Prison administrators are pressed with a unique set of challenges as applies to their role in the criminal justice system. While vocational tasks may mirror those of perhaps the police chief or court manager, the prison administrator will inevitably have the greatest influence over the convicted. In addition, the prison manager must form their policies and procedures around the previous actions of law enforcement and the courts in conjunction with the needs of the inmates in their care. This challenge becomes more difficult as demographics change and public opinion, and therefore policy, changes.
The effect of this ebb and flow can be seen by examining past attitudes towards corrections. While the initial correctional philosophy applied during the birth of the United States was that of punishment, further reforms have led to the evolution of the correctional system. Moving away from the gallows towards prisons, reformatories, and eventually treatment, predominating social attitudes and correctional philosophies of choice have continued to evolve with the paradoxical pattern of harsher, but more humane punishments (Muraskin & Roberts, 2009). Maintaining a structure that meets society’s needs while still concluding that prisons are indeed people capable of changing and becoming productive members of society becomes the ultimate puzzle for prison administrators.
Currently, the rising numbers of inmates is creating a problem for prison administrators that need to fit the needs of minimum sentences, “three strikes” laws, and changing prisoner demographics. In addition, community based corrections faces the challenges of following a growing number of parolees, many of whom fail to meet probation requirements and continue to be a burden on the communities in which they live (Cullen, Eck, & Lowenkamp, 2002). With these two issues in mind, it is clear that while community corrections is necessary to ease the burden on institutions, an overhaul of community corrections programs may be necessary in order to reduce recidivism rates of parolees.
In order to address the issues of overcrowded prisons and failed community sanctions, prison managers may need to look at alternate correction strategies. One such strategy is environmental corrections. With this method, probation officers exercise greater control over the offender’s ability to access opportunities to commit crimes. This may include greater controls on social factors and a restructuring of the offender’s routine behavior in order to avoid any set trend that would lead to criminal activity (Cullen, Eck, & Lowenkamp, 2002). Further, creative uses of modern technology may be necessary to reduce the possibility that parolees end up back in prison. With these two methods, an attempt is made to reconcile both liberal and conservative views of community corrections, making them more viable options in every community.
While balancing the needs of community corrections, prison managers still need to balance the needs of those inmates that remain incarcerated. As time progresses into the future, the number of female, invalid, and elderly inmates will continue to increase (Rausch, 1996). As rehabilitation remains a goal of the criminal justice system, prison managers will need to learn new methods of treatment that better suit the needs of these inmates. Each subgroup of prisoners presents its own challenges, however as the number of inmates continues to increase dramatically creating programs to address the needs of the people will become a necessity.
The sick and elderly, for example, require care beyond those of basic prisoners. Further, as sentencing increases, many more inmates will reach old age than in years past (Rausch, 1996). While separate facilities exist for younger offenders, there is no such facility for the elderly. These inmates require greater healthcare services, and, if released, they would enter a world where they have had no means of earning an income to keep them from returning to prison or poverty which is its own kind of prison. Remaining incarcerated they risk substandard healthcare and a greater chance of victimhood from younger inmates. With this in mind, separate facilities or separate prison wings for eldercare may become a viable option in the future.
Another group of inmates that may require different considerations are females. While separate facilities are available in some locations, rehabilitation programs geared towards the needs of women are lacking. Additionally, women inmates are more likely to be single parents, drug addicts, and HIV positive. Concerning these issues, little effort has been made to balance the female inmate’s rehabilitation needs with the programs currently available. Many women seek rehabilitation programs in exchange for early release so that they may return to their families. By being forced to attend programs geared towards men, these female inmates are missing those skills that would best suit them in the outside world. Further, female inmates have often been the victims of rape or sexual abuse. With this in mind, creating programs that address the psychological needs of female victims is essential to break the cycle of violence, criminality, and victimhood.
Prison managers have the challenging task of balancing the needs of inmates with the needs of the community. By utilizing institutional and community sanctions, these needs can be met in a way that is beneficial to inmates and community member alike. As trends in social opinion and policy continue to change, prison managers must continue to adapt in order to give the system and the people the best chance of success.
Cullen, F. T., Eck, J. E., & Lowenkamp, C. T. (2002, Fall). Environmental corrections: A new paradigm for effective probation and parole supervision. Federal Probation, 66(2), 28-37.
Muraskin, R., & Roberts, A. R. (2009). Visions for change: Crime and justice in the twenty-first century (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Rausch, S. P. (1996, Spring). Current issues in prison management. Criminal Justice Review, 21(1), 1-3.