Reflection on Community Service (Post #10)


For my community service project, I decided to pick up trash in local parks. My main reason for choosing this was that it allowed me to set my own schedule, and work around my heavy course load this semester. I haven’t done much community service, so the experience was relatively new to me. Despite that, walking around with a trash bag was not an especially foreign experience.

At first, I had planned to visit Sycamore park, Hidden Cove park, and the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve, but after visiting the first two, it became clear that there wouldn’t be much for me to do there, as I couldn’t find a significant amount of trash to pick up. The Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve, on the other hand, was in dire need of some cleanup, so that’s where I ended up spending most of my time.

The world’s most ignored sign

Anyone who lives near the CSNP knows that, despite closing at dusk, the park at night is a popular hangout for kids to drink and do drugs. There are a couple of areas with seating where most of this seems to take place, and these were, unsurprisingly, the areas with the most trash, despite the fact that trash cans have been placed less than ten feet from most of these spots. The trash seemed to have been building up there for some time, but these areas were relatively quick and easy to clean, since most of the trash was too recently discarded to have begun sinking into the mud. The bulk of the trash I gathered was from these spots, but the bulk of my time was spent further down the trail, by the creek. The creek was time consuming because so much small trash had been washed into it, most of which was half-buried in the banks. There were also some unusual pieces of litter, such as a lawn mower and a tire, that were too large for me to retrieve myself. I can’t imagine how those ended up in a creek without somebody intentionally putting them there, which is a bit disheartening.

Someone had better have a good excuse for this.

As I wandered through the park picking up trash, I thought about the tendency of littering and pollution to reinforce themselves; very few people will litter in a pristine park, but once there is trash on the ground, more people are willing to add to it, reasoning that “everyone else is doing it, so does it really matter if I do too?” The more trash on the ground, the fewer people will avoid littering, and so small messes snowball into large messes rather quickly. On the other hand, this means that with regular maintenance, a park’s cleanliness can be maintained with very little effort, since a clean park is less likely to attract litter. Many problems in our society behave this way; They start out small and easy to manage, but if left unattended too long, they can start to seem insurmountable. Too many of these problems are left to volunteers to solve, and, due to the fact that most volunteers can’t commit time regularly, the problems end up growing much more difficult to solve. It seems more logical to hire a small staff to regularly address these issues, thereby reducing the difficulty to something trivial, rather than a grueling day of work once every few months. For now, though, we have to rely on volunteers to address these problems infrequently, so we see cycles of gradual decay followed by frantic efforts to repair the situation, followed by more gradual decay until the situation once again reaches becomes critical enough to warrant volunteers’ efforts.


Research Essay Partial First Draft (Post #9)

[The intro is still in its early stages, and will probably be completed last]

Public attitudes vary by region

What effect do these attitudes have on the administration of local facilities?

What effects does the style of administration have on local recidivism rates?

How do public attitudes towards crime affect recidivism rates?

For the sake of simplicity, this essay will focus on comparisons between the prison systems of Minnesota and Oregon, the states scoring highest and lowest respectively on recidivism rates in a 2011 survey by The Pew Center on the States. This will of course provide an incomplete analysis of the correlation between public attitudes and local recidivism rates, but as information on either subject is limited, a comparison between extremes should yield the most immediately useful results.

Minnesota has a 3-year recidivism rate of 61.2%, the highest of any US state (Citation). In spite of this, a public opinion survey conducted in 2002 found that 92% of Minnesota residents “always or almost always feel safe” (citation). This draws a stark contrast to Oregon, whose exceptionally low recidivism rate (22.8%) (Citation) coexists with a much lower percentage of people feeling safe from crime, only 68% (Citation). (It should be noted that this survey was conducted in 1988, and public attitudes may have shifted significantly in the years since) This seems to suggest an inverse correlation between public fear of crime and recidivism rates – that is, higher levels of public anxiety tend to correspond with lower proportions of prisoners being reincarcerated. To determine whether this correlation is causal or coincidental, we must examine the effects of public opinion on the administration of prisons, along with the effects of a prison’s style of administration on its recidivism rates.

[Next I plan to classify prisons into archetypes and assign each state’s most populous prison to its corresponding archetype, followed by a comparison of each archetypes effectiveness in different areas, eventually leading to a conclusion on how (or if) local attitudes towards criminals affect local recidivism rates]

Proposal for research paper (Post #8)

For my research essay, I’ve decided to compare cultural stigma towards criminals in various regions to each region’s predominant prison archetype, analyzing each archetype’s effect on recidivism rates. The archetypes, which I’ve identified from a research  paper comparing prison conditions in Israel, The Netherlands, and the US, are as follows:

High-Security, High Reform – These facilities are heavily guarded externally and allow prisoners relatively little privacy, but allow (and often require) prisoners to participate in reform programs such as GED courses and technically demanding work programs.

High-Security, Low Reform – These facilities are heavily guarded both externally and internally, and allow prisoners very little freedom or privacy, and have almost no meaningful reform programs or recreation.

Low-Security, High Reform – These facilities are lightly guarded, and allow prisoners a high level of privacy and comfort, with an abundance of reform programs and recreational facilities.

I am still in the process of researching this subject, but my preliminary findings are that regions with more cultural stigma against criminals, such as the American Southeast, are more likely to have high-security, low-reform prisons, which seem to lead to high rates of recidivism; in regions with moderate cultural stigma against criminals, such as the American Northwest, the high-security, high-reform model seems more prevalent – this model appears to result in the lowest rates of recidivism; in regions with very little cultural stigma against criminals, such as the Netherlands, the low-security, high-reform model seems prevalent. This model seems to result in the highest recidivism rates.

In my essay, I plan to provide statistics and examples to verify that, A) these regions do have the assumed level of cultural stigma against criminals, B) these archetypes are common to their corresponding region, and C) the recidivism rates in each region are influenced by the prison archetype used. I will also present my personal hypotheses as to why each archetypal prison has the effect that it does on recidivism rates.  Overall, I hope to demonstrate that extreme levels of cultural stigma against criminals ultimately drive recidivism rates up through their effects on the styles of administration in prisons.

Research Essay Topic Brainstorming (Post #7)

I am researching the dehumanization of prisoners in the US prison system, with an emphasis on comparisons to other prison systems around the world. I would like to explore the stigmatization prisoners experience both during and after their sentence, and how that stigma affects recidivism rates, again with comparisons to foreign systems & cultures. I don’t have a thesis statement yet.

I’m still in the very early stages of this essay. I still need to finalize my sources, and annotate them. I will need to do this within the next week, along with finalizing my topic. Selecting and annotating my sources will probably be easier after finalizing, or at least narrowing down my topic.

(Written 03/22/2016)