UCB W9 Impact of Communication Commentary and Personal Reflection

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Business Finance

University of Colorado at Boulder

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Using the powerpoints and readings please do the following: 

 What did you think about the research examples we covered this week?  What did YOU learn (not just restating things from the articles) about lived experiences, language & discourse, and/or communicative constitution through these examples?  What questions do you still have about a communication perspective, or "thinking communicatively" about the nonprofit?   

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21Journal of Applied Social ScienceKoschmann and Peterson Rethinking Recidivism: A Communication Approach to Prisoner Reentry Journal of Applied Social Science 7(2) 188­–207 © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1936724412467021 jax.sagepub.com Matthew A. Koschmann1 and Brittany L. Peterson2 Abstract Prisoner reentry is one of the main criminal justice challenges confronting the United States, especially as the costs of recidivism and incarceration take increasing tolls on city and state budgets, and the effects of criminal activity are felt by families and local communities. Our goal in this article is to develop an alternative approach to prisoner reentry. Our contention is that many reentry efforts focus mainly on the visible effects of recidivism (e.g., parole violations, criminal behavior, and treatment compliance) but do not get at the underlying causes that lead to recidivism in the first place. While traditional methods of surveillance and control focus on the observable problems of recidivism, we argue that the underlying cause is a communication breakdown of being cut off from networks and meaningful relationships that provide the necessary social capital needed for successful reintegration.Therefore, we propose reframing prisoner reentry from a communication perspective, and developing subsequent communication solutions. We suggest that mentoring is one such communication solution, and we present a case study of a successful reentry mentoring program. Our case study uses a mixed research methodology, including quantitative data from a third-party assessment and qualitative data from in-depth interviews. Our key conclusions are that mentoring provides important communication links to enable coordinated service delivery for ex-prisoners, and that mentoring is a valuable conversational resource to help socially construct a favorable postrelease environment for successful reentry. Our target audience are those interested in prisoner reentry and reforming the overall criminal justice system. Keywords prisoner reentry, recidivism, communication, mentoring Introduction Prisoner reentry is a prevalent topic in contemporary discussions of criminal justice and public safety in the United States. Prisoner reentry involves all the activities and programs involved in helping former inmates integrate back into their communities and become productive members of society (Travis and Visher 2005). Prisoner reentry is not an optional s­ trategy—it is an unavoidable result of incarceration because virtually all inmates will be released from prison (Petersilia 2004; Travis and Visher 2005). Interest in reentry efforts continues to grow as the costs of recidivism and 1 University of Colorado Boulder, USA University of Ohio, USA 2 Corresponding Author: Matthew A. Koschmann, University of Colorado Boulder, Hellems 96, UCB 270, Boulder, CO 80309, USA. Email: koschmann@colorado.edu Koschmann and Peterson 189 incarceration take increasing tolls on city and state budgets, and the effects of criminal activity are felt by families and local communities. In 2008, the Federal Government brought much-needed attention and support to the issue of prisoner reentry with the passage of the Second Chance Act, which authorized $165 million in grants to support reentry programs, and created a national reentry resource center to provide training and disseminate best practices. Across the political spectrum, there is widespread agreement that prisoner reentry is one of the main criminal justice challenges confronting the United States (Garland, Wodahl, and Mayfield 2011; Mears et al. 2006). Prisoner reentry receives extensive attention from both academics and practitioners, and the details of previous studies and reports are well known (see Petersilia 2009; Stern and Carrel 2009; Travis 2005). Despite the diversity of stakeholders involved in the issue of prisoner reentry, there is surprising consensus about the basic storyline shaping today’s reentry context. Beginning in the 1970s, our criminal justice system experienced major philosophical shifts away from the ideals of rehabilitation to more punitive approaches to crime centered on incarceration. Much of this was motivated by the “nothing works” approach to criminal justice that arose in response to Robert Martinson’s (1974) research on prison reform. Other research at the time, such as James Q. Wilson’s (1975) book Thinking about Crime, fueled the emerging “tough on crime” movement that would define criminal justice policies throughout the 1980s and 1990s and into the twenty-first century. This brought