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How do local politics affect jail administration? Should political influence be as extensive as it is? Does it help or hinder good corrections?

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Local politics does influence jail administration. Most people are very uninformed about how jails work because they have had no direct interaction with the prison system. The public is most concerned about the cost of running a jail because most jails are financed by taxes. As a result, this is...

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something that influences the public. If there is a major issue with the jails, such as the unexplained death of prisoners, this also will get the attention of the public. One of the goals of the jail system should be to rehabilitate prisoners so that they will be able to get a job and be less likely to return to jail. However, the public does not always view this positively. The public is generally more interested in seeing a criminal serve their time as opposed to getting an education. However, studies show that if a prisoner gets an education, they are less likely to return to prison.

Whether political influence should be extensively depends on how that influence is used. If political influence is used to make headlines and play to the support of a particular base, then it would not be a good thing. If political influence is used to help rehabilitate prisoners so that they will be less likely to return to prison, then it is a good thing. Recently, there has been an attitude of getting tough on criminals. This does not always translate into helping rehabilitate them.

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Local politics have significant effects on the philosophies underlying jail administration as well as implementation details and budgeting. For example, one of the major differences in underlying philosophies is whether jails focus on punishment or rehabilitation. If jails focus on punishment, prisoners may be treated harshly with an emphasis on order and discipline. Joe Arpacio, the infamous Phoenix sheriff elected by people supporting the concept of jails as punishment and riding a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, often used tactics designed to humiliate and intimidate prisoners. 

A contrasting situation in local politics is Norway, where the focus is on rehabilitation. That means that prisons and jails emphasize education, counseling, and job training in order to facilitate reintegration of prisoners into society upon their release and prevent re-offending. In general, Norwegian political attitudes emphasize community goods and this local political philosophy creates a different mode of incarceration than one which emphasizes competition or punishment.

Local economic philosophies also affect jails, where free market or small government advocates tend to support privatizing jails while progressives are more concerned with reducing jail populations by using technology such as GPS tracking and community service, especially for non-violent offenders.

Political influence can be harmful, as when the for-profit private jail industry can influence policy through campaign donations. Also, political influence can lead to bad decisions based on passing fads rather than intelligent long term planning. On the other hand, politics is the expression of the will of the people; in a democracy, one fundamental principle is that all citizens should have input into significant decisions, and one cannot sustain a democracy without allowing the public to prevail in decision making.

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There are two distinct ways local politics directly influence jail administration.  First, a prison is an employer of the local workforce, especially in the area of guards and administrative personnel.   As a consequence, anyone running for local office must assure voters that the local economy will remain healthy vis a vis the prison system – will it be privatized?  Will the prison budget allow expansion of personnel? etc.  Secondly, prison system policy often affects local production of work opportunities – will the prisoners compete for jobs in manufacturing, in labor union bargaining, etc.?  Many times prisons are actually prohibited from giving prisoners meaningful jobs because they will harm local industries (example:  making license plates, or even self-serving maintenance tasks such as laundry, maintenance, or food services).  In these instances, local political influence definitely hinders the “corrections and rehabilitations” goals of any good prison system.  Finally, local politics must deal with safety and security issues of the local population, in terms of fears and doubts; these assurances must be co-ordinated with prison practices.

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