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Research Article
Open Access Peer-reviewed

A Proposal for Studying Social Media Sentiments about Corrections in the United States

Kimberley Garth-James
World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. 2021, 7(3), 106-116. DOI: 10.12691/wjssh-7-3-3
Received July 17, 2021; Revised August 20, 2021; Accepted August 27, 2021

Abstract

A qualitative study of 85,000 engagements on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit about corrections reform using the Pulsar social media listening software. Assessing the alignment of social media expressions in forums, and the evidence in the literature materials about re-design thinking of successful reforms to U.S. corrections, reveal a resurgence of discontent that “nothing works” (1970s thinking). There is a disturbing disconnection between the sciences about what does work in rehabilitation—i.e., assessments, treatment, education, and employment—and the understandings in social media discourse. Accordingly, corrections professionals, policymakers, and students need to express informed opinions on social media platforms so that future corrections approaches trade “nothing works” for what has proved to work.

1. Introduction

The advocates of administrative efficiency in corrections (i.e., prisons) object to the traditional warehousing of offenders. Over-reliance on just locking away offenders is contrary to the statistical evidence that work and education programs combined with counseling and treatment are essential for offender (criminal) reform. The public discourse in news media and social media that affect policymaking is crime control. The issues of crime control on social media include outcry over police officers’ use of excessive force against minority suspects, attacks targeting police, and corrections (prisons) reform 1. There are nearly 250 million users of various social media platforms—in particular, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit—in the United States, with a predicted increase of 10 million users by 2023, and user penetration to 67% 2, 3. Some 500 million daily posts on social media platforms are reactions to the killing of unarmed Black suspects and to the racism endemic in police departments 4. Users of social and digital media technologies are students in public administration programs, corrections professionals, academics and citizens that help with civic engagement of moral ethical policy dilemmas.

Policy problems in social media discourse extends to critiques of the corrections system as a wasted opportunity for many offenders to gain moral ethical decision-making skills for reintegration into society. Social media platforms are an important driver of the prison reform agenda in terms of defining and describing problems and measuring the performance of departments of corrections. In the literature materials we will learn how public discourse was influential in moving away from predominantly “Nothing Works” thinking 5, to a focus on the successful reintegration of ex-offenders into homes and communities. Presently, the discourse is moving toward a “what works” ethos emphasizing rehabilitation (e.g., assessment, education, work, and medical treatment; 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. There is widespread agreement among corrections experts that the nothing-works discourse reinforced a “just desserts” mentality (von Hirsch, 1996) and favoring retributive punishments (e.g., hard labor, “silent” and “separate” prison activities) that actually increased recidivism 11.

Recidivism reduction proponents recognize that public discourse—social media—is having an effect on the policy making process, not least is a refocus on what could work to help individual offenders with reform goals. One wonders if public outcry and speech prisons efficiency (reform) is emotional propaganda, then a response to scientific research findings. Propaganda and science as drivers of public policy making to reinvent corrections and its prisons remain a hot topic as observed in thousands of social medial expressions. In particular, recidivism rates as high as 70%, outlandish Black victimization (by police and members of the African Diaspora, BJS Special Report on Black Victimization) statistics; indicate a problem with traditional policies guiding offender (prisoner) reform.

Rehabilitation efforts can move beyond warehousing of offenders in prisons that require implementing solutions of input by civic advocates and scientific evidence of scholars. Thus, for instance, prison-managed work programs continue to pay far less than the market wage for skilled work, but joint ventures (or public private partnerships) are reassessing laborers’ worth and compensating inmate-employees with prevailing market wages 12.

Re-envisioning corrections begins with a consideration of promising evidence-based rehabilitation strategies for counseling, substance-abuse treatment, job skills training, as presented in the social science literature 6, 7, 13 and engaging with civic-minded social media users. There is a clear need for greater emphasis on bolstering ex-offenders’ self-esteem and sense of belonging to a household and community. Reconceptualizing corrections administration from the perspective of rehabilitation involves systemic change. An approach to prison management and prisoner rehabilitation is emerging, combining organizational efficacy with humanitarian considerations within the context of the existing public correctional infrastructure. This study investigates public discourse on social media and scientific evidence about what has been working to reform U.S. corrections (prisons) as public opinion expressions on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and YouTube reveal tension between opinions and academic assessments of the situation. The discussion also explores the impact of social media advocacy on policy decisions about the future of corrections.

