The legal system is changing throughout the nation with financial cuts, allowances, visitation, communication, and diverse factors that society may not realize. With these changes occurring in many prison systems, there is availability for technological communication. Many times, there are prisoners that are suffering through loss of loved ones and are unable to attend the funeral services (Fazel et al., 2016). This creates anguish and factors into other issues for the staff, as well as other prisoners and has created violence within prison premises.
With the American prison system being at diverse levels of security, methods that can be built into the system for prisoners that are suffering through loss are bedside live funeral services that are available on several media platforms. This will entail two prison guards, a counselor for the prisoner, and media devices that are available for the funeral times such as a computer, cell phone, or tablet that has access to only that ceremony. This can prevent violence, suicide, and breakdowns within the system. This is especially handy given that not all prisoners can be allowed to attend funerals.
This researcher has reviewed a multitude of available research pertaining to prisoners’ needs, attitudes, repercussions, and depression with death of loved ones. In addition, workplace safety, security, and technology are built into the research. The preliminary review has analyzed the possible strategies novel to the prison system including building more technology into the prison system to make viewership of funeral services available at bedside for all prisoners that are unable to attend. Reducing depression, violence, and other circumstances in the prisons is the ultimate goal and creating this type of method will prove beneficial. Mental illness is rampant within the prison population and this is a large part of the reason why this is imperative.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of the study is to create closure for prisoners, while reducing emotional stress and danger for all that are in the prison system. Closure comes through participating in the funerals of their loved ones through institutionally availed technological means (Schetky, 1998). In the same vein, it must be appreciated that emotional trauma emanating from losing loved ones and failing to experience their final send off can be abated through the proposed change in this study. The main management concern is the lack of relevance to this the issue. With limited funding and issues of understaffing, this creates an expense that may not be considered necessary. Prison stakeholders may feel that resources are already overstretched and there are other more strategic issues to be resolved rather than arranging funeral participation for prisoners. There is need to therefore demonstrate the relevance of the issue to the management in order to gain their support in making changes. The study shall act to that effect. Another issue is the prison population being so large that there may be more than one funeral per day, and this creates a need for more security personnel and technology to be available in these sections of the prison (Hales et al., 2015). With proper funding to the entire prison infrastructure, this can also be resolved with more space, technology and staff availed to assist the implementation of the proposed changes in this study.
There are challenges in the idea of providing funeral participation for prisoners within the premises of the prison. Prisoners may be violent or feel isolated for being handcuffed and surrounded by officers as they engage in the funeral services remotely (Schetky, 1998). This means that there is need to come up with methods of making them feel less alienated even as they mourn. As much as they hold the prisoner status, they deserve some dignity and humane treatment in solemn moments. It is noteworthy that the prison system has traditionally been accused of being insensitive to prisoners and their needs, for instance refusing to unchain breastfeeding mothers. The purpose of the current study is therefore not only to build on a new paradigm of offering funeral participation to inmates but also ensure that there is a less stressful, humane and practical methodology of doing so. There are also logistical challenges in moving cellmates for the purposes of funeral participation and general need for additional resources in preventing violence and abuse of the privilege as the arrangements ensue (Hales et al., 2015). The study will also ensure that there are logistical clarity and safety guidelines to prevent security lapses and any inconveniences in the new initiative.
In the end, the goal of the study is to establish a sense of self-worth, confidence and self esteem amongst prisoners through the participation in funerals of their loved ones. The study considers the problem from both the institutional perspective and the view of the prisoners themselves. As indicated, there shall be recommendations on managerial relevance of the issue, logistical clarity and safety, as well as humane treatment of bereaved prisoners. The prison population and the management shall therefore benefit equally. More importantly, the study aims to reduce the cases of suicide, violence, trauma and depression amongst prisoners normally due to exclusion in the event of the loss of their loved ones. These are the elements within the scope of the study. Outside the scope are legal implications of the implementation of the practice, rights of prisoners and any other general issues regarding the prison population unmentioned within this study.
