Controlling crime is an issue that attracts the attention of both scholars and authorities. For a long time, state officials have responded to the frustration of the public because of rising rates of crime by elevating incarceration in the fight against crime. There are suggestions that nothing works in the rehabilitation of jailed persons, and policymakers indicate that high rates of repeat offenses remain prevalent. Thus, committing people to jail terms was seen as the best approach to control criminal behavior. However, Brotherton (2013) observed that developments in the recent past have led to major shifts in the mindsets of people in regard to the issue. According to White (2008), emerging research supported the view that people can reform to lead constructive lives free from crime engagement. The Second Chance Act in 2008 by Congress has enacted in response to the realization that rehabilitation works despite challenges. Thus, it is not surprising that in the current times, recidivism reduction one of the cornerstones of both states and local policies on crime. The current paper applies the neoclassical theory in reviewing how prison contributes to the hardening of criminals.
Prisons and Hardening of Criminals
Prison is viewed as a training ground for criminals. While in prison, offenders learn from the more experienced ones on how to commit crimes to evade detection. Additionally, criminals acquire knowledge of criminality and internalize norms that characterize the antisocial nature of prisoners. Despite the presence of knowledge that individuals who spend more time in prison tend to re-offend, the extent, to which such behavior is acquired or enhanced while in prison, remains difficult to confirm. However, many studies have shown that grouping high and low-risk offenders are counterproductive as the former intoxicate the latter with negative ideas. In practice, attempts are made to put small and hardcore criminals together in the hope that they will learn the good ideals from the former. Prisoners who are not radical have never managed to prevail on the extremists found in prisons. Thus, attempts to bring together different groups should be discouraged.
Within prisons, deviant bonds seem to strengthen, which leads to increased tendencies of further offenses. The declining level of closeness within families and communities has also contributed to the state of affairs. As previous studies have demonstrated, the willingness of a family to receive back, an ex-convict is a contributing factor to the extent, to which individual reforms upon the conclusion of their jail terms. The weakened family and societal setup dampen the internal drive to observe the law and diminishes the ability of an ex-convict to secure employment. It is observed that family connections play an important role in a person’s attempt to secure a job after incarceration. However, when an individual is serving a jail term, issues such as geographical distance, logistical considerations, and security restrictions emerge to undermine the probability of seeking and securing work for victims. In such a way, inmates encounter many problems when they are released in their attempts to reintegrate back into society. In such a scenario, ex-convicts are left exposed, and more likely to re-engage in crime. Thus, the proposition that prisons harden criminals is valid.
The effects of staying in prison remain well documented. This is affirmed by the declarations of the supreme court of the united states, in the ruling of the case of Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 515 (2005), which remarked that prisons were dangerous places. Residing in perilous areas, such as in correctional facilities, exposes people to many hazards. For instance, violence against colleagues is a routine aspect for prisoners. The danger is posed not only by fellow prisoners but also by guards. Such violence is criminal unless administered for purposes of security. In any case, the brutality that characterizes prisons is critical in their hardening.
The brutality witnessed in jails or prisons contributes to the destruction of inmates’ sense of humanity. Alternatively, the behavior hardens the criminal by dissuading him/her from obeying state and its authority. Thus, at the end of one’s jail term, the willingness to conform is destroyed. Similarly, the violence meted out by fellow inmates contributes towards the unwillingness to follow the law. Logically, one has no basis for one to follow a system that fails to accord him/her protection. When one’s sense of self-worth has been lost, the motivation to obey or fear it is also absent. Additionally, the constant use of force within the prison environment is a contributory factor itself as it leads to the hardening of criminals. For newcomers into jails, the tendency to associate with gangs seems a good idea because this guarantees them protection. In the process, they also learn and become hardcore criminals. The fact that inmates victimize fellow inmates is disturbing given that it entails brutalizing them, which is an engagement that leads to hardening of the criminals. The above or related activities are known to interfere with peoples’ reasoning leading to the development of a culture of violence and hostility as the maladjusted inmates try to cope. Thus, at the point of release, many ex-convicts are already negatively affected to fit into society.
