Magazine article Corrections Today

Incarceration Therapy Local Approaches

Magazine article Corrections Today

Incarceration Therapy Local Approaches

Article excerpt

"Ok, book'em Danno," was Steve McGarrett's final statement at the end of each episode of Hawaii Five-0. With that, everything seemed to be at an end and the community was safe and secure. However, corrections professionals know that for the staff of local jails, the job is only just beginning.


America's jails are the first stop in the criminal justice systems' "incarceration therapy." Such a stop is intended to imply many things. For example, for a first-time offender, it is hoped it makes a lasting impression that is a deterrent forever. For the habitual offender, it is a processing point in between freedom and prison. And yet, absent the dynamics of a Jail operation, the systems of community safety and security would certainly falter and society's way of life would be severely jeopardized.

The latest statistics seem to indicate that more than 12 million people annually will come in contact with the jails of America. Given the country's population of almost 300 million, this means that 4 percent of the population will find themselves in a local jail each year. Clearly, the good news is that 96 percent will not, but the number in jail is certainly troubling.

From a purely economic perspective, local government has found that public safety is a tremendous burden on the taxpayer. Within that, though, the jail requires a significant portion of those resources, directed toward a small portion of the population that seems to have a multitude of needs. These needs have become especially significant in the medical and mental health area.

However, no matter the importance of the role played and the cost associated, society cannot seem to truly understand what jails are and how they fit in the American scene. The media and the entertainment industry do a disservice to jail duties almost on a daily basis. They cannot seem to differentiate between a jail and a prison, constantly repeating the years someone is going to serve in jail when such convictions mean prison incarceration, not jail.

Recently, a Reader's Digest article titled "They took my life" emblazoned a cover page title of "Not Guilty! After 12 years in jail." When the difference between jail and prison was brought to their attention, there was no response. From Martha Stewart to the TV program Oz to the latest high-profile incident in Washington, years in jail (rather than prison) is the repeated misnomer.

Therefore, the ability to explain what America's jails do, the services they perform, the public safety they provide, and the critical component of criminal justice they conduct seems to remain a steep mountain to climb. This is especially so when even the criminal justice system itself forces jails to be medical and mental-health hospitals, public schools, job skills centers or repositories of individuals that the rest of the community just does not know how to deal with.

This is further compounded when even family members turn to jails to help them deal with aberrant parents, sit or children who have been turned away by other, community sites. Recently, at the back door of Orange County's jail, several family members arrived with a paraplegic son. He did have a minor traffic warrant, but because medical sites had said no to helping him, the jail was their hospital of last resort.

Jail's Role

Jail can be viewed as the hub of the wheel of criminal justice services, but there are many spokes. In these criminal justice spokes there are law enforcement, prosecution, defense, courts and judiciary, pretrial and probation components. These spokes are impacted by bonding services, victims, victims' advocates and the media. While a person is in custody, in particular, there are medical, mental and public health elements, along with community services such as libraries, public schools and faith-based connections. And adjacent to these are the mandated and expected requirements of incarcerating a population that did not volunteer for the services that must be provided. …

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