2. The Problem

The problem is the discrepancy between the advocacy on social media platforms and empirical studies by researchers regarding the best way forward for corrections efficiency in the United States. Corrections’ practitioners in that share stories about job frustrations and promising ideas on social media can engage with civic advocates about subjective and objective policies that proved symbolic and substantive drivers of prison reform. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 85, and Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) 49, and second chance laws did make substantive policy changes that reflect symbolic political-administrative agendas with different views of how best to balance social equity and public safety. Political, administration scientists and social philosophers have intentions to envision the delivery of corrections services in distributive terms, as the equitable provision of benefits to organization and the community 14, 15. Civic discourse can improve managing moral ethical dilemmas and behaviors. Thus, policymaking and agenda setting require political input in such forms as elections, referenda, and town halls and administrative (agency) hearings to meet the challenges of prison population management 16.

In recent years, administrators involved in policymaking and agenda-setting as well as powerful politicians have been making use of social media as a source of information about social issues, including corrections. Another problem is the discrepancy between propaganda (emotion, passion) and scientific evidence (scholarship) about prisoner rehabilitation. The social media platforms serve as both a gauge of public opinion and a bully pulpit 17. The interest in prison reform and rehabilitation evident across social media sites is having an impact on policymaking as user fact-check the claims of politicians and corrections professionals about prison management.

The “Ferguson effect” 18, following the social upheaval in 2014 in a Missouri city with the killing of Michael Brown persist through a series of similar incidents, keep public attention on the systemic racism that continues to plague the U.S. justice system from the moment a suspect is arrested through sentencing and incarceration. The calls on social media to “defund” police departments and dismantle correctional institutions lead to knee-jerk symbolic policies; thus, reflecting a deeper problem in the U.S, namely the loss of citizens’ sense of shared humanity and community. The purpose of this study is to examine the previously mentioned discrepancies by examining posts on Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook over a 12-month period from August 2020 to July 2021. A keyword search, “prison reform,” “prison reform and rehabilitation,” and “prison and ethics,” returned 85,000 discussions about corrections, namely prison reform. Social media is a major channel for civic engagements 19.

3. Theoretical Framework and Questions

From a theoretical perspective, researchers rely on statistical methods to predict and track criminal behaviors, often with a focus on specific populations, especially older and mentally impaired prisoners with limited literacy and skills 20. Public administration graduate courses and professorial lectures emphasize theory and practice as key pillars of the field. Understanding of rehabilitation articulated by Cullen and Gilbert (1982, 2012) and Swiss (1990) is, in turn, consistent with proposals to improve public management based on risk assessments and counseling for individual offenders desirous of reform 21. Thus, corrections administrators have been striving to equip prisoners and ex-offenders with effective decision-making skills as well as, on a larger scale, to address issues relating to systemic racism. Scholars Cullen and Gilbert did famously argue for the rehabilitative ideal of reforming corrections administration, and prison population management that involve professionals working with individuals that want (or not) to reform. The use of education, work, criminogenic assessments, and counseling is rooted in the notion that the humanitarian treatment of prisoners is an aspect of the due process rights guaranteed under the 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the rehabilitation programs are tools that help practitioners in prisons to do the job effectively. Social media posts frequently give voice to sentiment that prisons should not simply house offenders, rather think to redress wrongful incarceration and the disproportionate confinement of ethnic minorities as well as give staff access to rehabilitative programs and services.

Thus, the thinking about corrections reform is evolving rapidly, fueled in part by discussions on social media of the need to focus on offenders’ humanity and their reintegration into society. The gaps in the literature are notable. In particular, few empirical studies of American corrections and social media are available to inform professionals and students about the areas of agreement and disagreement regarding corrections, social equity, and justice in prison management. To be sure, collecting large amounts of empirical evidence and conducting numerous meta-analyses are the efforts necessary to conceptualize effective and efficient US prison system reforms 6, 7, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26. A recent study by Christenson et al. (2020) of public opinion and the U.S. president’s use of social media is notable for the emphasis on the activism of internet users. Updating research designs using technologies can be expensive.

There is great desire, and potential, for cost savings in the delivery of rehabilitation programs. As a recent publication by the Marshall Project (2019) noted, the costs of social inequity are high, including the “hidden costs” of rehabilitation programs—, which tend to receive insufficient funding in corrections budgets 27. These considerations guided the formulation of the following research questions:

1. What are the interests of social media users relating to corrections reform?

2. To what extent does social media use impact political decision-making related to social equity and humanitarianism in corrections (prison) administration?