Significance of the Study
This writer finds the present study significant on various grounds. First, the question of arranging live bedside funerals for prisoners is a novel concept occasioned by advances in technology and an understanding of our present prison system. It therefore offers a fresh scholarly opportunity to contribute to both literature and the improvement of our prisons. Notably, the objective of prisons is not just to punish, but also correct and guide inmates into becoming better people after release. This implies that there is an overall responsibility to ensure that prisoners are supported, their rights respected and offered humane treatment. Despite wide consensus on the existence of such a responsibility, prisoners have been inhumanely and contemptuously treated over the years. They have been reduced to disenfranchised mourners, leaving them open to stress, trauma, depression and a vicious cycle of violence (Schetky, 1998). The writer thereby intends to reverse this trend by bringing forth an idea that enhances their emotional stability and gives them closure within the prison settings. More importantly, the idea is novel and therefore offers a great opportunity for both scholarly and practical contribution to the transformation of prison life.
Various stakeholders in the prison system will also find this study useful. First, correctional officers have for a long time decried the violent and resentful nature of inmates. Their interaction has in most cases ended up violent and traumatic, with officers suffering the same stress levels as those of inmates due to the endless brawls (Davoren et al., 2015). Some of these fights are due to the emotional imbalance of prisoners due to issues like disenfranchised mourning of loved ones. If prisoners were to be accorded live bedside funerals, they would find closure and emotional stability and hence give the warders an easier time. Notably, warders have been fatally wounded in fights with inmates and others contracted mental illnesses due to the unfavorable working environment. The study shall ensure that this is corrected and thereby bring forth better inmate-warder relationships and a generally conducive working environment. To the chaplains and counselors in prisons who are tasked with consoling those bereaved in the course of their incarceration, live beside funerals shall make their work easier. The difficulty of consoling bereaved inmates who cannot attend the funerals of their loved ones has been widely documented. Some counselors understand the therapeutic need for correcting this problem but are helpless about it (Davoren et al., 2015). The study therefore brings necessary relief to such stakeholders. The families and general public will on the other hand find the study useful in having incarcerated persons treated humanely and transformed into better members of the society.
Globally, the study shall contribute to the growing literature on prison mourning. For a long time now, researchers and psychologists have taken interest in the mourning patterns and their effects on incarcerated persons. It is estimated that a prisoner loses at least one loved one during their sentence (Hales et al., 2015). A majority of them are not allowed to attend the funerals or participate in any way due to being considered a flight risk among other factors. In some cases, prisoners are scheduled to attend the final sending off of their loved ones, only for the prison management to change their mind in the last minutes. This has caused untold suffering and emotional trauma. While the study of such issues is widespread, there is need for more prescriptive research that offers solutions to such challenges. This study falls in the latter category, building on available literature on prison mourning to offer new insights into the topic, inclusive of solutions.
The US has an undesirable record of having the largest prison population in the world. Statistics show that at least 2.2 million people are in either jail or prison, a number that has increased by 500% in the last 40 years (Fazel et al., 2016). The figures account for 20% of the world’s prison population. While this is a general concern, many policy stakeholders agree that this number is due to changes in policy and sentencing law rather than increments in the number of offenders. Even with a systematic reduction of the population of incarcerated persons in the last three years, the numbers remain alarming in comparison to other parts of the world. Another notable trend has been the increase in number of women prisoners, with the rate higher by at least half since 1980 (Davoren et al., 2015). The increase in numbers of incarcerated women is particularly of concern, with most of those in prisons carrying a history of sexual abuse, high HIV prevalence amongst other social problems. Elsewhere, drug offences contribute to the highest number of incarcerated persons, with policy and social changes needed to correct the situation. The result of the high prison numbers has been far from desirable- overcrowding has set the stage of a highly hostile prison setting. Prisoners are prone to stress, depression, violence, trauma and post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). These challenges are not unique to the prisoners but are also extended to correctional officers. In fact, it is estimated that at least 31% of correctional officers suffer from PTSD, a figure that is only comparable to veterans from war and is about 4 times the national average (Davoren et al., 2015). Women and elderly prisoners are disproportionately affected by these stressors, leading to violence, mental disorders and other negative effects.