Overcrowding is among the numerous problems that people in prison have to contend with. One of the adverse effects of the issue is inadequate classification, monitoring, and management of prisoners. It is recognized that inmates encounter many problems ranging from psychological to mental ones. Disturbed prisoners are a threat to the rest of the inmates. Therefore, there is a need to take appropriate action to avoid a scenario where people are mixed, without proper sorting. Despite the above-mentioned facts, jails and prisons do not address the issue well because of the problem of overcrowding. For instance, a correlation existed between prison density and assault/infraction rates. Additionally, poorly regulated and overcrowded correctional facilities are subject to high rates of rape and sex-related violence. Such adverse effects are exacerbated by the presence of young offenders as they demonstrate an increased propensity to sensitivity and volatility. Overcrowding implies that resource availability to inmates is stretched. Such a state increases frustrations, uncertainty as well as conflict with others. In cases where the resources border on education or training opportunities, an inmate’s employability is impacted. When the released persons are unable to secure work, they are likely to engage in post-incarceration crimes. Thus, overcrowding is connected to recidivism. Of note is that overcrowding contributes to crime commission within and outside the prison. However, even in the absence of overcrowding, inmates still committed crimes because the correctional facilities failed to provide enough work to engage the inmates.
Having largely focused on the role of the environment in accelerating recidivism, traversing the concept of solitary confinement might be necessary to understand individual dynamics. Sometimes, high-risk offenders who cause in-prison violations are segregated from the rest. Prisoners are sent to such facilities for certain hours in a day. Although such attempts might be justified in certain circumstances, their effects on the victims are severe. Solitary confinement predisposes individuals to high levels of stress, which is a state that might lead to the impairment of a prisoner’s mental functioning. Such a development is likely to create a hardened criminal who is willing to commit new crimes within or outside the correctional facilities. In practice, inmates who end up in solitary confinement have psychological disorders that contribute to their behavior. The intensive incarceration is likely to exacerbate the problem, the very issue that might have led the prisoner to commit a crime resulting in his/ her incarceration. In this regard, the application of the neoclassical theory of criminology would be critical given that the person in charge of the facilities can decide based on the circumstances to let extreme prisoners go through alternative processes. Based on the theory, the judge cannot be justified to convict and sentence a psychologically challenged individual to a jail term. This is likely to cause a problem given that in such a case, leaving a mentally disturbed person free might create additional problems. A case of this nature is controversial although the right approach would involve imprisoning the victim and sending him/her to solitary confinement. Nevertheless, criminal behavior would have been hardened instead of being lessened.
Understanding Recidivism through the Neoclassical Theory
A number of theories have emerged in a bid to explain repeat offending or recidivism. In an ideal scenario, incarceration is expected to mold individuals into reformed persons. However, the efforts of prisons to achieve the goal have often yielded mixed results, with many outcomes indicating that criminals who go through the justice system end up being worse criminals.
The development of the neoclassical theory was largely a reaction to shortcomings of the positivist and classical schools of thought. In particular, the school of thought emerged shortly after the French Revolution to fill the gaps left by the above-mentioned theories. Under the French Code enacted in 1789, Baccaria principles were applied in the determination of cases. In this regard, the law defined crimes and penalties involved. However, the case of varying circumstances was never factored in when arriving at the judgment. The implication was that repeat offenders received the same punishment as first-time offenders. Similarly, uniformity applied to children as adults, and the sane or insane. In essence, intervening/mitigating conditions were a non-issue. The problem of applying the same sentences to any person irrespective of whether they are repeat offenders or first-time offenders would be unfair not only because they would fail to exact restraint but because the judges would have overlooked the fact that a repeat offense is more grave than a first-time offense.