3. In what ways does the discussion on social media advance the planning for new future corrections (prison) systems?

4. Literature Review

Notably, the discourse on social media is discrepant with scientific findings about what can work to help prisoners (inmates) with their reform goals. Some, however, expressions are consistent with academic (scientific) findings in the social sciences literature on penology and corrections administration such as taking a humanitarian approach to prison population management. Often, policy planning and corrections agendas emphasize revenge and incapacitating offenders. Despite the claims of voices on the fringe, urging dismantling prisons, they are a necessary part of the criminal justice system to maintain the social contract between individuals and society. Thus, the question of whether felons should have the right to vote is one aspect of the social contract.

4.1. Social Contract Prisoners Right to Vote

A humanitarian approach such as evolving corrections and strengthening the social contract between citizen and government (electors) is permitting felons to vote. Prison evolution is in the historical records such as moving away from the 19th century silent and solitary systems in the penitentiaries at Auburn, New York, and in Pennsylvania that exploited inmates. Even work models involving inmates in the “piece-price partnerships” (i.e., chain gangs) were harsh labor justifying retribution. By the 20th century, the emphasis in U.S. correctional institutions shifted to education and counseling, though not necessarily to the humane treatment of prisoners 28. Foucault (1995), perhaps the most influential modern philosopher of modern penology, recognized that imposing on prisoners a regular work schedule supplemented by instruction represented an improvement over earlier forms of incarceration 29. Efforts to make the U.S. justice system more equitable, is blunted by such partisan political policies and campaigns as the replacement of indeterminate with determinate sentencing, “three strikes” laws, and “truth-in-sentencing,” and strict punishment without rehabilitation.

Modern notions of retributive justice reflects the brutal orientation of countries underpinnings of “just desserts.” The move to provide offenders vocational instruction and skills for work and life in their communities after incarceration, including the right to vote, is consistent with the empirical evidence about inmate reform that has become available over the past two centuries 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36. Evidence suggests that breaking the cycle of crime involves transcending notions of retributive justice and emphasizing morals and ethics, trust, equality, and hope. In fact, these issues are prominent in social media discussions.

4.2. The Role of Public Private Partnerships

The modern public discourse about corrections reform and rehabilitation ideology traces back to the “factories with fences” concept of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger 37, which prioritized counseling, medical treatment, and the acquisition of life skills by prisoners through education and meaningful work. Likewise, public-private partnerships (3Ps), joint ventures help with humanity goals by providing real-world job skills to those behind bars, improving self-esteem and reducing recidivism as ex-offenders become contributors 42, 43, 44, 45. The training projects offered through the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), for instance, nurture collaboration between corrections facilities at the federal and state level and private businesses to facilitate the transition from prisoner to employee 45, 46, 47. Such 3Ps support members of corrections staff while also holding offenders accountable. Effective accountability can involve garnishing a substantial portion of inmates’ wages (usually around 40% deduction to savings) to go toward restitution for crime victims and their families as well as prison expenses, thereby lessening the burden on taxpayers 48, 49.

In the 21st century, researchers acknowledge problems with inhumanity and “the color of justice” in terms of the consignment of persons of color to prisons and prisoners’ treatment 38. The recent nationwide protests such as those associated with the Hashtag Black Lives Matter movement, thus advocating for local initiatives that emphasize the humanity of incarcerated people. These efforts are humanitarian, for they often begin with stakeholders asking what works to support the reform goals of individual prisoners and build self-esteem through education and employment, which naturally requires individual effort 39, 40, 41. Education can increase moral ethical decision-making and behaving viewed by society as essential to rehabilitation of offenders returning home. Thus, the education programs currently offered in prisons cater to basic, secondary, vocational, and English-as-a-second language (ESL) learners and support a variety of workplace literacy goals 31, 32, 33, 34. Research about re-designing prisons through partnerships so as to meet rehabilitation expectations requires attention to prison management policies and procedures that make efficient use historical blunders, hurried policy-making, and study bias in the field as well as ethical considerations 5, 50, 52.

In 2017, accordingly, Russo and colleagues did write, in a study for the National Institute of Justice, of “envisioning” new corrections with “promising solutions” for offenders inside and outside prisons, which must be “smaller and safer facilities” that are resource-rich and focused on “preparing inmates for release and meeting public safety goals” 53. Enhancing corrections requires a holistic approach, drawing strength from the efforts of social media activists to envision a humane carceral experience. Thus, the discourse on social media tends to be opposed to the death penalty and the confinement of prisoners in “cages.”

