The goals of the American criminal justice system are focused very heavily on the law and order aspect. We try to use our toughness as the sole deterrent to the committing of crimes. We expect inmates to “behave” when they are released because they know how awful prison is and we think they know better than to get themselves back into the system. However, it is in society’s best interest for us to educate and try to help integrate inmates back into society after their sentences are over. Unfortunately, because this has not historically been a goal of the American criminal justice system, we see extremely high rates of recidivism rather than previously incarcerated citizens becoming successfully acclimated to life outside the walls of a prison.
Recidivism is an alarming pattern that we have seen in America. Recidivism is the tendency for an inmate to leave prison and become a repeat offender once leaving prison. This can be caused by them being released back out into society with the same behaviors and attitudes that caused them to commit actions that put them in prison in the first place, and in other cases, recently released inmates long for the security they had while in prison, and commit crimes to secure this for themselves once more.
One high profile, and perhaps extreme example of this is the case, is that of Christopher Miller. Miller was arrested in 1999 for attempting to rob a Stride Rite, and got caught as he drove straight into oncoming squad cars. He was released in 2014, and was arrested one day after his released for robbing the same Stride Rite. He claims that it was coincidence that it was the same store that he robbed fifteen years later, and yet his behavior displays a troubling pattern in our criminal justice system. In a study done by the Bureau of Justice in 2005, it was found that by five years after their time of release, 76.6% of prisoners were rearrested.
Although motivations differ, there are some trends that can be seen. For example, Miller had been in and out of the prison system for years, and left with no way to get to his parole officer that he was supposed to meet, and nowhere to go, he was left with what was in his mind, no options. On top of having the blemish of a criminal record disclosed to potential employers, and therefore severely limiting employment and financial options, inmates are left unprepared emotionally to be put back into society, especially after long sentences. Some like Miller, have families and friends who have cut ties with them. Others may have mental health issues and no one to look after them or access to treatment and other basic necessities on the outside and therefore are living better lives behind bars.
Whatever is the cause of our recidivism rates being so high, it is clear that we need to create programs designed to reintegrate inmates back into society, rather than just letting them go and arresting them when they commit crimes again.