Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Correctional Officers' Perceptions of Sexual Offenders in the United States: A Qualitative Analysis1

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Correctional Officers' Perceptions of Sexual Offenders in the United States: A Qualitative Analysis1

Article excerpt

Introduction

Prisons are dangerous places and prison employees must interact with society's most difficult members. Correctional officers (COs), who provide the first line of direct contact with inmates, are expected to maintain safety and security. The interaction with inmates on a daily basis to ensure safety is the main function of the CO (Udechukwu, 2009). Views have changed about what works best for correcting inmate behavior to ensure they return to be productive members of society. COs have been trained in two separate methods that fluctuate between punitive measures and promoting rehabilitation. Over the last 20 years there has been a slow integration of attitudes and perceptions that rehabilitation may be the most appropriate prison environment (Craig, 2004; Steiner, Wada, Hemmens, & Burton, 2005). Despite the prison environment moving slowly back to a rehabilitation model, COs continue to struggle with supporting attitudes for punishment. This is important because the COs attitudes directly impact the inmates' ability to adjust to the prison environment (Vuolo & Kruttschnitt, 2008). COs' negative attitudes toward rehabilitation encourages inmates to disregard prison programs that have shown benefits in reducing rates of recidivism. COs positive attitudes about rehabilitation support inmate participation in these programs and lead to better outcomes for inmates when released into the community (Taxman & Ainsworth, 2009).

Sexual offenders (SOs) represent a specific subset of the inmate population. Negative perceptions of SOs have led to the development of strict SO legislation and federal guidelines have been established in an attempt to streamline SO policies including increasing sentences for sexual offenses (National Conference of State Legislators, 2011). Increased prison time means that SOs will have more interaction with COs. Research has excluded the experiences of COs regarding their perceptions of SOs. The direct daily contact that COs have with SOs provides the first social interaction these offenders face after conviction and sentencing occurs. Therefore, it is important to understand COs' perceptions about these interactions. Understanding the COs perceptions of SOs will provide some insight into the problems offenders face in regards to rehabilitation inside the prison system. This will lead to developing more effective training programs that inform COs about the impact their interactions have with SOs and the offenders' willingness to seek treatment options; moreover, treatment will help reduce the recidivism rates of SOs once they are released into the community (Olver, Wong, & Nicholaichuk, 2009).

Review of Literature

COs present differing perceptions of inmate populations and these views are connected to a desire to depersonalize relationships with inmates. The depersonalizing attitudes of COs create social distance when interacting with inmates and this is a result of negative perceptions regarding inmate rehabilitation being ineffective (Lambert, Hogan, Altheimer, Jiang, & Stevenson, 2010). The social distance created between COs and inmates is a result of their perceptions of prisons being too lenient on the inmates. COs favoring a more punitive correctional mindset were more likely to encourage attitudes that support social distance with inmates (Young & Antonio, 2009). COs creating social distance when interacting with inmates were more likely to write inmates up or use force rather than interacting with them (Freeman, 2003; Griffin, 1999).

COs have been shown to hold more negative views regarding inmate rehabilitation than other correctional staff(Antonio, Young, & Wingeard, 2009; Lambert & Hogan, 2009; Young, Antonio, & Wingeard, 2009). Their negative views are related to perceptions that support a more punitive prison environment rather than one that encourages rehabilitation (Tewksbury & Mustaine, 2008). The perceptions of COs regarding rehabilitation have a relationship with specific personal characteristics. …

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