4 minute read

Careers in Criminal Justice: Corrections

Corrections, Probation, And Parole

One of the earliest references describing work in prisons comes from the notable prison reformer John Howard. In his classic work, The State of the Prison in England and Wales (1777), Howard writes that there is nothing more important to effective prison management than a warden who is honest, sober, and free of other vices, such as gambling. Responding to the serious abuses heaped upon prisoners in his day, Howard recommended that wardens and guards be salaried and not depend on fees customarily levied on inmates. Howard's prison staffing recommendations were remarkably parsimonious: a warden, a matron (for female prisoners), some guards, a manufacturer (to furnish inmates with work), and a few taskmasters to provide the necessary vocational training. Although prison staffing patterns have changed much since Howard's writing, his outline of the essential prison manpower and personal characteristics of staff are valid to this day.

Since its inception, correctional practice has developed haphazardly in Europe and subsequently in America. Near the end of the eighteenth century, Americans began to embrace Cesare Beccaria's enlightened concept of imprisonment as punishment, first enunciated in his seminal Essays on Crimes and Punishment (1764). During the Penitentiary Movement era (1790–1825), American prisons became models for European reformers seeking to humanize criminal punishment. Capital and corporal punishment was gradually replaced by confinement in penitentiaries. Prisoners would be redeemed through labor, religious reflection, isolation, and silence. Yet in spite of these efforts every informed observer since Beaumont and Tocqueville has remarked on the pervasive contradictions in goals and philosophy within the American correctional system. Not surprisingly, these contradictions have historically affected recruitment of personnel and work performance. To this day corrections personnel—and the public as their employer—are doubtful as to whether corrections should punish and isolate offenders or rehabilitate and reintegrate them back into society.

The correctional officer work force in America, from the earliest prisons and jails until the mid-twentieth century, lacked training and preparedness for the job. Officers came into corrections largely by chance, seldom by choice. Employment prerequisites and salaries were low. Most obtained their jobs through political patronage, the vestiges of which remain today. What training occurred was done on the job. It was not until 1930 that the first formal training program was initiated in New York City under the auspices of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Schade). The three-month training program covered such topics as the history of crime and punishment, inmate classification and management, and discipline and segregation of inmate categories. Thereafter, it became largely the task of professional organizations, unions, and state civil-service provisions to set the performance standards for corrections. Of particular note is the work of the National Prison Association (NPA). First formed in 1830, it was renamed the American Correctional Association (ACA) in 1954. As the largest organization of corrections professionals and volunteers, the ACA has been instrumental in lifting the image of the profession. It has carried the responsibility for developing standards for the profession, which today serve as the benchmarks for the accreditation of prisons and jails. In a similar vein, selection standards, the quality of recruits, and training programs have improved significantly. The combined efforts of the professional organizations, unions, and state civil service commissions have resulted in improved working conditions, better pay, and most of all, the professionalization of institutional corrections.

Probation as an alternative to imprisonment also has its roots in ancient England. As early as the 1300s the English courts had the option of placing certain low risk offenders into the custody of upstanding citizens who would vouch for their conduct. By comparison, probation in America has a shorter history. John Augustus (1784–1859) is generally recognized as the father of American probation. Augustus was a successful shoemaker in Boston. While visiting criminal courts he was distressed to see petty criminals being consigned to jail because they were unable to pay even modest fines. After bailing selected offenders, Augustus would help find a job for them and provide assistance to their families if needed. At time of sentencing, Augustus would vouch for the individual in court. He would also point to the progress being made toward the person's reformation. Judges, in turn, usually responded by imposing modest fines and court costs, rather than sentence the individual to time in jail (Glueck). The idea of probation as an alternative to incarceration quickly took root in state court systems. By 1925, Congress authorized probation at the federal level and probation had become not only accepted but also the most widely used form of community-based supervision.

Parole is the supervised early release of prisoners from correctional confinement. Alexander Maconochie is credited with first conceiving the practice in the 1840s. Captain Maconochie of the Royal Navy was the superintendent of an English penal colony on Norfolk Island located between New Caledonia and New Zealand (1840–1844). Responding to the brutalities of prison management of his day, Maconochie thought that prisoners should be provided with incentives for rehabilitation and opportunities for earning their way out of confinement. He devised a system of credits or "marks" to be awarded for good conduct, hard labor, and industriousness. As inmates earned marks, they could apply them toward less restrictive prison settings and eventually toward an early release. A "ticket of leave" was the final step in the release process and meant that a prisoner was discharged without constraint and free to pursue his life.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCareers in Criminal Justice: Corrections - Corrections, Probation, And Parole, Careers In Jails And Correctional Institutions, Careers In Probation And Parole