Impact of Prisons on Prisoners' Recidivism

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The oxford definition of recidivism is defined as, the act or habit of continuing to commit crimes even after being punished (Oxford, 1879) and is such an important topic in society because of the danger and impact that prisoners by using restorative justice, repairing the harm done by the criminal and helping them through a rehabilitation process to prepare them for post-release societal integration. (STERBENZ, 2014). The Norwegian prison system takes the approach of rehabilitation whereby the aim is to make the prison environment as normal and as realistic to real life as possible. There are no bars on windows, kitchens in rooms are fully equipped and often one can find friendships forming between prisoners and guards (STERBENZ, 2014). It`s incarceration rates differ hugely to those of the US (figure 1). On the other hand retribution systems punish prisoners for their crimes through suffering proportionate to how grave the crime they committed was. In retribution prison systems different levels of security and length of sentence can influence the level of suffering the prisoner endures. The US, as an example of retribution, adopts punishment as their way of sentencing their prisoners. Both rehabilitation and retribution systems have strengths and limitations and in order to answer the question one must look at both types of prison systems and how they are both associated with recidivism rates.

(Bhuller et al, 2019) Rehabilitation Prison System: The Norwegian government has never been as aware of supporting the works of rehabilitation of former prison inmates than now. Most crimes that happen today occur by people that already have a criminal record suggesting that the main goal is to reduce recidivism (Langelid, 1996) by Norwegian prison services and prison workers rehabilitating prisoners to a crimeless life (Criminol, 2012). It has been recognized that post-prison release causes huge amounts of problems to inmates during their integrative law ates, establishing daily routines for their prisoners, and helping them have a legal income source. (Criminal, 2012). These produce astonishing statistics which show Norwegians' low sentencing rates. Only 75 per 100,000 people are incarcerated compared to 707 for every 100,000 in the United States (STERBENZ, 2014)(figure 1).

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vism (Criminol, 2012) used a sample of 7,476 prisoners released from Norwegian prisons in 2003 and followed through in 2006 with monthly measures. It was found that the probability of recidivism is significantly low (12%) when inmates are employed after release compared to inmates that are not employed. This supports the idea of Norway`s prison system because inmates are prepared inside of the prisons for employment in post-prison life where more than 40% of former inmates are employed (Telle, 2009), having a direct correlation to Norway`s prison system and recidivism rates. Recidivism rates in Norway are one of the lowest in the world at 20% compared to the 76.6% recidivism rates in the US, whereby re-offending occurs within 5 years of release. Even criminals who mass kill still have access to video games, a treadmill, a tv and an overall luxurious and cozy life in relation to their crimes, characterizing Norway`s prisons as the nicest and the most humane in the world (Tolmasky, 2019) where inmates are not seen as separate individuals from society but rather souls in need of redemption (Tolmasky, 2019). These average approximately only 50 prisoners per prison, in order to allow for inmate families to visit easily and regularly. Prisoners commute from activity to activity within the prison and this is the normalization process, where today`s prisons in Norway try to mimic real life as much as possible. For example, they go the hairdresser, cook and commute to religious services all within the prison campus. This normality is also known as the Library effect whereby the smaller (Meld(2007-2008), 2009). Furthermore, in every prison, the prisoner-to-staff ratio is approximately secure. Inmates receive the full income from their labor and if not qualified for jobs, inmates have the right to receive education whereby they receive accreditation from a local institution which will in effect lead to lowered recidivism rates since this support that Norwegian prisoners are given should set them up for life outside prison and not make them desperate to commit new crimes.

However, it should be said that inconsistency may lie when talking about recidivism rates due to the fact that there are differences between me

That it gives to its inmates where they are given guaranteed healthcare, education and a place to live post-release as they make their way into real life again.

It can be said that it is expected that Norway has low prison population rates compared to the united states, with a mainly homogenous population with not as much diversity as the US-making the US`s prison population seem only to be a product of it`s national characteristics with its different people, economy, politics and geography (Labutta, 2017). to be used because of the US`s vital need of prison reform and its much-needed change of lowering the number of American prison recidivists. In addition, the problems which the US and Norway are facing are fundamentally equal and Norway`s prison system has been shown to provoke more success out of their released prisoners than the US with their lowest reoffending rate of every Nordic country where approximately only 20% (figure 2) of ex-prisoners re-offend within two years of release, compared to the US`s 67.8% (Matthew R. Durose, 2014) (Ploeg, 2015)

Retribution Prisons System: American prisons focus less on reform but rather on punishment, making their prisoners follow strict rules such as a compulsory daily schedule of when to wake up, what and when they eat, and what they wear which is usually a uniform. It neglects any form of bettering the individual and many people view this as exploitation, where prisoners work and making it hard for them to adjust to society.

