Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Sociological Explanation of Prison Re-Entry

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Sociological Explanation of Prison Re-Entry

Article excerpt


Sociologists maintain that criminal act is more a social rather than an individual phenomenon because a criminal actor deviates from the norms that are important to society and they are formally defined as crime. Therefore, prisoners are individuals who have deviated from socially defined important norms and thus are punished by incarceration in prison.

Importance of prison re-entry

Some researchers have found that 32.6 per cent of prisoners in Central Prison of Mashhad had former record of incarceration in prison i.e. prison re-entry of which 64 per cent was arrested for drug crimes (Behravan, 1991). Based on the latest statistics, about 18 per cent of prisoners in Mashhad had 2 records of prison re-entry or more of which 90 per cent were male and 37.8 per cent were arrested with drug crimes (Central Prison in Mashhad, 2008). Evidently, prison re-entry ratio has decreased in the last 17 years; perhaps the main reason for this is an increase in total crime statistics and changes in drug crime definition that led to the exclusion of it from the list of crimes because drug use is an illness not crime.

Arrests of drug users had increased the prisoner statistics in the United States to about 10 times in recent years (Blumstein & Beck, 2005). It is reported that a large number of inmates which are being released from U.S. prisons annually will be re-incarcerated within three years from release (Langan & Levin, 2002).

Failure of Prison re-entry programs

Although imprisonment is the most important form of sanction and many factors inside or outside prison may have affected prison re-entry, results of some researches have shown that harsher prison treatment does not reduce former inmates' criminal activity (Drago, 2008). Recidivism studies have shown that 73% of those convicted at ages of 10 to 16 (juvenile age range) were reconvicted at ages 17 to 24, in comparison with only 16% of those not convicted as juveniles (Farrington, 1995). Recidivism studies have shown that reintegrating the offenders has been unsuccessful (Braithwaite, 1989).

Supervision of prisoners in society has been used as a way to decrease prison re-entry; more than 100343 prisoners were released in Canada in 2003 (Landry & Sinha, 2008) and about 600000 prisoners were released in the United States (Office of Justice Program, 2007).

Statement of Problem

Researchers have debated many factors to explain prison re-entry from different sociological standpoints. Most sociological researches usually confine only to one theory to explain prison re-entry and this may cause defective vision to the problem because every one of theories can reveal only one aspect while neglecting other aspects. Furthermore, using one theory cannot reveal explanatory power of theories together while different theories are correlated to each other, since social facts are multidimensional and thus need to be viewed simultaneously from multiple standpoints. Although there are many reports that explain every aspect of prison re-entry, it seems useful to investigate multiple theories to explain this problem. Another point is that any effort to encounter prison re-entry necessitates profound knowledge about the problem and this research can help planners to mitigate the problem.

This research aims to answer the following questions:

1. How can we explain prison re-entry using multiple sociological theories?

2. Which theory can best explain the problem besides other theories?

The author hypothesizes that adding more theories can better explain prison re-entry. In addition, he hypothesizes that labeling theory is more likely to provide a plausible explanation for prison re-entry in comparison to social theories. Therefore, it is assumed that normal society members officially or unofficially lead the released inmates to reoffend hence prison re-entry. Then, we can assert that social elimination and isolation from normal social network because of stigmatization, imposed labels like "precedent" or "former inmate" and non-acceptance in normal groups leads the released prisoner to rearrest and prison re-entry. …

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