The U.S. Penal System


Prison inmates, are some of the most "maladjusted" people in 
society. Most of the inmates have had too little discipline or too
much, come from broken homes, and have no self-esteem. They are very 
insecure and are "at war with themselves as well as with society" 
(Szumski 20). Most inmates did not learn moral values or learn to 
follow everyday norms. Also, when most lawbreakers are labeled 
criminals they enter the phase of secondary deviance. They will admit 
they are criminals or believe it when they enter the phase of 
secondary deviance (Doob 171). Next, some believe that if we want to 
rehabilitate criminals we must do more than just send them to prison. 
For instance, we could give them a chance to acquire job skills; which 
will improve the chances that inmates will become productive citizens 
upon release. The programs must aim to change those who want to 
change. Those who are taught to produce useful goods and to be 
productive are "likely to develop the self-esteem essential to a 
normal, integrated personality" (Szumski 21). This kind of program 
would provide skills and habits and "replace the sense of 
hopelessness" that many inmates have (Szumski 21). 

 Moreover, another technique used to rehabilitate criminals is 
counseling. There is two types of counseling in general, individual
and group counseling. Individual counseling is much more costly than 
group counseling. The aim of group counseling is to develop positive 
peer pressure that will influence its members. One idea in many 
sociology text is that group problem-solving has definite advantages 
over individual problem-solving. The idea is that a wider variety of 
solutions can be derived by drawing from the experience of several 
people with different backgrounds. Also one individuals problem might 
have already been solved by another group member and can be suggested. 
Often if a peer proposes a solution it carries more weight than if the
counselor were to suggest it (Bennett 20-24). 

 Further, in sociology, one of the major theories of 
delinquency is differential association (Cressey 1955). This means 
some people learned their ways from "undesirable" people who they were 
forced to be in association with and that this association "warps" 
their thinking and social attitudes. "Group counseling, group 
interaction, and other kinds of group activities can provide a 
corrective, positive experience that might help to offset the earlier 
delinquent association" (Bennett 25). However, it is said that group 
counseling can do little to destroy the power of labeling (Bennett 
26). The differential-association theory emphasizes that a person is 
more likely to become a criminal if the people who have the greatest 
influence upon them are criminals (Doob 169). 

 Most of today's correctional institutions lack the ability and 
programs to rehabilitate the criminals of America. One can predict
that a prisoner held for two, four, eight or ten years, then released, 
still with no educationling, there is disadvantages. For instance, 
members of the group might not be as open or show emotion because they 
want to appear "tough." Also the members might not express their 
opinions openly because the others might see it as "snitching." For 
the group to work it takes a dedicated counselor (Bennett 22-23). 
Another type of correctional center used for rehabilitation is halfway 
houses. Halfway houses are usually located in residential communities 
and are aimed to keep offenders in the community. The name comes from
the fact that they are "halfway between the community and the prison" 
(Fox 60). 

 The "rationale" behind halfway houses is that criminal 
activity originates in the community, so the community has a 
responsibility to try to correct it. Also, sending a person who has 
deviant behavior and who has been associated with criminal influences, 
to prison would just make the problem worse (Fox 61). "The best place 
for treatment is in the community; this prevents the breaking of all 
constructive social ties" (Fox 61). Programs in halfway houses usually 
involve work release or study release and group sessions for therapy 
and counseling. Most programs vary greatly depending on the 
administrator. Generally, the purpose is to "reintegrate" members back 
into the community. There are three systems generally used in programs 
and in the process: "change by compliance, client-centered change, and 
change by credibility in that it 'makes sense." (Fox 73). The 
compliance model is designed to make good work habits. The 
client-centered model focuses on a high understanding of the person. 
The credibility model emphasizes making decisions and getting back 
into the community. These programs are made to avoid institutions as 
much as possible (Fox 73). On the other hand, many inmates think the 
government does not want to rehabilitate criminals. The reason behind 
this thinking is that prisons supply thousands of jobs to the economy. 
Also the construction of new prisons brings millions of dollars into 
the economy each year and if there were no new prisons needed it would 
mean the loss of thousands of jobs (Szumski 24-26). Henry Abernathy 
and inmate in Texas said "just think what a catastrophe it would cause 
if all cons across the country decided never to commit another crime." 
Richard Cepulonis, an inmate in Massachusetts said just the title 
"Department of Corrections" is a "misnomer" he said "they don't 
correct anything." In conclusion, things need to be done to improve 
rehabilitation in America. Improvements in job training, counseling, 
and halfway houses for rehabilitation must be brought to the forefront 
by citizens. If we do not get involved and try to make changes, our 
crime problem could worsen beyond control. 


Szumski, Bonnie. America's Prisons Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven 
Press, Inc.: 1985 

Doob, Christopher. Sociology: An Introduction. Harcourt Brace & 
Company, United States: 1994

Bennett, Lawrence. Counseling in Correctional Environments. New York: 
New York, 1978

Fox, Vernon. Community-Based Corrections. Englewood Cliffs: New 
Jersey, 1977.


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