Quality of Confinement - Sample Essay

Once we commit ourselves to the view that the purpose of prison is punishment, and further, that offenders are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment, an interesting thing happens. There is a shift in the criteria against which we evaluate prisons, away from those that focus on outcomes or on the achievement of ultimate goals, and toward those that focus on processes, on adherence to standards, and on the fulfillment of specific and immediate missions.

Under the confinement model, a prison does not have to justify its existence by demonstrating success at rehabilitation or crime control. That’s a relief, because there is enormous disagreement among researchers about whether that kind of success is demonstrable–whether anything can be shown to “work” or “not work.” Instead, when the mission of a prison is defined as confinement, it is most appropriate to evaluate the prison according to the quality of the confinement that it provides.

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What, then, constitutes quality of confinement? Dimensions of Quality of Confinement Evaluation that emphasizes the confinement mission of a prison, and de-emphasizes rehabilitation, is not as narrow as it may seem at first, nor is it insensitive to the welfare of prisoners. Coercive confinement carries with it an obligation to meet the basic needs of prisoners at a reasonable standard of decency.

Thus, measures of health care, safety, sanitation, nutrition, and other aspects of basic living conditions are relevant. Furthermore, confinement must meet constitutional standards of fairness and due process, so it is not just the effectiveness and efficiency, but also the procedural justice with which confinement is imposed that is important. In addition, programmatic activities like education, recreation, and work can be seen as part of the conditions of confinement, regardless of their alleged effects on rehabilitation. In short, confinement is much more than just warehousing.

The confinement model of imprisonment can be summarized quite succinctly: The mission of a prison is to keep prisoners–to keep them in, keep them safe, keep them in line, keep them healthy, and keep them busy–and to do it with fairness, without undue suffering, and as efficiently as possible. This definition of a prison’s confinement mission produces eight distinct dimensions for evaluating the quality of confinement within any particular prison: Security, Safety, Order, Care, Activity, Justice, Conditions, and Management. By measuring various indicators of performance on these dimensions, it is possible not only to evaluate the quality of a single prison, but also to compare several prisons on their fulfillment of the standards, criteria, and missions of the confinement model of incarceration.

1. If rehabilitation is part of the purpose of imprisonment, as is usually said to be the case, then isolating the prisoner from his or her family and culture defeats that purpose. The denial of access to simple facilities such as radio and television in one’s own language, or othe simple right to write and receive letters in one’s chosen language, is a denial of human and social rights. Punishing a prisoner’s relations by making long journeys necessary in order to see him or her is not the way to “rehabilitate” the guilty, or reconcile the innocently convicted to the current rule of law.

Authorities are increasingly using the criminal justice system as a substitute for education and health services by sending young people with drug and mental health problems to prison, says Jesuit priest Fr Peter Norden. The Melbourne-based priest, who is Jesuit Social Services director, was commenting on figures showing that Australia’s prison population has increased by 50 per cent in the past decade – from 15,000 in 1991 to almost 22,500 by June last year.

And the imprisonment rate has increased by 28 per cent, rising from 117 to 151 prisoners per 100,000 members of the adult population. “Authorities are over-relying on the criminal justice system to serve the needs of the community,” Fr Norden said. He said many young people with drug and mental health problems were being imprisoned where they were exposed to a “hard-core” criminal element. “They will probably be released from prison at greater risk to the community.” More than half of those imprisoned have been incarcerated before, he added. “We have an economically irrational policy in regard to prisons in Australia,” Fr Norden said. “It’s not rehabilitating, it’s debilitating.”

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