism’, is frequently understood as a return to offending, does not have a particularly accepted definition. significantly, recidivism refers to further occurrence of criminal behaviour. However, it is difficult to measure the circumstance of such behaviour (Maltz, 1984; Tarling, 1993). For instance, many crimes usually go unreported or even detected by the police, and self-report data is difficult to obtain. For this reason, and because criminal justice agencies tend to be most interested in events that are pertinent to their operation. Recidivism is usually defined in terms of events that have occurred within the criminal justice system, like further arrests, convictions, or terms of imprisonment. In actual fact, the reoffending statistics isn’t a precise reflection of the norm which poses a serious problem. We know for instance that of those reconvicted in the two years following release each will actually have received three further convictions on average. For each reconviction, it is estimated that five recorded offences are committed. At a modest estimate, released offender are responsible for a large amount of crimes committed yearly and only a small number of these crimes are reported and recorded. And it does not take to account the amount of unrecorded crime that ex-prisoners, reconvicted or otherwise may have committed (SEU, 2002; Tonry, 2013 and Tarling, 1993).
Despite the fact that statistics shows that crime rates are falling, but reconviction rates have risen and has remained stubbornly high in recent years (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002). This is due to a number of complex factors which have led to the separation of a number of factors that may have contributed: these includes the release support for short-term prisoners; those sentenced to less than 12 months; a change in benefit rules for prisoners and an abrupt increase in social exclusion in areas such as drug use, school and discrimination (Tonry, 2013).
In a study conducted in Netherlands in 2009, it was found that above 50% of offenders reoffend after serving time in prison compared to less than 50% of offenders given to non-custodial sentences (Wartna et al 2009). The prevalence was among ex-prisoners and inmates of juvenile detention centres, and more than half of them came in contact with the judicial system again in relation to a crime within two years of release. Although, offenders sentenced to community services were more likely to be first time offenders with less serious crimes when compared with offenders sentenced to prison. This shows that the ex-imprisoned population were extremely crime prone at the time they were selected for the study.
In the united states, recidivism among prisoners is a serious problem in their prisons. Statistics have shown that up to 58% of female prisoners and 68% of male prisoners are rearrested after being released from prison, and of these, up to 39% of the females and 53% of the males are re-imprisoned. This is a danger to the rehabilitation function of the prisons as it appears that the system is failing to deter prisoners from going back to crime (Tonry 2013; Blumstein, 2016).
Recidivism is a global phenomenon as it involves people repeating unconventional behaviours after being punished or rehabilitated due to the behaviour. Recidivism is mostly associated with criminal behaviours or substance abuse and the purpose of this essay; we will focus on the criminality. Recidivism is usually linked to psychopathy which is gratification enjoyed after committing a criminal act. Psychopaths hardly learn from their previous crimes and they are more likely to reoffend in the future even after receiving punishment.
The institution called plays a vital role in every society. Prison is supposed to provide prisoners with the environment where they can learn new skills in other to earn a living after release. Mental and physical health professionals are present to assist prisoners with this objective.
Prison also serves a deterrence purpose. Deterrence theory predicts that prisons increase the cost of offending and thus reduces re-offending. Deterrence refers to the crime prevention effects that are stem from the fear of being punished for offending (Weatherburn, 2006). Deterrence can either be general or specific. General deterrence sees punishment as a means to discourage every other member of the society from committing; the threat and pains of imprisonment also have an effect on the other populations which is likely to deter them from also leading a life of crime. Specific deterrence seeks to use punishment to discourage the offenders from reoffending. Prison advocates asserts that prisons can have such effects because prisons are more costly, painful to offenders than a mild sentence in the community (Nagin et al, 2009). They argued that ex-prisoners find prison very scary and wouldn’t want to go back there.
Prisons can also reduce the criminal participation of prisoners by holding them so that they will no longer be able to commit crime or break the law in the community. Criminals are removed from the community and placed in a secure institution for rehabilitation, in other to foster safety and peace within the community. The incapacitation of offenders makes sure that those convicted of offences are unable to commit further crimes against the wider community during their time in prison; this also fosters a sense of security, stability and trust within the community (Weatherburn, 2006). The community feels protected and safe because those that pose as threat to their lives and properties are not roaming free but are in custody. Victims of crime get justice in order to view society as fair and just. Although, a crime like murder, cannot compensate for the loss of life but the fact that the offender is brought to justice says a lot (Lee and Mccray, 2017).
Nagin et al (2009). Describes imprisonment as a social experience that places offenders in a unique social territory which they called the ”society of captives”. Imprisonment restructures the prisoners’ lives of freedom to that of massive restraint. They argued further by stating that although the purpose of imprisonment is to prevent crime by encouraging conformity with the law and provide prosocial lessons, but instead, the social segregation may lead to the increase exposure to crime inducing influences, where through daily interactions between inmates, values supportive of crime can be easily transmitted and learned. For instance; a small-time drug seller from the streets in prison through interactions may run the risk of been exposed to other inmates that were involved in large-scale drug trafficking. Prison is thus, a social learning environment where criminal socialization takes place and a criminal orientation is possibly strengthened, a place where other prisoners reinforces negative attitudes towards crimes.
Imprisonment from the labelling theory angle has a criminogenic effect as it provides the opportunity for criminal identity to be reinforced and accepted. Prison creates an avenue where prisoners face a lot of stigmatization both in and outside prison. In prison, prisoners are treated as criminals and they begin to see themselves as such leads to a situation where this criminal identity is internalized and acted out. Most ex-prisoners also face a lot of discrimination and stigmatization upon their release in areas like legal employment, housing, and care. This is increases the chance of ex-prisoners return to committing crime in other to survive (Nagin et al, 2009 and SEU, 2002).
