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Justin Davis
Professor Erin Fisher
Eng 123
December 13, 2015
And Stay Out!
In 2005, 404,683 prisoners were set free, and in five years, about 76.6% of them were
arrested with over 55% of them returning to jail (Durose, Cooper and Snyder 1). This relapse
into criminal behavior after receiving intervention for a previous crime, or recidivism, is keeping
our prison population high. With nothing to help criminals improve their character, they are fed
back into the system when we could be adding more contributing members to our society
instead. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “a sixth (16.1%) of released prisoners
were responsible for almost half (48.4%) of the nearly 1.2 million arrests that occurred in the 5year follow-up period” (Durose, Cooper and Snyder). This cycle of criminal behavior we are
seeing is making up a majority of crime that is happening, but how do we fix it? If we can
manage to rehabilitate the prisoners through behavior modification that is supported by a positive
prison culture, we could lower the arrest and reincarceration rates; consequently, saving money
and bring down crime rates, improving our nation as a whole.
Rehabilitation is not the only way to help people become a benefit to society, a reentry
process that enables freed prisoners to make an honest living and does not hold them down as
second class citizens will help too. Initially upon reentry, ex-prisoners have to deal with starting
their life over with practically nothing more than their former possessions and a bus ticket
(Lobuglio and Piehl 59), but now with a criminal record they will have less access to government
help and loans for housing or education. The problem is only compounded by the fact that

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prisoners have a higher risk of mental illnesses (Luther, Reichert and Holloway 475), but many
do not receive any mental health care, and there’s no one encouraging them to find any. “The
high risk is due in part to the greater socioeconomic disadvantage and substance abuse within
this population. The absence of sufficient discharge planning and continuity of medical and
mental health services from correctional facilities to the community leaves many returning
prisoners without needed care” (Luther, Reichert and Holloway 475). These returning prisoners
are left vulnerable by the system that has neglected them, causing them to fall back on old habits
as they try to just survive.
Naturally, recidivism has been a problem as long as there have been prisons. It has not
been tracked until the last century, as our focus has shifted from a mere punishment based
system, to a rehabilitative system of imprisonment. The latter system attempts to change the
prisoner’s character for the betterment of the prisoner, and society. In the 1950’s the most
prominent shift towards rehabilitation occurred when, “California had little use for prison labor
that some seventy years earlier had played a significant role in the state’s rapid economic
development: producing cheap jute bags for the wheat industry, building roads to transport
lumber from the northwest, and digging the Folsom dam that powered electrical energy”,
towards a situation of “diagnosis and treatment” (Platt 161-162). Rehabilitation is not a new
concept but it has not been implemented well in the past, and it has faced opposition.
In the late 60’s through early 70’s, it was held that rehabilitation was just another way to
force people of color to submit (Platt 616). Only since the later 1900’s after the move to
diagnosis and treatment occurred have we even kept records consistent enough to track
recidivism rates properly (Cahalan 60), and our earliest complete analysis of 108,580 prisoners
shows a 62.5% recidivism rate, with a 41.4% reincarceration rate, happening within three years

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or their release in 1983 (Beck and Shipley 1). These rates increased to 67.5% and 52.8%
(respectively) with prisoners released in 1994 (Langan and Levin 1), and finally to 67.8% and
over 55% in the most thorough analysis conducted on prisoners released after 2005 (Durose,
Cooper and Snyder 1). If these statistics are as consistent as they seem, then two-thirds of our
prison population is made up of people who have been incarcerated before but have failed, not
tried, or don’t know how to correct their behavior. The social climate has changed since the 60’s
and 70’s, and with proven treatment methods held accountable by the public, thanks to the
internet, rehabilitation is seen in a more positive light making it so the only issue ends up being
monetary. Computers have also helped to keep better records of the prisoners. These records
can help us identify their specific needs, increasing success rates of rehabilitation.
Not only have computers helped keep detailed records for analysis, but they have also
made criminal records easily accessible to others. Companies have found this tool to be very
helpful when screening potential employees for risks. The background checks help them figure
out who is best for their job opening while trying to protect their company assets. The problem
is that there is no legislation helping to protect the released prisoner from the stigma of an arrest
on their record that may have nothing to do with the job they are applying for. This is a new
problem and at base value it makes sense for companies to be able to run a background check on
an individual because they should have all the information that they need to make a decision, but
the stigma from an arrest can bring disadvantages that are uncalled for and extra punishment
from a sentence that was already paid. Before, if a company wanted to run a background check,
it was a much longer paper process, and not worth the time needed to get the information for
prospects on the lower end of the company. Now it can be as easy as a simple google search to
find arrest history on a future employee. This has become a major problem even for people who

