Corruption in the Correctional System

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Corruption in the Correctional System


Throughout its development, the United States attached great importance to the fight against crime and the strengthening of the rule of law. In this regard, there are measures to develop and improve the effectiveness of the tools used for the prevention and early identification of the causes and conditions of crimes committed, as well as the inevitability of punishing perpetrators. Undoubtedly, correctional facilities have traditionally always been a place with a high percentage of corruption. For many years, the problem of fighting against corruption has not lost its relevance. In recent years, corruption in the United States has acquired a large-scale form. It has become a habitual and everyday phenomenon, which characterizes the very life of society. Any administrative system in the United States is not free of corruption. However, since the latter is institutionalized in the correctional system, it is of specific danger to the public. The aim of the paper is to study corruption in the correctional system of the United States, its causes, and methods of controlling.

The Notion of Corruption

According to surveys of the population, corruption has become a daily phenomenon. Corruption is bribery, abuse of power or other illegal use of an official position by a natural person contrary to the legitimate interests of society and the state to obtain benefits in the form of money, valuables, and other property or services of the property nature. It can also involve the accomplishment of acts on behalf or for the benefit of a legal person (Bridenthal, 2012). However, this definition does not encompass the essence of corruption. It does not fully correspond to modern realities. As it has been mentioned before, the nature and the concept of corruption are subjects of numerous debates in the scientific community.

The Correctional System of the USA

The penitentiary system of the United States is a complex of special institutions implementing the state policy in the sphere of the execution of criminal penalties. The system includes federal and state prisons and reformatories, correctional facilities in the form of prison farms and working shops, reception, classification, and diagnosis centers for prisoners, correction centers, as well as special medical facilities like prison hospitals and centers for the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. There are also jails and correctional facilities such as residential and community-based confinement facilities intended for the rehabilitation and re-socialization of offenders under the jurisdiction of municipalities and district authorities (Edge, 2009).

Every institution has a security level from 1 to 4. Prisons of local subordination, including study release and restitution centers, as well as work release and prerelease facilities have a level of safety from 1 or 2. More than 50% of offenders staying there have a permission to leave the protected area for the employment or training on any profession without an escort for a certain time (Edge, 2009). Prisons and other correctional facilities of the fourth and third levels of security are under the jurisdiction of the state or federal government. In these prisons, there are also units with a softer regime corresponding to the second level.A center of reception, diagnosis and classification of prisoners makes a decision on what level of security criminals need and in what rehabilitation programs they will participate (Edge, 2009). Corruption exists in all spheres of the correctional system.

The Problem of Corruption in the Correctional System

For many years, the problem of fighting against corruption in the public service system has not been solved completely. Nowadays, it can be said that corruption has become institutionalized in many spheres. Thus, the fight against it involves a number of actions of the highest priority, which must be implemented at all levels. Corruption undermines citizens’ confidence in public servants and the government as a whole. It also affects the political system of the country. The fight against corruption in the penitentiary system is of particular importance. In the book Encyclopedia of Criminal Justice Ethics, the author states that, “The corruption of any aspect of the criminal justice system can impact the entire system, as each element of the system feeds into the others and is influenced by its actions, inactions, and decisions” (Arrigo, 2014, p. 164). As statistics shows, there are cases of bribery every year (Arrigo, 2014). The manifestation and establishment of corruption relations in the system of law enforcement agencies have extremely negative consequences that affect the maintenance of law and order in the country, directly conflict with the objectives of combating crime, and undermine the faith in the effectiveness of law enforcement and the ability to ensure the economic security of the country.

The survey results showed that the following people deliver and transmit prohibited items to the convicted on the territory of correctional facilities: civilian prison staff – 28.0%, relatives and friends of the convicted – 25.1%, convicted having the right to walk without an escort – 11.6%, other citizens who have access to correctional facilities – 5.3%, and certified employees – 38.4% (South & Weiss, 2014). In such a way, the survey has illustrated that most of the violations are committed by certified and civilian employees. Corruption has a negative impact on new officers. Many of them want to get rich or gain influence in the correctional service. The number of offenses among the personnel increases every year.Cases of corruption recorded in 2010 are nearly one and a half times higher than in the same period in 2003. Although the level of bribery is lower in 2010 than in 2009, dynamics indicates a general increase. There are also a growing number of criminal cases against members of the penal system. For eight years, this figure is eightfold (South & Weiss, 2014).

Constant communication of prisoners with the prison staff contributes to the commission of offenses in correctional facilities. In prison, the convicted are constantly in a confined space. “The individual is under the complete control of the professionals of the correctional system” (Arrigo, 2014, p. 164). To improve the situation, they have used various contrivances. Many of the condemned people find those who are willing to neglect an official position for the sake of personal interests ignoring the principles of law and morality (Owusu, 2009).These crimes are mostly related to the provision of conditional release, unjustified transfer of convicted people from one penitentiary to another, or granting unjustified benefits and privileges in the mode of serving a sentence.Employees represent a certain threat to the safety in correctional facilities. They can carry prohibited or illegal items or materials (Payne, 2011). Indeed, the most common violation is the delivery of prohibited things and items in parcels and packages. It is of essential significance in addressing the challenges facing the penal system.

