A brief Internet search demonstrates the high cost to taxpayers of inmates who are involved in the revolving door as well as costs in terms of the deaths and injuries of inmates and guards when prison riots break out. The destruction of property is also a financial issue when fires are set and then there are the possibilities of retaliatory attacks, political fallout and lawsuits from inmates or their families for civil rights violations.
Who is researching these inmates, their records of violations while incarcerated and why would anyone want to do this?
Because she is often in the lounge where I make copies of handouts for my students, I have come to know faculty member Carin Benning. Her thesis for her master’s in Applied Behavioral Science: Criminal Justice and Social Problems from Wright State University in 2012 is entitled “Parent-Child Relationships as a Motivation for Improved Behavior Among Male and Female Prison Inmates.”
Of all the topics Benning could have chosen for her thesis, she believes her interest might have been sparked by her behavior before she became pregnant with her first child while still in high school. She was hanging with kids who were known as troublemakers: “I felt like I fit better there.”
She feels that the birth of her daughter, before she graduated from high school in 2001, “probably saved my life.” She acknowledges, however, that unlike many pregnant teens, she had a social support system. She says of prison inmates, “I see myself in their stories. I could easily have been where they are. What it really boils down to is who you are, where you come from, how much money you have, and whether you get caught or not.”
Benning had friends in high school who were always in trouble, being sent to juvenile detention centers or mental health facilities. And she knows three people personally who have spent time in prison: drugs and other illegal activities. One is now sleeping in a friend’s garage and he has lost parental rights and is virtually unemployable.
Benning’s experience with prison populations involves participating in talking circles with male prisoners and an internship at a residential treatment center, David L. Brown Youth Center for adjudicated, unruly, delinquent males, ages 12 to 17.
Her research indicates that “the higher the frequency of visitations male and female prison inmates have with their children, the less likely they are to be written up or found guilty of any rule violation while in prison.”
Her hope is that those who read her thesis will “see that changes need to be made in the United States regarding prison policy and regulations.” She believes that the lack of needed changes comes from a lack of understanding. Because many in decision-making roles have not had the experiences that some of the incarcerated have had and do not agree with what these felons have done — and who among us does — they cannot come to an understanding of the issues.
Further, many making decisions do not want “to consider that the culture or society itself plays a part in the cycle of incarceration.” She points out the high rate of incarceration of minorities, disproportionate to their representation in the U.S. population, and the large percentage, 80 percent, who are serving time because of drug offenses. She writes that instead of treating the alcoholic or the schizophrenic, we imprison them.
Additionally, she indicates there’s the problem of insurance companies refusing to pay for drug counseling and rehabilitation.
Policy implications for Benning’s research are the following: the need for more parent-child centered programs within prison facilities with the visitation areas designed for positive interaction and the use of technology for more frequent contacts to influence social bonding and improve attitudes of inmates.
In conclusion, there will always be a need to incarcerate those who chose to violate the norms of society, to break the law. It is in our best interest, however, from both the financial perspective and also the moral/ethical aspect, to accept the responsibility for determining why offenders offend and to redesign our prisons and programs to reduce the rate of incarceration and recidivism. To do otherwise just makes no sense.