Economists maintain the idea that retribution places direct and indirect costs on inmates' lives such as loss of income so much that the person would never choose to go back to committing crimes to avoid the suffering and prison environment they endured whilst in there (Goggin, 1999). There lies data to support this idea from a study done by Fabelo in 1995 (Goggin, 1999), who reported that a 30% increase in incarceration rates across 50 States in the US was associated with a decrease of 5% crime rate for the following 5 years, suggesting the success US prisons have in terms of lowering the number of recidivists who commit crimes after they have been released. However this study was done in 1995 when the rehabilitation system in the US had just recently been abolished and retribution was seen as a popular and constructive way to imprison criminals (Labutta, 2017), meaning perhaps there were still minor rehabilitative practices going on in certain States in the US which would have caused the 5% decrease in crime rate in this study and not the actual retribution style system.

A study conducted recidivism of prisoners of 30 states in the USA in 2005 where the Bureau of Justice Statistics tracked inmates for 3 years following release with a 5 year follow up- The methodology was they selected the States based on whether they were able to provide prisoner records or state identification numbers on prisoners released in 2005 (Matthew R. Durose, 2014). Fingerprint-based identification was used to obtain 70,878 prisoners' criminal history records and the results show that out of the 404,63 state prisoners released in 2005 in 30 states, 67.8% were re-arrested within three years of release, shown in figure 3 below. (Matthew R. Durose, 2014)and 55.1% had a parole or probation violation that led to arrest within 5 years of release (Matthew R. Durose, 2014). Furthermore, around three-quarters of prisoners (76.6%) were arrested within 5 years. This suggests that the vast majority of released American prison inmates become recidivists whereby they are either re-incarcerated, re-imprisoned, or return to prison, re-adjudicated or re-convicted showing the lack of success retribution US prison system has on societal integration, placing society at risk with inmates that are completely unchanged, if not angrier when they are released. This supports the idea that rehabilitation-style systems find more success in reducing recidivism rates than the US.

For more than a third of all the inmates that were arrested within 5 years of release, re-arresting occurred in the first 6 months after release, suggesting their lack of support on the outside and their desperation for either money or safety in the form of re-committing new crimes which the rehabilitation systems successfully prevents (Matthew R. Durose, 2014). In addition, a large proportion of the prisoners (16.9%) were 24 or younger years old and these are people with their whole life awaiting them and need better the most. The retribution prison system, no matter the crime, offers nothing in order to better the person. Instead, it offers hours of hard and long hours every day without paying them anywhere near the legal minimum. 75.9% of prisoners aged 24 or younger committed acts of recidivism within three years of release. It can be said that this is done purposefully in order to maintain the motive of the American government to increase the number of recidivists to cause an increase of income coming from state prisons. The average US prisoner cost is $33,274 (Mills, 2017) compared to the cost of $192,222 per prisoner in Norway (News, 2019)showing the motive to continue the retribution-style prison system due to its low cost per prisoner and its low need for skilled educated prison staff and workers which results in a huge income for American prisons.

integrate back into society. US citizens want mass murderers and rapists to be locked up because they want revenge on what these people have done to society, whereas Norwegian citizens leave it up to the prison system in place there which uses the universal declaration of rights that all humans are born equal in rights (Tolmasky, 2019). However, it can be argued that because the right to life of people that have been killed by mass murderers has been taken away, theirs should be taken away also. (Matthew R. Durose, 2014)

New Zealand, a country where it`s prison system is highly punitive and retributive has a re-imprisonment rate of 37% after two years of release (Wolf, 2015), suggesting that just because a prison system is retributive the recidivism rate, in this case, measured as re-imprisonment, is not always as high as other countries with a punitive and retributive prison system in place such as the USA. However, this might be down to cultural and societal differences.

attitudes. Rehabilitation places a large portion of its value on these and ensures that in-prison beliefs and attitudes are appropriate and relevant to the outside and ensures prisoners' post-release welfare in terms of accommodation and employment, whereas retributive systems don`t. This suggests that in fact, retribution causes higher rates of recidivism.

Recidivism across the world: Over the last four decades prison populations have been increasing more than ever and harsh prison sentences have left people unable to support themselves or family members back into the real world after release often leaving them homeless and prone to being re-incarcerated. A 2013 February study attempted to capture the differences between American and certain European corrections systems (Shames, 2013). For years, the United States was fuelled by the belief that retributive and long-lasting sentences were able to protect public safety within society and eventually policies were introduced including the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences, habitual offender legislation, and parole release restrictions (Shames, 2013). The impacts were clearly shown by the 705 percent increase in prison population from 175000 in 1972 to 1.4 million in 2012 (Shames, 2013). There is no doubt that US incarceration has a negative impact on not only community health but also self-development. This causes implications for the United States, with change being the driving force towards a more rehabilitative stance inside their prison walls, just like in Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands. Incarceration should be less relied on as punishment but rather increased number of community-based sanctions. In Germany and the Netherlands for example, there are many more community-based sanctions issued which are used in order to deliberately keep offenders out of prison. These are used in American prisons, however, the problem lies with the inappropriate application of these sanctions, for example applying these sanctions to low-risk offenders or fines to indigent offenders (Shames, 2013), keeping the recidivism rates high.

