Source: Andrew Bardwell
In January 2010, 24-year-old Patricia Spottedcrow was arrested for selling $31 worth of marijuana to a police informant from her home in Kingfisher County, OK. Because her children were home at the time, Spottedcrow was charged with possession of a dangerous substance in the presence of a minor in addition to being charged with distributing a controlled substance. Since she had no prior criminal record and since the amount of marijuana sold was small, Spottedcrow elected to enter into a blind plea before the judge, meaning that she pleaded guilty without a prior sentencing arrangement. To her shock, she was then sentenced to 12 years in prison and assessed approximately $2,740 in fines. Although most first time drug offenders in Oklahoma receive suspended sentences and some are ordered into treatment, Spottedcrow was treated much more severely. For the wife, mother of four, and former nursing home employee, the foreseeable future looked grim and bleak. (more…)
The General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing [RCN], Peter Carter, has called for the prescription of the (currently illegal) drug heroin to be prescribed on the National Health Service [NHS]. Although, not the first to suggest this radical approach to problematic drug (mis)use, his intervention at this particular juncture raises questions. Given the upcoming UK General Election (6 May 2010), as well as the recent controversies surrounding the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD], Carter’s comments appear somewhat provocative.
Despite evidence to suggest the success of trials (undertaken in London, Brighton and Darlington) – crime cut by 66% and 75% of those involved showing significantly reduced drug use – reactions to Carter’s comments have been diverse. If Peter Carter is correct and an extension of the scheme would continue to cut crime and improve opportunities for drug users to receive help with their addictions, it would seem a logical step. However, given the dichotomy as to whether drug (mis)use is seen as a criminal justice, or a medical matter, it is perhaps unsurprising that many people may feel uncomfortable with the idea of funding such therapy on the NHS. Either way given the role Peter Carter undertakes for the RCN, his positive endorsement for the scheme can only help to broaden the debate.
Eric L. Jensen on Adult Drug Treatment Courts: A Review
Bob Howard of the BBC has recently published an article looking at a scheme to combat sex offender recidivism. Originating in Canada, friendship circles are ‘based on the premise that while some offenders have friends and family to return to when they come out of prison, others have not and the more isolated they are, the more likely they are to re-offend’. Throughout the article, Sarah from London talks about her experiences as a volunteer for the child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation
Given the emotive nature of the crimes these particular offenders have been found guilty of, it is unsurprising that Sarah admits to some trepidation and concern prior to volunteering for the scheme. However, taking into account the positive results reported by Canada (currently a reduction in reoffending of 70%) it would appear to be more effective than traditional and arguably, more punitive methods.
Perhaps understandably, the scheme is not without its critics. For example Peter Saunders of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood suggests that electronic tagging would be a more appropriate response. Judging by the angry public comments which invariably follow any news story on the rehabilitation of sex offenders (this one included) it would seem that supporters of this scheme will have their work cut out.
Kelly M. Socia Jr and Janet P. Stamatel on ‘Assumptions and Evidence Behind Sex Offender Laws: Registration, Community Notification, and Residence Restrictions’
Chas Critcher on ‘Moral Panic Analysis: Past, Present and Future’
A recent discussion between Erwin James and Jonathon Aitken draws attention once more to the apparent incompatibility between prison and rehabilitation. As both James and Aitken are former prisoners, it is perhaps understandable that they have strong feelings about imprisonment.
During their discussion James and Aitken touch on issues of honesty, recidivism, education as well as the cost of imprisonment. At the heart of their discussion is the realisation that even in the twenty first century it would seem that there is no real consensus as to what prisons are actually supposed to achieve. It appears that despite the great wealth of research carried out into imprisonment and recidivism, including such authors as Foucault, Ignatieff, Martinson, Cavadino and Dignan, the political will to rehabilitate offenders is often lacking.
What perhaps sets this particular discussion apart is its novel focus on the economics of rehabilitation. Possibly, Britain beset by recession may find a new impetus to explore rehabilitation in a more meaningful way. As Jonathon Aitken points out:
“If rehabilitation reduces reoffending, you have two bonuses: you save money and, perhaps more importantly, communities will start to feel safer.”
