“My mind is free to go where it wants. But my body… has to remain within a 50 mile radius within the area I’m paroled at”, these are the words one ex-prisoner used to describe his feeling after release from prison. Society perceives prison as punishment instead of a place for punishment. This is a judgment in itself. When a person has spent time in prison, the law might vindicate him of the crime eventually but the re-adjustment issues which are to be faced at the hands of society and family do not let the person feel like a free man for a long time. On top of that, the strict parole conditions and mental effort it requires to re-start their lives from where they left, leaves many men incapable of going out of their house to avoid being sent back to prison.
Recidivism, which means a person’s inclination to slip back into criminal behavior which eventually results in that person being sent back to prison even after receiving intervention or undergoing correctional measures previous crimes, is said to be a direct result of the prison climate. Prison climate means the various characteristics of a correctional institute as they are perceived by the inmates of the prison. These include social interactions, emotional health while completing a prison sentence, administrative and organizational accessibility and physical health of the inmates. Prison climate is more commonly referred to as ‘prison environment’. Research shows that 1 out of every 5 men return to prison within a year of being released. 70% of these men are sent back due to violation of their parole supervision.
Research indicates that a prison with a ‘bad’ environment is frequently subjected to riots and instability. The inmates feel insecure and unheard. The staff feels overworked and underpaid. Everyone is dissatisfied. There are three most important factors which are necessary for a healthy climate at a facility. These are stability at the bureaucratic level, the dissatisfaction level of the correctional staff and the social environment of the place. Frequently, cases of physical violence are reported at prisons. These are due to a number of reasons which include the lack of privacy or having your personal space intruded by others, mental and physical monotony and sense of uselessness and the sense of being under someone else’s control. These factors visibly affect the social and cognitive environment of the whole place.
A number of evidences show that women experiences differ from men in US prisons. It is due to the fact that their relationship both inside and outside of prison matters in shaping the culture in women’s prisons. Even though men make up the majority of prisons in the US, the annual incarceration for women increased at a rate of 7.5%in 2004 as compared to 5.7% for men. Based on these figures, different studies show that men and women tend to cope differently when it came to form family structures within the prison and differed from the roles they would normally adopt in the society where men tend to isolate themselves from others and showed more aggression towards the other inmates. Another important issue that surfaces in many prisons is the child care and women worry about it when they are incarcerated. According to the statistics, 64% of women were primary guardians for their children prior to being incarcerated. It is quite likely that the life of male children is based on many traumatic events as they grow up in the prisons, but research has shown that female children experienced a higher rate of trauma.
To some extent gender imbalanced prison cells affected the overall climate of the prison in the US. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly one third of women prisoners are confined in US prison cells which account to almost 8.8% of the total US prison population. Another astonishing aspect is that this trend is on the rise. It all began in 1870s when the authorities in US started housing women in separate facilities. But it came up with one problematic feature as male staff used to operate these cells and they often tried to engage with women in immoral acts. But with the passage of 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, a policy shift occurred and as a result females started replacing the male employees and as of 2007 males now serve at restricted positions such as prison guards and make 40% of total post.
However, both the positive and negative experiences of both the male and female inmates matter and help shape the overall climate of that particular prison. What matters to both genders is the respect shown towards them, humanitarian principles being practiced, staff-prisoner relationships, degree of support provided to the prisoners, level of mutual trust, degree of fairness, overall maintenance of law and order, maintaining an appropriate prisoner safety level, well-being opportunities provided for personal development, amount of family contact, use or abuse of power, meaning attached to the penal experience and decency shown to prisoners. Some other measures included the quality of physical environment, different staff services and programs, and personal safety and security. Healthy prison indicators are based on whether prisoners feel safe, are treated with respect are able to and assisted in maintaining meaningful contact with their families. Overall the issue of reliability and validity are of particular importance.
For now the overcrowded prison populations continue to be one of the greatest challenges faced by the US prison system. Not only more strict crime policies and determinate sentencing profoundly increased the numbers of various criminals in prisons and generated extended prison sentences, but overall raised the annual prison population. This overpopulation and heavily relying on system has overburdened the state and has lately resulted into fast depletion of resources. Ultimately weakening the ability to seek to achieve rehabilitation and accomplishing only incapacitation rather greater benefits. Therefore, in order to counter this situation, state took aggressive measures and as a result the prison system in US has evolved a lot till now since its inception in the 16th century. Now most of the prisons in US are being designed, financed, built and operated by private companies. On one hand they take the operational burden off from the government and are more innovative but on the other handsome experts believe them to be flawed both in principle and in practice.
What can be concluded is that the social climate of a prison can influence rehabilitative outcomes. It is, therefore, recommended that the social climate of US prisons is regularly audited such that the changes over time are assessed, standards for improvement are set and targets are achieved. So much so that the need for additional resources or interventions is identified and responded to properly.