A Prison that uses both rehabilitative and retribution styles in their prison system- The Kumasi Central prison in Ghana (Afari, 2015). This study aimed to identify the effectiveness and the guidance of the counseling offered in the Kumasi central prison, a form of rehabilitation. Qualitative research methods were mainly used to obtain the data, using Case Studies and descriptive research methods. Diversity of perspective was enhanced by using interviews, observation, and questionnaires. Stratified random sampling was used in this study in order to collect data from the 140 participants comprising of 30 superior officers of the Kumasi central prison, 50 counselors, 30 social workers and 30 prisoners from the prison.

It was found that there was a shortage of trained and qualified counselors and prison staff which was associated with difficult reform and re-integration potential for ex-prisoners into society (Afari, 2015). This highlights the importance of trained staff and social workers working as prison workers if a prison system were to adopt a more rehabilitative stance, something Norway has an abundance of. Another factor that lead to increased recidivism rates in this prison was the lack of financial assistance programs to help released prisoners which resulted in them becoming desperate and transforming back to their criminal acts despite their personal progress and employable skills they have learned in prison (Afari, 2015). This supports the reasoning as to why Norway`s prison system is so successful- key skilled workers are found in abundance in their prisons and their financial education programs and other forms of education are used as well. If this Ghanaian prison had more financial assistance in employing more skilled and educated workers, the research shows that recidivism rates would have decreased massively.

A systematic review to assess the comparability of recidivism rates internationally was done also in order to develop the best reporting guidelines for recidivism. 20 countries with the largest total prison population worldwide were targeted and due to recidivism being a broad term that refers to any sort of relapse of criminal behavior which could potentially include a range of different outcomes challenges have been faced when trying to compare every country to each other, however, statistics have still been able to be found which support the idea of rehabilitation creating more prisoner success outside of prison-success being less recidivism. It is important to consider that every country has its own way of handling fines, traffic offenses and other crimes. In addition, samples can differ between countries when concertation, the range and quality of intra-prison programs and investment into medical services in order to successfully treat psychiatric and psychological disorders and drug and alcohol problems (Wolf, 2015). The main goal of the systematic review was to review the data worldwide and examine how definitions vary, in order to establish a comprehensive reporting checklist and best practice guidelines for presenting recidivism statistics that are internationally comparable (Wolf, 2015). This is important in examining and determining factors, rehabilitation or retribution-style prisons, that explain differences in recidivism rates in different countries worldwide.

Recidivism rates were measured using re-conviction and re-imprisonment. In Norway, re-conviction rates were at 20% in 2005 re convicting within two years of release compared to the USA`s 36% within two years of release and re-imprisonment rates also supports the theories that rehabilitation prison environments produce better futures on the outside more than retribution style prisons. Other Nordic countries such as Denmark have very low % as well at 29% in 2005, Finland being at 36%. However Sweden with a 43% re-conviction rate opposes its fellow Nordic countries, however, their incarceration rate is low at 67 people per 100,000 people incarcerated showing the positive impact that rehabilitation has in these Nordic countries. However some countries such as Australia, despite their rehabilitative stance, still have a fairly high recidivism rate at 39 which suggests the importance of the consideration of societal and cultural differences when comparing recidivism rates across different countries, because otherwise, inconsistency may lie in the results.

Two main findings to draw from this review are that Nordic countries have the highest quality national crime statistics showing their lowest recidivism rates worldwide and USA`s prison system provokes the highest recidivism rates along with France and other countries that adopt a mainly retributive system, due to its punishing and suffering system rather than bettering the person for a better future for the prisoner but a healthier and safer society as well.

A meta-analysis of 27 studies (Fazel, 2011), including 3511 individuals with psychosis compared to individuals with no current or previous history of any psychiatric disorders, found that there was a 95% increased risk of repeat offending in individuals with psychosis. This shows that in a rehabilitation center, where these types of disorders are combatted and eliminated, prisoners leave with fewer symptoms or even with their disorder eliminated, making them 95% less likely to re-offend, suggesting evidence for the theory that rehabilitation prison systems are more successful in reducing recidivism rates than retribution style prison systems which do not combat patient`s disorders such as the psychiatric disorders studies in this meta-analysis.

Conclusion: In order to answer the question, one must look at all ends of the spectrum. In this case, Norway with its strong usage of a rehabilitative approach and the USA with its strong usage of a retribution approach, and also prison systems worldwide. While the statistics suggest a significantly lower % of recidivism rates in rehabilitation prisons such as in Norway than USA, a prison system with rehabilitation practices in place will not always produce fewer numbers of recidivists. Australia for example had a 39% re-imprisonment rate in 2010 and has a rehabilitation system in place inside prisons, suggesting that rehabilitative prisons do not always find success in lowering recidivism rates even if the system is not at all punitive. However, statistics show that the overall rehabilitation prison system decreases recidivism

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Impact of Prisons on Prisoners’ Recidivism. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/impact-of-prisons-on-prisoners-recidivism/
“Impact of Prisons on Prisoners’ Recidivism.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/impact-of-prisons-on-prisoners-recidivism/
Impact of Prisons on Prisoners’ Recidivism. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/impact-of-prisons-on-prisoners-recidivism/> [Accessed 21 Jun. 2024].
Impact of Prisons on Prisoners’ Recidivism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Jun 21]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/impact-of-prisons-on-prisoners-recidivism/
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