Criminology Professor Receives Mead Award

Article excerpt

Joan Petersilia, professor of criminology, law and society at the School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine, was the recipient of the International Community Corrections Association's prestigious Margaret Mead Award. Margaret Mead, the world-famous social anthropologist, was closely associated with the halfway house movement and a proponent of community care. This award recognizes outstanding individuals in community corrections and is presented to an individual who has shown dedicated service to the causes of social justice and humanitarian advancement. Petersilia delivered the Mead lecture and received the award at ICCA'S 2002 Annual Conference, held in Boston, Nov. 3-6, 2002.

In her lecture titled "Meeting the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry," drawn from her forthcoming book, When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry, published last month by Oxford University Press, Petersilia outlined the data surrounding prisoner release and re-entry and made recommendations for its, as well as parole's, reform.

Her address began by considering the importance of inmate re-entry. She noted that never before in U.S. history have so many individuals been released from prison. Nearly 600,000 people were released in 2002 and that number is expected to increase in future years, she said. Petersilia reminded the audience that 93 percent of all inmates eventually return home. Since offenders have always been released from prison, and corrections professionals have struggled with their reintegration, what is different today? Petersilia believes that there are three reasons that make the present situation different: the vast number of releasees, the more serious needs of parolees and fewer available rehabilitative programs.

In discussing how corrections helps and how it hinders, Petersilia made the following observations:

* As inmate needs have increased and in-prison programs decreased, parole supervision and services have also decreased for most released inmates.

* Higher-risk inmates are entering prisons, there are fewer programs and more idle time while in prison, and a greater number of inmates are being released from prison without the benefits and control of parole supervision.

* The expansion of legal barriers (employment restrictions, public assistance restrictions, etc.) has been accompanied by an increased ease in checking criminal records due to new technologies and expanded public access to criminal records via the Internet.

Petersilia summarized this portion of her address by stating that people are being sent to prison in greater numbers and there is now technology to assure that the "ex-con" label follows them for life. And once the label is applied, she noted, the chances of getting a job, securing housing and developing solid social relationships--the very things that help offenders succeed--are severely limited. Criminal justice policies may threaten the very society offenders' incarceration was meant to protect, she argued.

Turning her attention to how corrections professionals might address the problem of inmate reentry, Petersilia outlined the complex and multifaceted nature of the issue. In order to assist the nearly 7 million offenders returning to the community, it must be rethought which agencies should be involved. The development of broader partnerships that include other criminal justice agencies, but also human service agencies, nonprofit organizations, inmate self-help groups and faith-based programs, may hold the key to successful re-entry initiatives, she said.

In recent months, the federal government has shown some gratifying interest in inmate re-entry and funds have been made available to each state for re-entry programs. This interest, she noted, may serve to bring balance back to a correctional system that has become too punitive. According to Petersilia, there is a zone of consensus around inmate re-entry issues that may provide unique opportunities to corrections. …