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were never actually convicted because of incomplete records and mugshots available online that
still exist even when the person was deemed innocent.
John Keir, who was fired from his job, and his wife Jessica Keir, who could not find work
even though she graduated in the top 15% of her law school, had all this trouble because of an
arrest in 2012 when they were, “accused of criminal mischief for scratching someone's car with a
key. They were found not guilty at trial” (Fields and Emshwiller), and yet their mug shots and
arrest were scattered across the internet, and they have spent thousands trying to clear their
name. This can be even worse for someone with an actual incarceration on their record limiting
their chances at starting an honest living after they exit prison. If a freed prisoner can’t find work
they will need to find some way to survive, and that will typically guide them back to the illegal
methods they used beforehand.
Employment isn’t the only problem complicated by a criminal record, as James Forman
points out, “Depending on the state and the offense, a person convicted of a crime today might
lose his right to vote as well as the right to serve on a jury. He might become ineligible for
health and welfare benefits, food stamps, public housing, student loans, and certain types of
employment” (Forman). Joan Petersilia elaborates on the employment restrictions as well
showing how, “the ’get-tough’ movement of the 1980s increased employment restrictions on
parolees. In California, for example, parolees are barred from law, real estate, medicine, nursing,
physical therapy, and education. In Colorado, the jobs of dentist, engineer, nurse, pharmacist,
physician, and real estate agent are closed to convicted felons” (Petersilia). So as it stands a
person coming out of prison is greatly hindered when seeking to make an honest living. When
that employment can’t be found, and they can’t get the assistance from the government that

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would enable them to continue looking for honest work, they fall back on what they know,
criminal activity.
These laws that restrict on a general basis need to be removed or refined if we hold any
belief that a person can change and improve their life. The ex-prisoner needs to be protected
from the stigma of a criminal record that can keep them out of work when the responsibilities of
that job has nothing to do with their past crimes. Anyone seeking to better themselves should, at
the very least, not be hindered in their attempt, but if we want them to live honest lives then they
deserve protection and encouragement in their pursuit. Governor Jerry Brown signed a law into
effect in California that made it illegal for mug-shot websites to charge money for photo removal
(Governor Signs Senator Jerry Hill’s Bill Barring Mug Shot ‘Shakedowns’ by Websites), and
even Google has made it so mug-shot websites are less likely to come up in a search (Fields and
Emshwiller). Hawaii was the first to modify the background checks made during a hiring phase
with their Supreme Court decision in Shimose v. Hawaii Health Systems Corp. it was ruled that
an employer can, “deny employment based on an individual’s conviction record ‘provided that
the conviction record bears a rational relationship to the duties and responsibilities of the
position’” (Shimose v. Hawaii Health Systems Corp.). These moves have been extremely
helpful for the ex-prisoner, but they are not enough.
Sweeping legislation protecting the freed prisoners, like the above laws have, should be
made throughout the United States to honor the natural rights laid down in the constitution.
Certainly there should be consequences for wrongdoing, but when it goes beyond the punishment
laid out by the judge, or infringes on a person’s right to legally pursue happiness, then there’s a
problem. Some freed prisoners can’t even get loans for education. The Drug free student loan
act which has bared an estimated, “23,000 students were denied Pell Grants because of their drug

