Incarceration Doesn’t = Rehabilitation
Last semester, I took a class called Juvenile Justice in which we explored the juvenile justice system and how it is supposed to act “in loco parentis,” in place of parents. After reading work by researchers such as Nikki Jones, Chesney-Lind, and Barbara E. Bloom, it became clear that incarceration of juveniles or even adults is an ineffective method of rehabilitation. Truly, I think there should be a conversation that revolves around the purpose of prisons and jails. Depending on that, it becomes easy to judge whether or not incarceration is a viable option of rehabilitating people. Incarceration efforts aim to punish rather than mend, which is why they are ineffective in rehabilitating people who may be accused of a crime. Instead, I believe that there are alternatives to incarceration such as targeted programming for drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness therapy, counseling, among others that are more effective in rehabilitating individuals accused of a crime.
In fact, in New York City alone there have been efforts to transition into a more rehabilitative system. The Nathaniel Project is one of these programs, created by the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES). It provides two years of extra-intensive supervision for felon-indicted individuals who are seriously and persistently mentally ill. The program offers comprehensive mental health and integrated substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation, case management, court advocacy and reporting, and monitored linkages to housing and social services. Programs such as The Nathaniel Project effectively link the justice and mental health systems in the United States and insist that this connection be emphasized when trying to rehabilitate people who may be accused of committing a crime.
Similarly, incarceration fails to address mental illness, or if it does, methods are sparse and unsatisfactory. In 2015, lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson stated in his book “Just Mercy” that over fifty percent of inmates in jails and prisons in the United States had been diagnosed with a mental illness and that one in five jail inmates had a serious mental illness. While those statistics are jarring, nearly all State adult confinement facilities claim that they screen inmates for mental health problems or provide treatment. However, a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that only one in ten State inmates receive psychotropic medications and one in eight are in mental health therapy or counseling. When considering these facts, it becomes evident that incarceration does not adequately address the process of rehabilitation. Despite knowing that half of the incarcerated population in America suffers from a mental illness, there are not enough services that address mental illness in efforts to encourage rehabilitation. Therefore, I believe that incarceration is not a viable option for rehabilitating people who may have committed a crime.