Convicted Felons Return to the Community

Convicted Felons Return to the Community

Deviance is both a sociological and psychological component of the human organism that expresses itself in numerous ways at numerous times. Further, if we look back at the way philosophers have defined abnormality and deviance, from Plato through Kant and into the 20th century, we find that there are really three classifications of abnormality and within these three classifications a variance on a continuum of low to high:

Perceived harmfulness — usually to society as a whole (Plato) or to the actualization of the individual (Kant).

The degree of social consensus about whether the action is abnormal or deviant; what real harm is done? Is this utilitarian — the most harm to the most people qualifies as the most aberrant?

The severity of the social response — how should society respond? Is punishment appropriate or necessary? (Hagan, 1989).

Traditionally, though, society wishes to place those with defined deviant behaviors somewhere away from society. This punishment differs in degrees of severity and then asks whether individuals can ever be returned to society. The four major foci of this theoretical rubric are:

Retribution — Harking back to the Old Testament and many other Ancient legal documents, retribution focuses on “getting even” with the wrong doer. This is a sliding conundrum, and generally asks society to place the punishment to fit the crime. For instance, capital punishment would be extreme for petty theft, but not for murder.

Deterrence — Punishment as deterrence views the threat of “what could happen” if someone is caught as sufficient to deter them from an action. If the punishment is either so severe it frightens them, or if they have been punished and the situation was so bad they never wish to experience it again, they are then deterred from a societally based action out of fear.

Rehabilitation — Some punishments include work and counseling or education with the philosophical assumption that the wrongdoer will not commit the offence again; not out of fear of punishment, but because something innate has changed with the individual.

Incapacitation — Is a justification that society or a group needs to be protected from the offender so that the offender has no ability to commit further offenses — can never re-offend, and any threat is physically removed. This could be incarceration, capital punishment, castration, maiming, etc. (Corlett, 2009).

Maslow’s theory tells us that there is a hierarchy in one’s basic needs. Once basic needs (shelters and food) are met, then one can concentrate on emotional and intellectual actualization. When we release convicted felons into the community, however, they are often at the edge of society and do not have adequate education or skills sets to meet their basic needs. Thus, the only thing they know is crime, and to meet their needs, they return to their comfort zone or to return to the prison system that provides them comfort. In order to minimize recidivism, society must be willing to treat these individuals who have paid their debt to society with dignity and respect — and to assist them in becoming employed so they will be productive members of society.

However, the fact is that prisons in America are overcrowded, understaffed and put very little emphasis on rehabilitation, which would provide the skills necessary to stay out of prison. The American prison system was set up to rehabilitate individuals so they could re-enter society and become productive citizens. Instead of this happening, though, issues like crime rates, mandatory sentences, recidivism, and public attitudes have caused the opposite — prisons are holding areas that are overcrowded, over budget, and rarely provide positive results. Most rehabilitation programs have, in fact been cut — with the U.S. having one of the highest incarceration rates in the world (West, 2010).

Even in the last fifty years, American society cannot make up its mind regarding the efficacy of the correctional system. Punishment-wise, too, there are numerous gray areas regarding the type of appropriate punishment. Are all crimes equal? Should a one-time embezzler receive the same sentence in the same place as a multiple murderer? What is society’s fiscal responsibility to support a penal system? What is the ultimate goal of corrections? These, and many other questions continue to confound criminologists and politicians alike. However, society must be responsible for deviance — either to punish it or cure it; and if we want more citizens who contribute, pay taxes, and actualize, then rehabilitate behaviors and move individuals back into society (Facts About, 2007).

Do we change the mode of punishment so that we bring back more severe penalties, including capital punishment, as a valid deterrent for crime? Do we continue to warehouse drug offenses with the same degree of vigor as capital crimes? Are there some offenses in which we cannot fathom bringing offenders back into society? For instance, are there crimes so heinous to society that we cannot ever tolerate the individuals convicted (e.g. child murder, mass murder, serial torture, etc.)? Should we then, move to a philosophy of excessive crime with excessive force and make punishment open and honest and let potential criminals know the consequences of their actions? (Bedau and Cassell, 2005; Sharp, 2010; Oliver, 1997).