Underfunding and corruption are the main reasons why crimes are committed involving the prison staff in prisons of the United States. In the book Living in Prison: A History of the Correctional System with an Insider’s View, the authors state that, “Forms of prison corruption include misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance” (Stanko, Gillespie, & Crews, 2004, p. 125). According to statistical data of 2011, 416 criminal cases were initiated in respect of 425 correction system members, including 261 corruption cases. There were 356 criminal cases in 2010 and 270 cases in 2009. In 2011, 121 cases were sent to the court. The same number of the prison staff was prosecuted (South & Weiss, 2014). It is necessary to take into account the nature of high latency of corruption.

The share of corruption articles of the Criminal Code is great. By 2010, it has exceeded 75%. In the period from 2007 to 2010, there is an increase in a share of all kinds of corrupt articles among the total number of criminal cases (South & Weiss, 2014). Since corruption crimes are characterized by high latency, their real scale is even greater. According to some researchers, there are only three disclosed cases per thousand (Owusu, 2009). In such a way, the volume of actual corruption crimes exceeds the one of statistically stated cases by several orders of magnitude. According to Eunice Owusu (2009), a latent part of this type of crime exceeds the registered one almost fifty times.

The Psychological Problem of Corruption in the Correctional System

As it has been already mentioned, the majority of corrupt practices committed on the territory of correctional institutions is expressed in the form of the transfer of prohibited items, which is mainly done by the prison staff. The main danger is that these objects may contribute to the commission of unlawful acts on the part of the convicted. It is necessary to focus attention on the need to debunk the myth about the legitimate incorrigibility of criminals. If to recognize the fact that a crime has causes and conditions conducive to its commission, there is a conclusion about the possibility of the correction of the offender. It requires stopping the impact of trigger factors.However, the latter cannot be absent, as the correctional system is riddled with corruption.More often, employees who take bribes do not think that their actions generate the sense of permissiveness and impunity in the minds of convicted people. Such behavior of some correctional system staff members has no correctional effect, but a corrupting one that should be punished.Public danger of corruption in the correctional system is based on the fact that because of some employees of the penitentiary system, criminals sentenced to imprisonment continue to communicate with accomplices remaining at large and illegally obtain early conditional release or comfortable conditions of the sentence.As a result, in the public mind, there is an opinion about the de facto impunity of those responsible for crimes. If the convicted person is not only faced with the facts of corruption but also engaged in illegal corrupt communication and continues to commit crimes, it is impossible to say about the possibility of the correction of the convicted person and the prevention of committing new crimes.

Causes of Corruption

In 2010, a study on the identification of the main causes of corruption was conducted.According to respondents, the main factors that contribute to corrupt practices in the correctional system are inadequate salaries of the staff (57%), desire to receive a personal gain (31%), and the lack of social support (24%) (Owusu, 2009).In addition, among the causes of corruption, there is the lack of patriotism and civic consciousness, low level of legal culture and insufficient awareness of criminal liability, as well as the inadequacy of the punishment for the commission of unlawful acts. Employees of the correctional system indicate that the main cause of corruption is a low level of well-being. However, as statistics show, significant part of people taking a bribe includes those with high material prosperity (Owusu, 2009). Problems of the correctional system are known and typical of the fight against crime for many years. In particular, it is the lack of funding. Work in prison is very specific in terms of psychology. It is important for this work to be organized by fair, prepared and conscientious people. Assistance to prisoners and providing them with various means of communication with the outside world is impossible without the involvement of the prison staff. Therefore, corruption is considered institutionalized.

Methods of Controlling Corruption

Nowadays, the necessity of fighting with corruption is more important than ever. “The first step in tackling corruption in a prison system is acknowledging the problem, not as a condemnation of it or as the result of a catastrophic event but as a basic recognition of the vulnerability of the system and a desire to manage it effectively and professionally” (Podmore, 2015). In the fight against corruption, it is necessary to revise the personnel policy of the correctional system substantially. Above all, it is also important to create a registry of “corruption-sensitive” positions. Candidates for these positions should be checked both from the standpoint of their professional and personal qualities and from the perspective of sources of their material and financial support.In the correctional system, there is constant work to overcome the corruption phenomenon within the framework of the national plan for countering corruption.

It is also necessary to create a norm regulating the ban on the transfer or any attempt to transfer prohibited items in any manner on the territory of the correctional institution by employees. It will be an effective measure affecting the reduction of cases of carrying prohibited items on the territory of facilities. Secondly, it will reduce the number of latent crimes. Thirdly, it is both a preventive measure for similar offenses and crimes and one of the main factors contributing to the reduction of corruption crimes in the penal system. “The correctional department should develop and enforce an anticorruption policy that defines the problem and specifies the penalties for corruption” (Stanko, Gillespie, & Crews, 2004, p. 125). These measures can reduce the number of corruption-related crimes in the correctional system. It is impossible to avoid corruption completely. However, it is possible to drive it into certain frames when it ceases to be a dominant element of the social and state system.


Corruption issues were relevant at all times of the development of American society. The fight against corruption has always been one of the leading directions of activities of the law enforcement system of society.However, under modern conditions, this phenomenon is of particular importance. Naturally, it requires an appropriate response of society to the fight against it.Nowadays, corruption in the correctional system is the number one enemy. There are specific measures aimed at strengthening the fight against this negative phenomenon of modern times, which determine the direction of the struggle against it, namely, all-inclusiveness, systematic character, and purposefulness.