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convictions during the 2001-2002 academic year alone” (Forman). There’s also the problem of a
lower class citizenship given to those with criminal records like the inability to vote or get on a
jury that as, Michelle Alexander has pointed out, is akin to the Jim crow laws of old (Alexander
13). This again is another way a person who is trying to improve their life is kept from doing so
and made to feel less then worthy of being a citizen further hindering their ability to contribute to
society.
A prisoner’s ability to reenter society isn’t solely based on the supplementation and
limitations they have when leaving prison, their life while in prison is a big contributor too. A
proper social climate, characterized, “fairness, safety, support, family contacts and decency – key
elements going to make up well-being” (Harding 166), enables better rehabilitation and sets up
the path for a life bent towards value and growth away from crime. The prisoner needs to change
their behavioral patterns away from what got them into prison in the first place if we want them
to stay out. Therefore, the prison system needs to reform its environment to help get inmates
ready for reintegration into society, starting them out with stability, worth, and the confidence
they need to pull it off.
Thankfully, there are plenty of options available to rehabilitate a prisoner into a person
who can thrive within society instead of harming society. Education in prisons is one of the most
basic rehabilitation principles available. It allows a prisoner to find a new path in life through
study which in turn improves there self-worth and worth to society. If a prisoner can learn a
profession in prison then reentry becomes all the more accessible. Cognitive behavioral
treatment is another one of the more popular concepts of rehabilitation since it directly counters
the character issues that got them into prison originally, which is also, what makes it so effective.
It is speculated that behavioral treatment could improve recidivism rates by as much as 21%

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keeping another 147,000 people from returning to prison. A rate that promising could lower the
returning prison population by 2,940,000 over the next 20 years (20 Year Prison Study—
Treatment Works: Crime Statistics). Prisoners are not always accepting of these kinds of
programs though, and their resistance can make them a waste of resources.
More holistic approaches have been seen to help make these attempts at rehabilitation
more appealing to the prisoners. Somewhat of a twist on education rehabilitation, “Inspiring
Change”, a program implemented in Scottish prisons, sought to help prisoners become more
open to literacy education and it had great results. Utilizing training in musical arts over a six
month period, they found they were able to create an environment that was more positive
towards learning; whereas before, the prisoners had a negative attitude towards their education.
Prisoners said they were more inclined to learn because of the inspiration found in the program,
one such case commenting that it was, “inspiring us and trying to see that maybe we’ve got
hidden talents we don’t know anything about” (Tett, Anderson and MCneill 178). The nature of
music also encouraged prisoners to work together with others, improving on their responsibility
within a social frame work, and bringing encouragement and achievement from the hard work of
learning their piece of the music. That encouragement and achievement lead to higher levels of
confidence and self-esteem, which allows someone in a rehabilitative program to realize that
they can change, that they aren’t stuck where they’re at. When these improvements to prisoner
identity and the social climate in a prison are taken into account, it’s hard to see a way in which
the program was anything but a success.
On the contrary, we can see how a poor prison environment can not only hinder growth,
but actually make a person worse when they get out. Prisoners, “are at a considerably higher risk
for a range of chronic, infectious, and mental illnesses compared to the general population”

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(Luther, Reichert and Holloway 475) and this is all either neglected or created while the person is
within prison. A study in Canada looked at prisoners who had been incarcerated for ten years or
more finding that various types of deprivation can have detrimental effects on the prisoner’s
mental health. Deprivation of liberty brings on a sense of loneliness and boredom through a loss
of relationships and purpose, and is more substantially accomplished through solitary
confinement which can make rehabilitation impossible, dehumanizing the inmates and causing
great anxiety, memory loss, or even hallucinations/delusions. Deprivation of autonomy comes
from the dictating of every aspect of their life, this leads to an inability to make decisions for
themselves which can complicate their reentry into society as an independent adult. Depravity of
security, brought on by the constant presence of danger around them in prison, arouses acute
anxiety. Finally, deprivation of heterosexual relationships, which has a profound impact on both
female and male inmates, causes problems such as identity confusion and victimization of other
inmates (Effects of Long Term Incarceration). It should be noted that the findings are not
consistent and cannot be connected directly to long-term imprisonment. Prisonization and
Coping theory both have similar consistency problems, but the effects should not be ignored
merely because they are not seen across the board; especially since the findings are very
profound in the level of effects that are possible because of the prison environment. The effects
of long-term imprisonment on women is also discussed and while the psychological damage is
just as prominent, if not more so, it comes from different sources, and/or has different effects,
like an absence of family and hopelessness from lack of control and responsibility.
These negative effects coupled with the fact that most rehabilitation and learning is found
to work better when, “provided to appropriate offenders…in prisons that have a positive social
climate” (Harding 173) show that making a better social climate in prison is an invaluable tool