The United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, was established by President Roosevelt in 1938 as a high security facility for male prisoners and today holds a prison population of about 1500 inmates (Schetky, 1998). The prison facility is renowned for several reasons including the housing of a Federal Execution Chamber as well as a confinement unit for death row inmates. Located about 70 miles on the west side of Indianapolis, it houses most of the US’ prisoners facing a death sentence prior to their execution. The institution is a care level 3 institution, implying that it houses patients with no major health issues. It is also tobacco free and has 6 units of 125 inmates each whose partition is based on faith. Remarkably, the inmates in the facility engage in wide ranging faith based activities as they serve their terms. They all have 7 visit days and 300 telephone minutes per month which are slightly varied based on prevailing circumstances. The facility has been special since its designation in the early 1990s as the site for federal executions. The prison was selected for death row inmates due to its central position in the United States and continues to serve the purpose effectively. As a facility unique in carrying out executions and hosting death row inmates, the challenges of US prisons ranging from trauma, violence and depression are heightened. Death row inmates have nothing to lose and frequently cause violence, fights with correctional officers and general discomfort in the prison environment. Mental disorders are also rampant in the facility, understandably due to the trauma of facing a death sentence or living in an environment where the majority face such sentences.
Prison mourning is a major issue at USP Terra Haute given the prison culture of the United States and the unique circumstances of the facility. Most prisoners lose a loved one while in incarceration with the chances being higher at USP Terra Haute due to the lengthy sentences served therein. In most cases, prisoners are denied the right to attend funerals due to security concerns and the feeling that such privileges may offer an opportunity for fresh offenses (Fazel et al., 2016). This is worse in the case of death row inmates whose handling is normally inhumane and full of caution out of the feeling that they have nothing else to lose. They may commit new offenses or assault correctional officers at the slightest opportunity, reducing their chances of getting some space to mourn, receive counseling or in any way participate in the funerals of their loved ones. The tragedy of such treatment is increased emotional trauma from both the feelings of loss and disenfranchisement, bitterness and consequent violence. There is a high chance of death row inmates becoming more aggressive, vindictive or emotionally unstable following such treatment (Schetky, 1998). While allowing them to attend the funerals in person is a long shot due to the security and social risks involved, live funeral bedsides are a possibility in the present technological age. They get rid of complex logistical requirements, security and social risks while reducing the intricacies involved to a manageable level. In a high security facility such as USP Terra Haute, live bedside funerals are the best hope for incarcerated persons to find closure and gain a sense of self-worth by witnessing the funerals of their loved ones. This is the idea fronted by the present study and shall hopefully transform the mental health of incarcerated persons.
Identification and Discussion of Issues
One of the major issues in the study is the use of technology in offering live bedside funerals in the prison environment. Though expensive in the short term, technology will be efficient in the long term because of the safety and security accorded in the process, along with support from counselors that will be included (Davoren et al., 2015). This has been criticized because of the cost and no guarantee of positive results. However, the possibility of improving the mental health of patients and offering further psychosocial benefits makes it worth a try. With technology used elsewhere to broadcast live events through social media platforms, the proposed bedside participation of prisoners in the funerals of their loved ones should be a success. Thus one of the questions to be explored in the study would be the cost and practicality of technology vis a vis the benefits of emotional stability among prisoners.
Another issue is that what is good for one prisoner may not suit others. While providing this type of care and visibility to certain groups may be advantageous, it may be dangerous for others. With mental dysfunctions being a large concern in the prison system overall, the discretion of viewing the wake, and, or funeral services for the prisoners must be merited on an ad hoc basis. This may create need for psychiatric evaluations on each case upon loss or illness of family members, and prison facilities may not have the needed staff to do so. In the foregoing, there shall be a question on the logistical and administrative requirements for implementing the proposed idea in guiding the paper.
Budget cuts are making these advancements as well as many others difficult for the prison systems. This creates a need for participation from the board, as well as donations that may not occur for any of the prisons (Hales et al., 2015). There is a general issue of funding when it comes to making such advancements given that institutions are also extremely conservative in nature. Donors may suffice the need in the short term but this may not be sustainable. There is need for an institutional based, stable and sustainable solution to the problem. This reiterates the initial question on the cost benefit analysis of live bedside funerals for inmates.
