From Jails to Healing Lodges: Evaluating the Impact of Correctional Facilities on Offender Adaptation

By Hart-Mitchell, Regan D.; Pfeifer, Jeffrey E. | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, June 2003 | Go to article overview

From Jails to Healing Lodges: Evaluating the Impact of Correctional Facilities on Offender Adaptation


Hart-Mitchell, Regan D., Pfeifer, Jeffrey E., Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


ABSTRACT

The purpose of the present study is to compare three types of correctional facilities within the province of Saskatchewan (i.e., Provincial Jails, Community Training Residences, and the Aboriginal Spiritual Healing Lodge) in terms of their specific impact on offender's perceptions and level of adaptation. Specifically, offenders residing in the three types of facilities were asked to participate in a structured interview that addressed six basic factors related to positive adaptation: environment, sense of community, cultural awareness, educational/vocational training, spirituality, and psychological impact. It was hypothesized that offenders housed in the Healing Lodge, where the focus is on traditional Aboriginal cultural and spiritual teachings, should report the most positive experiences. In addition, it was hypothesized that both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders would perceive the Provincial Jail to be the least positive with regard to aiding in successful adaptation. As hypothesized, results indicate that the Healing Lodge and the Community Training Residences are perceived as being significantly more positive than Provincial Jail on a number of dimensions related to positive environmental adaptation. The implications of these findings are discussed with regard to their relationship to the development of more effective correctional environments.

Researchers have suggested that prolonged exposure to traditional control-limiting correctional environments may result in adverse physical and psychological reactions in individuals, especially with their ability to successfully adapt (see e.g., Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973; Haney & Zimbardo, 1998). It has been suggested that this adverse impact may be due to the fact that administrators and staff within traditional correctional environments typically focus on keeping offenders in custody, maintaining order, control, and discipline (Toch, 1977). Given this focus, other goals such as providing rehabilitative programming, counselling, and health care are often allocated to a secondary position when staff members are faced with security issues (Haney & Zimbardo, 1998). Subsequently, it may be argued that, within the confines of a traditional correctional environment, the special needs of individual offenders are often secondary to the main goal of maintaining safety and security.

In addition to the above, it has been suggested that the level of behavioural adaptation and degree of assimilation experienced by offenders is often dependent upon the type of correctional environment in which they are placed (Schmid & Jones, 1993). Zamble and Porporino (1988), for example, argue that the ability to successfully adapt and assimilate may result in more positive outcomes for offenders, and that this ability may be heavily influenced by the type of correctional environment the offender resides in. This idea is evidenced by Pugh (1994, p. 985) who suggests that, "[i]t may be that correctional systems which provide incentives and opportunities for offenders to earn release and other privileges work best toward enhancing successful adaptation both in and out of prison".

Clearly, each correctional facility provides a unique experience based on interactions between offenders and staff, interactions among offenders, and the physical properties of the facility. Given the above, it may be argued that this unique atmosphere may have a considerable influence on the perceptions and experiences of the offenders residing there. Further, it may be suggested that the underlying group dynamics within each facility are directly related to whether this atmosphere exerts a positive or negative influence on each offender's experience of incarceration (Achtenberg, 2000).

The above research is particularly noteworthy given the recent Canadian correctional legislation embracing the principle of utilizing the least restrictive measures of confinement for reasons of fairness, practicality, and economy (Luciani, 2001).

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