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that should accompany rehabilitation. When the evidence is compiled looking at the damage that
can be caused by our current system, the ability for a better prison culture to cut down on
negative behaviors, and improved culture’s ability to increase a desire to learn, a prisoner can
find that they can change for the better and how it can be done. Solitary confinement has been
greatly reduced in many states recently and is a good step towards improving the prison culture
but more can be done. Improving medical care and housing standards in the prison and
instituting education programs, programs like “Inspiring Change”, will go a long way to improve
rehabilitation rates within a cognitive behavioral treatment program.
While there is a lot to improve on and fix with the prison system the most efficient
starting point to cut down on the recidivism rates is improving what happens to the prisoner
while they are in the prison system. Fixing problems in the reentry process (after they have left)
are substantial, but they can be more difficult to implement. Society wants to see crime punished
so they have put the legislation (or at least put the people in place who made it) into our system.
This is due in part to the stigma towards criminal history that the tough on crime ideology has
input into society. These feelings are not without warrant either, as has been shown earlier, a lot
of the crime taking place is done by people who already have a criminal record. History and fear
will keep the legislation strong as the general public seeks to protect itself, but the general public
also wants to see crime drop. This is where in-prison rehabilitation shines through because it
will bring crime rates down while keeping the public safe. The stigma of a criminal record, and
the reason behind it, can eventually be conquered with a proper rehabilitation programs opening
up the door to a public welcome to giving criminals a second chance. As for now though, the
complicated nature of the reentry fix, and the magnitude of the benefits to be gained from proper
rehabilitation on the prisoner, and the prison culture, make rehabilitation stand out as the better

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fix. The simplicity of implementation for in-prison programs, like behavioral treatments and
education programming, is made evident in the assuredness that they can be given to inmates
while they are in an environment where the inmate is already present and able to take part in the
program rather than outside the prison where they are left to their own decisions. Social climate
cannot be removed from this scenario either seeing as it is what makes rehabilitation practices
flourish.
Why should we go through the trouble of helping them though, didn’t they bring this on
themselves when they disobeyed the law? As a Christian, I am called to love others, so I will
seek the betterment of them and offer forgiveness. That isn’t necessarily the job of my
government however, and it is not something I can force on everyone even though I may try to
convince them of its merit. Further, because of this perspective, I know that every man left to his
own devices, without accountability, will do terrible things just as we all did before God saved
us. It’s very easy to think of ourselves as the kind of people who would never get ourselves into
that situation in the first place, or to assume that they are reaping what they have sown; we need
to ask ourselves whether or not everyone should have the ability, and opportunity, to get back up
on their feet. As fellow humans (Christian or not) putting ourselves in their shoes, we should
only hope that we would be given the chance, and help, to turn our life around if we had ever
screwed up. Our constitution demands life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and this is to
apply to all men who are doing so legally. Anyone trying to better themselves is protected by our
forefather’s ideology, the American way, and our personal hope that, if we are so inclined, we
will have the freedom to better ourselves.

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Works Cited
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Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New
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Beck, Allen J. and Bernard Shipley. "Recidivism Of Prisoners Released In 1983." 1 April 1989.
Bureau of Justic Statistics. Web. 25 November 2015.
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Can Last a Lifetime." The Wall Street Journal 18 August 2014. Web.

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