There are also ethical issues to be confronted in this situation. Incarcerated persons are often considered to have lost their rights out of their wrongdoing. Some commit capital offenses, more so a majority of those at USP Terra Haute. They may be responsible for mass murder and drug dealing, which makes it unethical to offer them privileges such as funeral participation (Hales et al., 2015). However, that may be quite an emotive perspective given that the proposed changes are meant to help them serve their sentences in a state of emotional stability while also avoiding trauma that can be transferred to the correctional officers. It is therefore prudent to give the issue a balanced view of that nature to be able to come to a suitable ethical judgment. There shall in that regard also be a question of the ethics of providing live funerals to prisoners through technology.
The methodology for conducting the study shall entail the location of peer reviewed articles and books in reputed repositories and combining the same with course materials to address the research questions. This implies that the study shall rely solely on secondary sources in the form of published research to address the case study. The articles shall be checked for relevance and timeliness prior to inclusion in the study and critical analysis applied in developing themes and concepts relevant to the topic of study.
Literature and Information
This section presents a summary of published research and other sources of information critical in addressing the case study. It presents information summarized in two key thematic areas, mourning in prison, and challenges facing US prison systems.
Mourning in Prison
The loss of loved ones while in incarceration is a traumatizing experience inherent of the prison experience. Due to the lengthy sentences served in most prison facilities, there is a high possibility of such cases befalling a large section of the inmates. Harner, Hentz, & Evangelista (2011) and Moloney et al. (2009) reckon that at least half of the women in custody lose a loved one and consequently face a period of stress and pain. The study recommends that prison stakeholders devise measures of facilitating the grieving process while behind bars. de Vries (2017) on their part notes that the mere act of incarceration is grievous. It is an assault to both the mind and the body, to the extent that mourning a loved one behind bars causes a pain that is unimaginable. It compounds existing grief hence can break down one’s soul. Masterton (2014) labels mourning behind bars as disenfranchising, demoralizing and extremely agonizing. He reiterates earlier claims that the experience is peculiar and much worse than the mourning of free persons.
Vaswani (2014) carried out a study on 33 young persons who had been incarcerated in a young offender institution. The study unearthed 91% bereavement rate including losses of primary caregivers. The impact of the bereavement was apparent on mental scores, demonstrating the impact of mourning behind bars on mental health. A similar study by Aday & Wahidin (2016) focused on the aged where their experiences with grief and the possibility of dying in prison were explored. The study factored in the emerging trend whereas many prisoners were dying in custody. This meant that mourning was for both bereavement within the prison (loss of incarcerated friends and acquaintances) and outside (loss of kith and kin outside the prison). Generally, the experience was described as extremely painful and unsettling. The presence of chaplains and counselors did little to attenuate the pain. Though Aday & Wahidin (2016) views their role as integral for mental health of the prisoners, the inmates themselves feel that little can be done about the pain of mourning while incarcerated. It is further noted that prisoners desperately need support and help when faced with grief. Failure to provide the same has been blamed for heightened suicides and suicide related behavior. Hales et al. (2014) reckons that bereavement is one of the grievous experiences for which prisoners need support. Without counseling and provision of grieving space, they may sink into depression and even attempt suicide.
It is apparent that prisoners would love the prospect of honoring their loved ones and die to do so from their confinement. A project by Galloway (2017) featuring students at the University of New Orleans and prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest prison facility in the US revealed as much. The students asked the prisoners to give the names of who, where and story behind those they wanted honored. The aim of the engagement was to honor the deceased on behalf of the incarcerated persons and share pictures of the process with them. The inmates were overjoyed to see album photos of their loved ones while it was clear to the students that losing a loved one while in prison was an extremely painful process. It amplified the pain of separation that often followed the mere act of being incarcerated. A study by Marzano et al. (2016) noted that social isolation was one of the major causes of suicide in prisons. This isolation was increased by the loss of loved ones while in prison as the separation became permanent. There was need to mitigate the effects of isolation and attendant trauma in order to reduce cases of suicide in prisons (Evans, 2007).