Economically, the cost of incarceration is huge — up to $60-70 billion per annum. The cost varies from state to state, but it takes about $30,000 to house and feed each prisoner, or about $70/day (Sleven, 2006). Additionally, these costs are not amortized, because about 70% of those released were rearrested within three years, and over half were back into the prison system. This same study showed that spending more time in prison had little or no effect on recidivism rates in total. The likely explanation for this is that longer the incarceration of the prisoner released the more likely the inability to re-enter society in a productive manner (Bureau of Justice, 2007). Thus, the trends in the American penal system suggest that the American prison system is far from a safe environment engendering criminal rehabilitation, or even basic safety. Regardless of one’s political views, the mistreatment of adolescents, rape of men and women, and other abuses are certainly beyond the very centers of decent behavior from a moral society — and the lack of oversight and interest in curtailing these issues, instead, leaving them up to the whims of budgets, is something that should be immediately rectified (Project Return, 2009).

Recidivism is a serious problem — and accounts for a significant amount of the current correctional issues (overcrowding, budgets, etc.). There are a number of barriers to entry back into society, and gender and race are high predictors of how serious those barriers will be. Many scholars, in fact, believe that criminal recidivism has a high correlation to psychopathology. With gratification in criminal, sexual or aggressive impulses, this model believes that the criminal cannot learn from the past and must return to the “system” in order to feel comfortable. This, however, assumes incorrectly that most prisoners are suffering from a clear mental illness, when in fact, most (over 51%) are serving time for drug offenses or offenses committed while under the influence of a substance (Guerino,, 2011).

In order to reenter society, we must remember the history and pattern of behavior in which many felons are ingrained. The pattern of greed, mistrust, living for the moment, possible substance abuse, lack of solid relationships, and typically an inability to cope with structure or organization. Taken together, the convicted felon needs to learn how to best integrate into society and have the coping tools that many other simply take for granted:

Relationships — learning to become part of a relationship, whether that be romantic or friendship, is tough. Prison life does not engender these kinds of mutually beneficial relationships, so it is important to teach and provide tools that can help with this aspect. Group chat therapy is one way to allow others to understand what it takes to let barriers down; and perhaps the buddy system or mentoring system prior to and just after release.

Conflict — many felons deal with conflict in a habitual manner — with violence. Psychological tools are necessary in order to provide an outlet — anger management therapy, tools for dealing with conflict, and tools to help convicts understand that while conflict is part of everyday life, it is not necessary violent.

Organization & reliability — study skills, organizational life skills, teach patterns designed to win success and stop self-sabotage. Increase neighborhood applicability (Kubrin and Stewart, 2006).

Trust — is difficult to teach, but in both a focused group and one-on-one environment, the issue of trust can be heightened with practical reasons and needs showing what happens when one trusts. It is often hard for a felon to trust, they have been let down do many times. One successful treatment has been to have inmates care for animals, learning training, grooming, and/or behavior modification — or training the animals to be service dogs. This inspires a set of rules and reliabilities, trust, and a productive activity post release.

Productivity-Education/Craft/Trade — a key to being able to stop the return to the penal system is to provide training necessary to allow the individual to find work after leaving prison. Not only is it extremely tough to get a job as a convicted felon, but the skills necessary to get a job that will afford a decent living are tough to get in prison. Earning a degree either online or through continuing education; earning a trade certificate (automotive, plumbing, wood working, etc.) will provide an occupation for the felon after leaving prison, and a focus for their energy and attention while in prison.

Consequences — Many rehabilitation programs fail because the consequences are unrealistic. Allow people to be human, while still requiring that in order to receive the gift from society of living in society, there are consequences if the rules are broken (Clear,, 2011).

How then, can Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs help offenders reintegrate into society? There are at least five ways that Maslow can be incorporated into philosophies and theories when dealing with convicted offenders:

Physical Needs — Food, water, and a bed are needs that are often taken for granted in society, but when inside prison, these needs are there and not thought of by the offender. When offenders are released, if these basic needs are unmet, they are likely not focusing on entering society in a law-abiding manner. Correctional staff can assist in this transition by community outreach programs that at least, for a period of time, will allow the offender some semblance of security.

Safety Needs — Prisons are unsafe; ratios of offenders to staff is high, and prisoner to prisoner violence is endemic. If the time prior to release is safe (security checkes, more routein, a special wind) and/or places are provided to help integration, having basic needs met in a safe environment will go a long way to help in integration.