The conditions of most prisons around the world are very different to the ideal environment that would facilitate rehabilitation and correction. Most prisons are in very poor conditions, they are overcrowded, and crime thrives. Overcrowding in prisons defeats the rehabilitative role of prisons as funding do not increase as the prison population increases. It becomes difficult for prisoners to access individual attention from counsellors or health care professionals who can assist them with their mental and physical needs. Overcrowding increases the chances for prisoners to get away with crime inside of prisons as it is difficult to catch or take the required steps to discourage the crimes. There is a growing consensus that the criminal justice system is sending some people that should not be in prison there (Nagin et al, 2009 and SEU, 2002). Many people with severe mental health illness are in prison rather than to a secure treatment facility where they can receive appropriate treatment. This contributes to overcrowding that in turns limits the capacity prison to work effectively. Mental health problems are usually made worse by imprisonment if not properly managed. Inadequate treatment will make it more difficult for prisoners with mental health problems to make good use of opportunities and training aimed at reducing re-offending in prison all these can lead to significant problems with coping after release (Blumstein, 2016).
Lack of funding for prisons makes it difficult for the institutions to provide inmates with the mental and vocational skills they need to ensure they live a crime free life after prison. Since most prisoners commit crime because of unemployment, after their release without these important skills they may just find themselves going back to committing crime in other to survive. Most studies of recidivism focused on individual level characteristics, find that people with prior offences, drug addictions and low level of education tend to reoffend even after going to prison (Tonry, 2013 and Apel and Diller, 2017).
The prison environment is place that encourages vices and criminal behaviours. Many prisoners still engage in crimes within prison due to influence form their peers and partnership with corrupt criminal justice officers. The crimes include: substance abuse, violence, theft and sexual offences amongst prisoners. Drugs are readily available in most prisons and some prisoners may start to use which can lead to an addiction. Without proper aftercare, released prisoners may turn to committing crime in other to sustain their drug addiction. In most American prisons, imprisoned drug users have access to drugs, as long as they can afford it either by paying with cash or by paying with favours both inside and outside the prison, this may entrench an addiction. These favours may include attacking another inmate on behalf of the drug peddler or helping with a criminal activity after release (Tonry, 2013).
The social exclusion unit (2002) released in its report that a prison sentence might increase the chances of reoffending, due to imprisonment, a third of prisoners lose their home, two thirds lose their job, a fifth face increased financial problems and over two third lose contact with their families. Prison sentences can be counter-productive as contribution to crime reduction and public safety. When an offender is sent to prison, it can damage the positive link between the offender and his or her family, break stable relationship, loss of employment and housing.
Most prisoners have a history of social exclusion, including high levels of family, educational and health disadvantage and poor prospects in the labour market. SEU (2002) released in its report that prisoners are far more likely than the general population to have grown up in care, lived in abject poverty or in a disadvantaged family setting. They are also less likely to be in stable relationships and are more likely to have suffered relationship of family breakdown, teenage or single parents.
Ross and Guarnieri (1996) carried out a study on reconviction and the re-imprisonment of Victorian prisoners. From a sample of 838 prisoners released from custody; within two years of release, 60 percent had been reconvicted of at least one crime and 43 percent had been sent back to prison. Within seven years, 74 percent had been reconvicted and 54 percent had been back to prison. It also found out that male and female offenders were equally likely to reoffend, reconvicted and re-imprisoned but younger prisoners were more likely to reoffend and re-imprisoned than older prisoners. Prisoners with many prior offences were also more likely to reoffend and re-imprisoned and offenders in prison for burglary, theft were more likely to reoffend and sent back to prison than prisoners charged for homicide.
Spier (2002) in a New Zealand study found that almost 60 percent of offenders aged 15-19 years reoffended and re-imprisoned within two years compared with 17 percent of offenders aged 40 years and over. Jones et al (2006) also found that age is constantly connected with reoffending, reconviction and recidivism with other factors like prison term and ethnicity were considered. He also found a greater number of male prisoners reoffend than female prisoners. Prior imprisonment is also closely linked with reoffending. Spier (2002) found out that prisoners who have been convicted previously were more likely to reoffend again compared with those that have no prior convictions.
Majority of prisoners serving short term sentences receive little support before their release and even afterwards. They are not required to be supervised by a probation officer, as a result, they are released in a completely unmanaged way, and they are left by themselves to cope with the changes that has taken place in their lives because of imprisonment and the society of which might be difficult and challenging can lead them back to crime. Jones et al 2006 and Spier, 2002 also found that prisoners that served short sentences were more likely to reoffend than prisoners serving longer sentences.
In conclusion, the cost of reoffending by ex-prisoners cannot be quantified, but the effects and impact can be overwhelming and long term. It is mostly felt by the most vulnerable in society; most noticeably is the impact on the victims (some may be repeat victims) and their families, the community, the offenders alongside their families.
It can be said that the prison environment is no longer conducive to rehabilitate inmates as crimes are now been committed inside the prisons. There is also the environment outside the prison which poses as a challenge to prisoners which makes it difficult to settle back into the community after their release. All these factors contribute to the high rates of ex-prisoners reoffending.
Nagin et al (2009) suggested that imprisonment should be used as the last resort or when it is necessary for a offender. There are some categories of offenders that prison is the best way to punish them and to guarantee the safety of the other members of the community.
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