Some states are aware of the importance of letting prisoners attend the funerals of their loved ones or visiting them by the bedside and have consequently come up with enabling legislation. Adcox (2017) gives the example of South Carolina where Governor McMaster signed into law a bill requiring the department of corrections to organize transport and ensure that a patient visits their loved one in their deathbed or at least attends their funeral. There are however conditions to this privilege, with the inmate required to be free of any social risks to the public. This means that such cases are still subject to review by the prison management. Adcox (2017) noted that the practice existed before but ended due to cost reasons. However, issues of inmate fights and deaths from violent behavior prompted a review and new legislation. It was widely agreed that allowing prisoners to mourn their loved ones by attending funerals or visiting them by the bedside would help ease the trauma and reduce the cases of violence. Supiano, Cloyes & Berry (2014) however noted that a large number of prison facilities in the US still did not allow prisoners to attend funerals of their loved ones. They further disallowed hospital visits to loved ones with terminal illnesses and instead approved body viewing in selected cases. Body viewing was however done in the absence of any family member and had to be approved based on a security and safety perspective (Braswell, McCarthy & McCarthy, 2017).
Interestingly, the issue of live funerals is barely addressed in available literature. This affirms the claim that it is a novel concept more so in the US context. A hint of it is given by Rajavelu (2014) though in the Irish prison system. In this case, it was highlighted that there were plans to provide live funeral services to prisoners who could not attend the funerals of their loved ones for one reason or the other. The article also ponders the feasibility of the arrangement to the US system given that funeral attendance for patients in the country was left at the discretion of prison officers.
Challenges Facing US Prisons
According to Travis (2005), American prisons are faced with various strategic issues. The foremost of them is repeat offenders who end up back in prison within a short time of release. The reason for this is failure to adapt to the post-prison setting and eventual discomfort with freedom (Lazzarini & Altice, 2000). Lots of these rather peculiar experiences are fueled by the trauma that incarcerated persons undergo while in confinement as well as the element of social isolation. Keeping away from society for a long period makes it hard to be integrated back into it after release. Despite the difficulty in solving such recalcitrant problems in the prison setting, Boin (2001) argues that optimistic leadership can help to turn things around. They argue that it is possible to have purposeful institutional building even in the prison sector albeit only with optimistic leadership. In a similar manner, Jacobs & Olitsky (2003) reiterate the importance of leadership in correctional reform.
Another major challenge in US prisons is violence and gangs. This is especially common in high security and maximum security prisons like USP Terra Haute where death row inmates are found (Kulig, Pratt & Cullen, 2017; Gunn & Taylor, 2014). Having been offered the death sentence, such offenders have nothing else to fear and often resort to perpetrating the worst forms of violence on fellow inmates and the correctional officers in charge of them. Byrne & Hummer (2007) suggest several strategies in dealing with such violence. Among them include transparency and evidence based practice. These methods are capable of dealing with gangs from an institutional standpoint. Also important is the implementation of innovative measures on performance and quality. In this case, prisons should employ marketplace strategies such as quality management and performance measurement. Winterdyk & Ruddell (2010) on the other hand argued that there was no sure strategy of dealing with criminal gangs in prisons rather than seeking to understand the reasons for their emergence and dealing with them from that far. The reasons on the other hand draw back to trauma and negative living environment in the prison setting.
Besides the above challenges, there are also ethical complications in the US prison environment. For instance, Tonry (2013) noted that there are various ethical issues with respect to recidivism such as making predictions on the basis of race. Though the prison population is racially skewed, presenting a certain group of people as more likely to reoffend is an ethical problem. Haney & Zimbardo (1998) argue that ethical issues in the prison environment relate to collection of data for research as well as carrying out capital punishment. It is noteworthy that USP Terra Haute is one of the main capital punishment implementation facilities in the US. Another rather remote ethical issue is highlighted by Shichor (1995) who accuses private prisons for making profit out of punishment. The author suggests that it may be conflicting for private prisons to address correctional goals for prisons.
Aday, R., & Wahidin, A. (2016). Older Prisoners’ Experiences of Death, Dying and Grief Behind Bars. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 55(3), 312-327.