Social Needs — Often, social groups in prison surround ethnicity or bias, once it is time to come back into society, correctional staff can encourage to find support through more positive needs and break the depressive society. Upon reentry, this may include self-help groups, former prisoner groups, or support groups that focus away from gang or ethnic issues and onto productive and optimistic attitudes.

Esteem Needs — Esteem and self-respect are typical concepts that law-abiding persons expect, but are difficult for the offender. Society is suspicious of them, and it is often difficult to find trust. In a controlled environment, esteem needs are regulated; out of that environment requires trained personnel who will help with job hunting, depression and groups to ease the transition.

Self-Actualization Needs — This final step is one of the most difficult. If we think about this honestly, many non-offenders struggle for most of their lives. No one can change the offender, or even cause the offender to feel actualized, but the offender. Correctional and social staff can provide the context of self-actualization by helping with the other four categories (Jones, 2004; Andrews, 1989).

Finally, ultimate change can only be accomplished by the individual who wants to change. However, offenders need the opportunity to become law-abiding citizens, and it is possible that with help of correctional staff and social workers, change can occur that is meaningful and mutually beneficial to both the offender and society. There are numerous alternatives to reincaceration, even with problem offenders. For drug issues, treatment programs that take 15-24 months save 50-60% above prisons and graduates of some programs are at least 75% less likely to return to prison. Churches and other social organizations can integrate their counseling abilities to offset those that do not occur in prisons. Prevention of violence programs work with gang and high-crime neighborhoods to monitor the area. For instance, in Chicago, a violence management team shows up when a crime is reported showing their disapproval through rallies, monuments, and prayer services — thus shaming the neighborhood into change. These, and other alternatives, are at least an approach in the right direction to the revolving door policy (David, 2006). It is far more beneficial to society to provide programs and services that help offenders reestablish themselves in society than to prosecute and put them back in prison where there is little to no chance of positive behavioral chances or outcomes. Psychologically, we know deviance exists, it is now up to us to find ways to reversing the trend, saving taxpayer money, and allowing for more actualized citizenry.


Facts About the U.S. Prison System.” (October 2007). Retrieved from:

Project Return — Breaking the Cycle of Crime. (2009). Retrieved from:

Total U.S. Correctional Population. (2010, December 11). Retrieved from:

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Andrews, a. (1989). Recidivism Is Predictable and Can Be Influenced: Using Risk Assessments to Reduce Recidivism. Forum on Corrections Research. 1(2): 11-17. Retrieved from:

Bedau, H. And P. Cassell, eds. (2005). Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have

Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides make Their Case. Oxford:

Clear, T., (2011). American Corrections. Belmont, CA: Cenage/Wadsworth.

Corlett, J.A. (2009). Responsibility and Punishment. Dordrect, Netherlands: Springer.

David, R. (2006). Ten Alternatives to Prison. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from: _0418alter.html

Guerino, P.,, (2011). Prisoners in 2010. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from:

Hagan, J. (1989). The Disreputable Pleasures: Crime and Deviance. Toronto:

McGraw Hill Ryerson.

Hough, J., (2008). Tackling Prison Overcrowding. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Jones, M. (2004). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Can Low Recidivism. Corrections Today. Retrieved from:

Kubrin, C. And Stewart, E. (2006). Predicting Who Reoffends: The Neglected Role of Neighborhood Context in Recidivism Studies. Criminology. 44 (1): 165-97.

Oliver, M. (1997). Prison’s – Today’s Debate. New York: Enslow.

Sharp, D. (2010). “The Real Death Penalty in the U.S.: A Review.” Pro-Death Penalty

Resource Community. Retrieved from: / index.php?id=21

Sleven, Peter. (June 2006). “U.S. Prison Study Faults System and Public.” The Washington

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Integration Cost to Programs Incarcerate



It is important to note, though, that the United States does report all of its prisoners, and it is likely some countries do not. Still, there is an unbelievably high incarceration rate of 748/100,000 inmates in the U.S., or .75%, causing many global organizations to remark that the United States has 1% of its population in jail, and another 3% on parole, with another half a percent as juveniles, making it the wealthiest country in the world with 5% of its population tied up in the penal system (Total U.S. Correctional Population, 2010).

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