an unprecedented change toward using detention and incarceration as the principal strategies for public safety (Guy 2011) and ushered in a slew of new laws—mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing, zero-tolerance, three strikes—to “get tough” on crime. The result was a massive increase in the prison and jail population throughout the United States, which currently sits at about 2.5 million people (with nearly 7 million people under some form of supervision by the state)—more than a fourfold increase since 1973, despite only a 30 percent increase in the general population during that same time period. Of those currently in the system, 95 percent will be released, with most serving 12 months or less behind bars (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2012). They will return to their communities with significant disadvantages: restricted employment eligibility, limited access to welfare and other subsidies, the potential of terminated parental rights, and often untreated addictions and mental health issues. Two-thirds of them will violate the terms of their parole or commit another crime within three years of release (Langan and Levin 2002), sending them back to prison or jail at a tremendous cost to taxpayers and governments—state prison budgets are second only to Medicaid spending—as well as untold damage to families, local communities, and overall public safety (Trimbur 2009). Not only is there a massive increase in the number of people returning from prison, but these people have greater needs, receive less help, and face more restrictions than ever before (Petersilia 2004). Thus, a consistent narrative about reentry emerges that is often repeated as the prologue for most publications and reports about prisoner reentry: In the United States, we have a large prison population, virtually all these prisoners will be released, most are unprepared to integrate back into society, former inmates face increased difficulties at every turn, most will commit additional crimes and be sent back to prison or jail, and the whole process is a huge burden on budgets and society. Therefore, we must improve our reentry efforts so former inmates can integrate back into their communities successfully. The question, of course, is how best to do this. Accordingly, our purpose in this article is to address this question by developing an alternative approach to prisoner reentry. Our contention is that many reentry efforts focus mainly on the visible effects of recidivism (e.g., parole violations, criminal behavior, and treatment compliance) but do not get at the underlying causes that lead to recidivism in the first place. While traditional methods of surveillance and control focus on the observable problems of recidivism, we argue that the underlying cause is a communication breakdown of being cut off from networks and meaningful relationships that provide the necessary social capital needed for 190 Journal of Applied Social Science 7(2) successful reintegration. Therefore, we propose reframing prisoner reentry from a communication perspective, and thus are in need of corresponding communication solutions. We develop this communication-based approach in contrast to conventional criminal justice perspectives that see recidivism as resulting from bad personal choices and flawed character. We highlight mentoring as a promising, but underutilized reentry strategy that is most in line with our communication approach to prisoner reentry. By applying insights from communication theory based on a constitutive model of communication, we develop an applied orientation toward prisoner reentry that illustrates how mentoring relationships create and restore the social fabric that is necessary for successful reintegration. We then present a case study of a successful reentry mentoring program, including interview data from participants and data from a thirdparty assessment report. We conclude with a discussion about the implications of our research and the value of mentoring for successful prisoner reentry. We begin by rethinking the notion of prisoner reentry to justify the development of our communication approach. Rethinking Prisoner Reentry Current policy discussions of prisoner reentry are dominated by the concept of recidivism— whether or not former inmates violate the terms of their parole, commit new crimes, and return to prison or jail. There is widespread agreement that recidivism is a major problem in today’s criminal justice system: two-thirds of all prisoners released will be arrested again within three years, and more than half will be reincarcerated (Hughes and Wilson 2007). Many in the criminal justice system use these disparaging results to justify and expand punitive policies of surveillance and control, perpetuating a “recidivism reduction narrative” (Steen, Lacock, and McKinzey 2012) that presumes ex-prisoners are a threat to public safety and thus require continued retribution. To date, most reentry programs and policies are administered through the criminal justice system, either at the state or local level. These include reentry courts, release preparation programs, and vouchers for services on release. Other efforts known as “intermediate sanctions” involve a host of options designed to balance the punitive impact