Our nation is committed to incarceration as the primary response to crime. Despite their costs and lack of demonstrated benefits, prisons are here to stay.
Prisons are part of a tough on crime strategy that seeks to incapacitate offenders and deter their future criminal behavior– a strategy that cannot be shown to work.
Serving time in prison has become more difficult and damaging in many respects. Programs, both within prisons and after release, have been curtailed. The evidence shows that men who serve more and harder time are likely to be more recalcitrant, bitter and likely to reoffend upon their release. To break the cycle of crime, interventions are needed at two points: when men are subject to the greatest level of supervision and control (in institutions) and when they are released back into their communities. Instead of resources being introduced at these crisis points, they have been systematically withdrawn. Over the last two decades, programming has been significantly reduced both within and beyond institutional settings. The problems associated with the withdrawal of services have been exacerbated as states face a new fiscal crisis in the delivery criminal justice services.
To summarize: on the one hand, the conditions of incarceration have become more austere and coercive, leaving inmates with less hope, fewer rights, fewer ties and fewer skills to return to their communities; on the other hand, supportive services and networks in the post-incarceration environment have been dramatically weakened or have disappeared.