Adcox, S. (2017). Law Lets Inmates Go to Loved One’s Funeral or Death Bed. Associated Press
Boin, A. (2001). Crafting public institutions: Leadership in two prison systems. Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2017). Justice, crime, and ethics. Taylor & Francis.
Byrne, J. M., & Hummer, D. (2007). Myths and realities of prison violence: A review of the evidence. Victims and Offenders, 2(1), 77-90.
Davoren, M., Fitzpatrick, M., Caddow, F., Caddow, M., O’Neill, C., O’Neill, H., & Kennedy, H. G. (2015). Older men and older women remand prisoners: mental illness, physical illness, offending patterns and needs. International psychogeriatrics, 27(5), 747-755.
de Vries, N. (2017). Rebellious Mourning: the collective work of grief. Ak Press
Evans, L. (2007). Locked up, then locked out: Women coming out of prison. Women & Therapy, 29(3-4), 285-308.
Fazel, S., Hayes, A. J., Bartellas, K., Clerici, M., & Trestman, R. (2016). Mental health of prisoners: prevalence, adverse outcomes, and interventions. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(9), 871-881.
Galloway, H. (2017). Stories from prisons, honoring loved ones. Museums & Social Issues, 12(1), 46-48.
Gunn, J., & Taylor, P. (2014). Forensic psychiatry: clinical, legal and ethical issues. CRC Press.
Hales, H., Edmondson, A., Davison, S., Maughan, B., & Taylor, P. J. (2015). The impact of contact with suicide-related behavior in prison on young offenders. Crisis.
Hales, H., Freeman, M., Edmondson, A., & Taylor, P. (2014). Witnessing suicide-related behavior in prison: A qualitative study of young male prisoners in England. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 35(1), 10.
Haney, C., & Zimbardo, P. (1998). The past and future of US prison policy: Twenty-five years after the Stanford Prison Experiment. American Psychologist, 53(7), 709.
Harner, H. M., Hentz, P. M., & Evangelista, M. C. (2011). Grief interrupted: The experience of loss among incarcerated women. Qualitative health research, 21(4), 454-464.
Jacobs, J. B., & Olitsky, E. (2003). Leadership & (and) Correctional Reform. Pace L. Rev., 24, 477.
Kulig, T. C., Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2017). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: A case study in organized skepticism. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 28(1), 74-111.
Lazzarini, Z., & Altice, F. L. (2000). A review of the legal and ethical issues for the conduct of HIV-related research in prisons. AIDS & public policy journal, 15(3-4), 105-135.
Marzano, L., Hawton, K., Rivlin, A., Smith, E. N., Piper, M., & Fazel, S. (2016). Prevention of suicidal behavior in prisons. Crisis.
Masterton, J. (2014). A confined encounter: the lived experience of bereavement in prison. Bereavement Care, 33(2), 56-62.
Moloney, K. P., van den Bergh, B. J., & Moller, L. F. (2009). Women in prison: The central issues of gender characteristics and trauma history. Public Health, 123(6), 426-430.
Rajavelu, T. (2014). Alternatives to Prisoner Release for Funerals. The Funeral Law Blog. Retrieved from http://funerallaw.typepad.com/blog/2014/04/alternatives-to-prisoner-release-for-funerals-.html
Schetky, D. H. (1998). Mourning in prison: mission impossible? Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, 26(3), 383-391.
Shichor, D. (1995). Punishment for profit: Private prisons/public concerns (p. 5). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Supiano, K. P., Cloyes, K. G., & Berry, P. H. (2014). The grief experience of prison inmate hospice volunteer caregivers. Journal of social work in end-of-life & palliative care, 10(1), 80-94.
Tonry, M. (2013). Legal and ethical issues in the prediction of recidivism. Fed. Sent’g Rep., 26, 167.
Travis, J. (2005). But they all come back: Facing the challenges of prisoner reentry. The Urban Insitute.
Vaswani, N. (2014). The ripples of death: Exploring the bereavement experiences and mental health of young men in custody. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 53(4), 341-359.
Winterdyk, J., & Ruddell, R. (2010). Managing prison gangs: Results from a survey of US prison systems. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(4), 730-736.
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