between prison and parole, such as house arrest, electronic monitoring, day reporting centers, spilt sentences, and community service. Despite their ideological appeal, there is limited empirical evidence that these programs actually reduce criminal behavior, and the general conclusion is that they are not effective at reducing recidivism (Akers and Sellers 2004; Andrews et al. 1990; Lipsey and Cullen 2007; Martinez 2006). The problem is that these programs are concerned primarily with supervision and control—not rehabilitation—and they create a regulatory environment that increases the likelihood that people will recidivate based on technical violations, not criminal activity. Most former inmates are also required to pay for their own mandatory counseling and supervision, despite the higher barriers to income and employment that former inmates face (Burke 2001). Any misstep by the parolees (e.g., missing a child support payment or failing a drug test) constitutes a parole violation and could potentially send them back to prison. In this context, it is easy to see how even the most dedicated former inmates can fail to fulfill their obligations and thus recidivate. In fact, from 1980 to 1998, the number of people reincarcerated for violating parole or other conditions of their release increased sevenfold (Petersilia 2009). Conversely, an alternative paradigm of reintegration—concerned more with the support for and rehabilitation of ex-prisoners—is emerging as a better way to approach prisoner reentry (Lynch 2006). Recent studies suggest that programs designed specifically to help ex-offenders reintegrate into local communities (e.g., vocational training, housing assistance) do a much better job of helping ex-prisoners achieve stability and self-sufficiency (Stafford 2006). Recidivism is consequently reduced, but more as an indirect effect of pursuing other tangible, positive outcomes (e.g., housing, sobriety), not from a direct concern with monitoring behavior to ensure Koschmann and Peterson 191 compliance. Examples include the Forever Free program located at the California Institution for Women (Wellisch, Patten, and Cao 2004), the Boston Reentry Initiative (Braga, Piehl, and Hureau 2009), New York’s Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together (Jacobs and Western 2007), California’s Preventing Parolee Crime Program (Zhang, Roberts, and Callahan 2006), and various Project HOPE programs administered in places like Hawaii, Utah, and Virginia. Yet most of these programs are still administered through the criminal justice system and often provide limited postrelease care, whereas current research demonstrates that desistance from crime happens predominantly away from the criminal justice system (Farrall 1995; Maruna and Toch 2005), and thus, programs will be more successful if they are community based and administered away from institutional settings (Petersilia 2004). Accordingly, other studies demonstrate that voluntary, community-based programs that enlist the service of “intermediaries” (Pager 2006) or “boundary spanners” (Pettus and Severson 2006) are effective at helping exprisoners meet their basic needs, especially regarding employment and housing. These programs include volunteers from faith-based organizations and dedicated case workers from nonprofit organizations; others involve family members as partners in the reentry process (Martinez 2006). Although this reintegration paradigm challenges current assumptions about punishment and surveillance in favor of rehabilitation and support, it has yet to impact most policy decisions, which still focus on recidivism reduction and retribution (Steen et al. 2012). Why are these reintegration programs more effective at reducing recidivism, whereas conventional approaches of supervision and control are less successful? We argue that increased surveillance and control focus on the problems of recidivism but do not get at the underlying causes. On the surface, it may seem that the problem is simply a matter of parolees breaking the law who need to be disciplined and reincarcerated. But if supervision and control are not effective at reducing recidivism, perhaps mere disobedience is not the underlying cause. If we go deeper and ask why people violate parole, we get a more complicated picture involving the breakdown of relationships, trust, and connections within society. Simply put, former inmates are released into a difficult environment with overwhelming demands they are ill-prepared to meet, despite the best of their intentions. Obeying the law is not simply a function of choosing not to commit crimes; it is also the result of having sufficient access to resources and opportunities—social capital—that make criminal activity unfavorable and less likely. Social capital develops through networks as people are connected to others who can provide information and mutual benefit (Bourdieu 1986). These webs of relationships have “collective value” (Putnam 2000) because they connect people to opportunities and information they otherwise would not have access to (e.g., employment and educational opportunities, information about raising kids or managing finances, and knowledge of how to navigate city government or the legal system). The concern for most ex-prisoners, however, is that