The Unrelenting Criminal Justice Cycle
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
During the five years I taught a six to eight week course in "Anger Management" to male inmates in a local county jail, I was often reminded of the vicious cycle our criminal justice system imposes on those who are arrested for committing an illegal offense. An older gentleman who had been in and out of jail for many years, lamented the fact that after waiting for weeks to go back to court, he discovered that another conviction had been added to his case, which required even more waiting before sentencing or release. Sadly after commenting on how glad he was to enter my class, he did not return because for some reason the guards failed to call him to attend! Another inmate, preparing to be released in several weeks, agonized over all the decisions and situations he would face upon his release. He planned to return initially to the rental he shared with his girlfriend before becoming incarcerated, a person with whom he had unresolved problems because his only other close relationships and support resided outside of this area. He was concerned about whether he could find work, not only because of his criminal record but also because of his untreated back problems.
These are only a few examples of personal stories involving the challenges that inmates face which make it difficult for them to cope with incarceration and to make the necessary decisions and changes leading to successful reintegration into society. I have also heard many stories about conflicts they face with their peers and prison personnel, who often treat them with varying degrees of disdain and cruelty, revealing their power and control issues which go unchecked. Correctional staff with negative attitudes along with arbitrary, punitive protocols rarely helped resolve any of the problems occurring between inmates, which often led to heightened animosity and violence. So often, I felt I was facing the seemingly impossible task of helping the men to learn about their original anger and how to deal with it in the midst of new reasons for them to feel angry! The system only exacerbates the negativity and dysfunction of those it incarcerates. These situations present some of the reasons why the patterns of anger, aggression, negative attitudes and poor decision-making are not only perpetuated but also intensified. Can we stop this negative cycle? If so, how???