Making Offenders More Accountable and Offering Opportunity for Change

Article excerpt

The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation, and it does so at an increasingly enormous cost. Valuable resources that otherwise could be used for infrastructure, Head Start programs, public health and education are being diverted into corrections, with decreasing return on the investment. It is time for corrections policy makers to develop a new vision--one based on holding offenders accountable and offering them an opportunity to make positive changes.

The first and most necessary step we must take is to change the function, operation and reality of what correctional institutions represent. Corrections must become a "human resource recovery system." As with all recovery systems, not all resources can be fully recovered. Some offenders refuse or are unable to change. Nevertheless, corrections can do more to take responsibility for the condition of offenders before release.

What type of "product" is corrections producing and returning to the community? This question must be asked, not to assign blame, but to provide understanding and information for creating a vision. Correctional institutions have become factories of despair and schools of higher criminal learning, providing a criminal network for all who enter. Only through developing a unified vision will we be able to effect necessary change.

Corrections is increasingly ignored as a possible solution to our nation's crime problem or as a means for changing behavior. Rather, corrections is increasingly seen as a failed means for providing solutions. However, many of the policies now driving corrections were not promulgated by corrections professionals. It is time for us to step forward with a vision of change.

Care, custody and control of inmates has been the primary mission of jails and prisons. That mission now must be redefined to include responsibility for providing inmates with the tools and environment to make behavioral changes in their lives.

Offender Care in Orange County

Here at the Orange County Corrections Division in Florida, we have established an extensive inmate management system to effectively manage inmates housed in our facilities and community corrections programs. The system, which uses a stair-stepped classification system, defines the parameters within which inmates must function and places them in control of their status and placement.

To give inmates the opportunity to make positive changes and acquire the tools necessary to become responsible citizens, we developed a continuum of care that begins during booking. After 10 days of incarceration, inmates undergo a needs assessment evaluation to identify educational and vocational levels and any psychological and substance abuse problems.

Orange County also provides an orientation; upon completion, inmates must either sign up for appropriate programming or be housed in an area that provides only minimum services required by Florida statute. Currently, inmates are housed in the following categories: booking (15 percent), assessment center (10 percent), special housing and maximum security units (24 percent) and programming (51 percent).

The ultimate aim of this continuum of care is to provide a dual sentencing system that allows the judiciary to sentence a defendant to either serve a period of traditional incarceration or to take responsibility and be held accountable to change his or her life. Offenders who choose to change are expected to complete habilitative programming and demonstrate positive behavioral changes. Those who choose not to be responsible have determined through their actions the appropriate housing and consequences.

The continuum of care allows offenders, through their behavior, to chart their course for the future. This is not a vision of ease or harshness but one based on the notion that offenders should be held accountable to change or be warehoused with no rewards. …