incarceration has cut them off from networks that provide social capital, making it incredibly difficult to manage the complexities of postrelease life. Others never had these connections to begin with, which certainly influenced their criminal activity in the first place (i.e., social breakdowns often occur before—not just as a result of—incarceration). Therefore, we turn to communication theory to provide insights about the relational aspects of prisoner reentry, and we apply these theoretical insights to understand the value of reentry programs that emphasize mentoring and personal relationships. Communication Theory and Prisoner Reentry: Applying a Constitutive Model of Communication Although not always thought of as a traditional social science, the interdisciplinary field of communication has strong roots in socio-psychological and socio-cultural traditions of human 192 Journal of Applied Social Science 7(2) i­nteraction (Craig 1999), with deep concerns for applied knowledge and a pragmatic approach to social issues (Craig and Tracy 1995). Currently the field is heavily influenced by a constitutive model of communication that theorizes communication as a dynamic social process that produces and reproduces the collective meanings that structure our social reality (Craig 2007). This is in contrast with a transmission model of communication that sees communication as merely a linear process of data transfer and message exchange. Simply put, a constitutive model is based on the claim that communication does not merely express but also creates social realities (Searle 1995). From a constitutive approach to communication, then, the main questions are of influence and possibility—what social realities are being produced and with what effect (Ashcraft, Kuhn, and Cooren 2009). Basically, a constitutive approach to communication theorizes that our social realities are constituted in and through communication; there is no independent social reality that exists “out there” prior to human interaction. This perspective does not suggest a form of nominalism where the material world is only a matter of perception. Rather, the material world takes form as a social reality by the meanings we create and sustain through communication (Deetz 1992). A criminal act, for example, certainly exists independently of human perception. But whether this is indeed viewed as criminal (vs. justified), and whether the corresponding consequence is viewed as retributive (vs. rehabilitative) are all matters of interpretation based on human interaction and the social structures that enable certain interpretations to persist over others. Similarly, the realities of a parole hearing do not develop outside of communication and merely await expression, but rather come into being through communication as the meanings of key concepts like “compliance,” “progress,” or “sobriety” are negotiated and agreed on (or not) among key people involved. In addition, a constitutive approach to communication claims that social realities emerge based on the context and quality of interactions; they are not reducible to individual actors or actions (Taylor and Van Every 2000). For example, a term such as “self-sufficiency” is not merely an individual characteristic of an ex-prisoner but rather an emergent property of a system of interactions and relationships that will be sustained (or not) based on the quality and consistency of those interactions. Thus, if we apply these insights from communication theory to the context of prisoner reentry, we will look to develop programs that foster and sustain quality interactions to constitute a favorable context for successful reintegration. Practically speaking, what would this application look like? We believe that mentoring is a promising—but underutilized—reentry strategy that applies the insights of communication theory and exemplifies a constitutive model of communication. Reentry mentoring involves volunteers who work to build trusting relationships with former inmates through consistent, nonjudgmental support and guidance (Fletcher, Sherk, and Jucovy 2009). Previous research even indicates that a majority of ex-offenders would participate in a voluntary mentorship program if it were available (Morani et al. 2011). But despite their intuitive appeal, there are very few established reentry mentoring programs in the United States, and this type of mentoring has received virtually no attention in the extant research literature. The Ready4Work program and the corresponding report by Public/Private Venture...
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Running head: IMPACT OF COMMUNICATION

Impact of Communication Commentary and Personal Reflection
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IMPACT OF COMMUNICATION

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Impact of Communication Commentary and Personal Reflection
Week 9 readings were intriguing and an eye-opener, given that they in depth expounded
on two major aspects that people encounter daily; communication breakdown and addressing
tension in interactive groups through communication. In the first context, the feeling of being cut
off ideally emanated from a communication breakdown, an aspect that c...


Anonymous
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