The incarceration rate in the United States began to rise in the early 1970’s and since has become the highest rate in the world. There are “730 prisoners for every 100,000 citizens”(Jones & Mauer, 2013, p.3). Here are a few shocking statistics about incarceration and forensic social work featuring the television series Orange is the New Black.
As guest speaker Jeff Pryor mentioned in his presentation this week, everyone is just one bad choice away from incarceration. “The most common form of correctional supervision in the United States is probation” (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, p. 322). Other alternatives to incarceration are parole which requires some time in prison and then restrictions after release into the community (323). “7.2 Americans are under some form of correctional supervision” (Class Notes Week 4).
The Pennsylvania and Auburn model of New York in 1829 were some of the few ideas emphasizing solitary confinement and extreme restrictions of the imprisoned. Charles Dickens noted that this type of system is not one offering reformation, rather dehumanization (Jones & Mauer, 2013, p. 7-9). This system of punitive action towards the incarcerated does not allow for progressive change after release.
The average re-entry rate after a prisoner’s release is about 50%. This is perhaps the biggest indicator of the failure of our current system. It is very clear that when prisoners are released, many have no resources to restart their life and most lack the ability to receive a job, federal food programs, and even housing. Therefore, the only place for released prisoners to have a meal and a place to sleep is back in jail.
The three strikes law passed under Clinton’s administration requires life without parole after the third violent felony. Yet it’s effectiveness is debatable among the states. Also, many debate the fairness of mandatory sentencing and its impact when “36% of incarcerated drug offenders were low level, had limited criminal histories, were non-violent and had minimal role in their offenses. They are one-fifth of the federal prison population” according to Janet Reno’s study (Jones & Mauer, 2013, p. 61).
“When women go to prison, over 70 percent of them leave behind children under age eighteen” (DiNitto & McNee, 2008, p. 313). In 2003, President Bush addressed implementing a mentoring program for the children of prisoners in his State of the Union Address (Jones & Mauer, 2013).
“People of color are disproportionately represented behind bars and makeup 65 percent of the prison population. The lifetime likelihood of going to prison is 28 percent for black men, 16 percent for Hispanic men, and just over 4 percent for white men” (DiNitto & Mcnee, 2008, p.312).
“About 16 percent of male and 23 percent of female jail inmates have been identified as mentally ill. Many incarcerated individuals need treatment for co-occurring disorders” (Dinitto & McNeece, 2008,p.312). The defunding of mental health institutions under the Regan Administration resulted in an extreme amount of untreated patients without resources for care. As a result, many are found committing crimes and therefore incarcerated.
Coercion is never a true reformative method of change for anyone, especially when crime is often a response to social conditions.Therefore, the role of a Social Worker in Forensics is to provide resources and an ecological perspective for the client. Methods such as restorative justice allow clients to help themselves and provide rehabilitation rather than punitive deterrence in prison. Of course, the possibility of re-entry is always a significant motivator in lifestyle changes. Jeff noted that in his program, ABLE, there is an 82% success rate of preventing re-entry after release (Pryor).
Jones, S., & Mauer, Marc. (2013). Race to incarcerate a graphic retelling. New York: The New Press
DiNitto, D., & McNeece, Carl Aaron. (2008). Social work : Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession (3rd ed.). Chicago, Ill.: Lyceum Books.