Doreen Anderson-Facile on Basic Challenges to Prisoner Reentry
Johann Hari’s recent article in the Independent focuses on the ‘credit crunch’ and crime, in the UK. He states that ‘[i]t is an iron law of sociology that when the economy falls, crime spikes.’ However, Hari is keen to put forward three ideas for tackling crime. In brief these are:
• Move all mentally ill prisoners to hospital where they can be treated appropriately
• Stop trying to enforce a policy of abstinence for users of illegal drugs
• Make rehabilitation the primary aim of prison.
Although, Hari links these suggested reforms to the current recession, he does not make clear how such policies would stop crime increasing. Instead the focus appears to be on those already in the criminal justice system. He also fails to explain where the political will and financial resources are likely to be found.
However, while many may agree with some, if not all of Hari’s suggestion it seems unlikely they will be accepted by the current government, who judging by their track record prefer to take a more punitive approach to crime.
Healing Victims and Offenders and Reducing Crime: A Critical Assessment of Restorative Justice Practice and Theory
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers has recently expressed concern at the escalation of prison violence in England and Wales. While, she has acknowledged that, thus far the violence has been effectively contained, it would seem that this may struggle to continue. In her Annual Report she identifies many areas of concern, but once more the main focus appears to be on overcrowding.
In spite of some positive areas—particularly in relation to the help provided to prisoners upon release—Anne Owers articulates considerable anxiety at the current state of British prisons. Such a viewpoint is shared by Juliet Lyon (Prison Reform Trust) who also pinpoints the increasing prison population, as well as major concerns with the Government’s proposal to build super-sized ‘Titan jails’ to deal with the problem.
Since the creation of the first prisons we have seen a continuing debate over the purpose of prison. Questions of rehabilitation, incapacitation and recidivism crop up again and again. It would appear that even today we are no closer to answering Robert Martinson’s question ‘What Works?’ Until a satisfactory conclusion is reached it is unlikely that any real progress can be achieved.
Meredith Rossner on Healing Victims and Offenders and Reducing Crime
Due to the current state of the economy of the United States many individuals across the country are concerned about job security. With the current unemployment rate in the U.S. climbing to 7.2 % (U.S. Labor Department), those who are unemployed are finding it extremely difficult to obtain employment with so many competing in the job market. For many, maintaining or obtaining employment is on their mind from the moment they awake until they fall asleep, with some even finding their worries invading sleep time. These concerns have different implications for different people, but for ex-convicts the state of the economy can have the greatest implications.
For those without a job, having to “check the box” at a time with so many seeking new employment their odds for being hired are pretty dismal. This obviously has great implications for being able to obtain legitimate means to being able to support themselves. Much research has shown support for a relationship between unemployment and recidivism. One can only imagine the sociological research that is going to be conducted within the next decade on the effects the recession has had crime in general, as well as recidivism rates. In a recent news article (see below) the implications on the tough job market for ex-convicts are discussed. For additional information on criminal records, unemployment, and recidivism see the link below.
Tight Job Market Makes Finding Work Even Tougher for Ex-Convicts
Ban the Box to Promote Ex-Offender Employment
The Longford Prize for outstanding work in the area of social and penal reform has recently been announced. Although the award has been running since 2002, honouring diverse organisations and individuals, this year is the first time the prize has been awarded to a prison. HMP Grendon was chosen for its unique approach to tackling recidivism, described by the Longford Trust as offering a “beacon of hope”’ for its inmates.
Since its creation in 1962 the prison has been seen as controversial, with its focus on the individual prisoner, as well as ensuring it remains as a ‘therapeutic community.’ Even though Grendon is part of the larger prison estate, it remains unique in both its approach and technique: prisoners have to request a transfer to the prison; once there the expectation is that they are drug free and actively participate in understanding and addressing their offending. There has been a great deal of criticism from many quarters, (including the Prison Service), in part based on perceptions that the regime is not punitive enough, effectively ignoring Grendon’s success in combating recidivism.
In spite of any encouragement offered by this award, HMP Grendon should not be seen in isolation as an eccentric experiment. Instead, we should seize the opportunity to revisit the long-standing debate, as to what it is we hope to achieve through imprisonment. If simple containment is the answer to society’s ills, then Grendon offers very little. However, if both rehabilitation and the reduction of crime are fundamental aims, then maybe Grendon can indeed offer a ‘beacon of hope’.
Rehabilitation: An Assessment of Theory and Research by Mark W. Lipsey, Nana A. Landenberger and Gabrielle L. Chapman