4.3. Social Media, Race and Accountability

The public discourse on social media and academic teachings about how to improve prisons, and the role of partnerships as a humanitarian strategy are general discussion trends related to social equity and justice in relation to political agenda-setting and penal policy studies; in particular, regarding race and ethnicity 16, 54, 55. The public opinion expressions on social media has tended to be critical of the emphasis on punitive corrections with “zero-tolerance” enforcement policies and practices such as the “three strikes” laws. Documentation of bad actors in police and correctional institutions is available in the Bureau of Justice Statistics databases; indeed, racialization of corrections and maltreatment of Black and Latino prisoners is out-of-step with humanity 84. At the same time, social media identifies a range of political and cultural contexts for conceptualizing future corrections, which is helpful to policy making. It is self-evident that social media listening tools serve to raise awareness of these pressing social issues.

There must be accountability for systemic racism and prison administration emphasis on humanitarianism. Moral ethical behaving (public trust, grace) remain central to the administration of U.S. corrections systems because the evidence is compelling that these values support effective reform policies. The literature on social media communications over the past few years shows a promising move toward humanitarian strategies for correctional institutions 56. Thus, some programs targeting parolees have shown as much as 60% reductions in recidivism rates. Bolstering prisoners’ self-esteem without sacrificing individual accountability to victims and the communities is preferable to just warehousing them. A lesson learned in the literature materials and on the social media platforms, is that taxpayers and stakeholders want accountability in corrections (prison) systems and shifts away from explicit injustices.

Accountability requires creating a workplace culture of pro-humanity values that reinforce behavior expectations of offenders undergoing reform for post-release success, and professional staff working with them.


4.3.1. The Paucity of Accountability

Accountability in the system and for prisoners is impossible due to the negative effects owing to the paucity of rehabilitation resources (for family reunification, societal reintegration) are visible. Convergences and divergences in penal policies depend on the cultural context, including establishing norms and the corrections vision removing the burden on staff members who, largely, remain committed to better outcomes for ex-prisoners returned to the community. Assessing the prisoner rehabilitation resources and link to accountability is essential. These resources include risk-need technologies for specific prison populations (e.g., women) and inter-linked information systems so that corrections professionals can implement “what works” for reentry plans 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 56. Preparing offenders for parole (returning home) occurs inside the prison to have an effect on recidivism reduction, then providing accountability training to practitioners is generally helpful to achieve the mission of rehabilitation. Requires turning away from penology emphasizing retributive punishment toward policies rooted in “faith in prison’s curative powers” [ 57, p. 23, 58].

4.4. Social Media and Equity

Civic-minded users of social media technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube are engaging around social equity in the delivery of corrections education and work programs. Specifically, the comments call for provision of these services. The criticism of these programs reflects the importance of correctional education (e.g., helping prisoners without high school diplomas to earn GEDs) and vocational learning (i.e., workplace skills and literacy and college preparation), issues to which the literature in the 1990s failed to draw sufficient attention. Collective opinion represented on social media has the potential to counter policies such as those preventing prisoners from accessing Pell Grants policies for college study—which Batiuk, et al (2016) described as “ill-conceived”—that are implemented by politicians who listen to lobbyists rather than the empirical evidence 61. There is some reason for optimism in this regard; worldwide, the social media platforms help civic engagement and spur activism to overcome inertia and organize; thus, urging governments to abandon ineffective conventional strategies in favor of promising new ones.

National leaders once trying to avoid and ignore public pressure on social media and through protests demanding prison reforms and a second chance for offenders are now harnessing public sentiment. Media propaganda of the issues leads to emotional and unthinking policies solutions. Meaningful reforms prevent racial injustice and mistreatment of prisoners, and embrace education and post-incarceration employment accountability options 62, 63. Likewise, corrections professionals entering the field want to feel a sense of accomplishment. U.S. correctional educators, then, have been making the case for vocational education, literacy and ESL classes, and whole-life instruction including substance abuse treatment, anger management, and child and family counseling 64. Their arguments in this regard are consistent with those found in the present study of social media expressions on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit over a 30-day period in 2021 supporting prison reform programs. Importantly, according to a 2020 U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons report, prisoners have recently been returning home with more self-confidence, and correctional professionals have had greater confidence in working with them. This outcome seems attributable to additional resources and a new mission for U.S. corrections rooted in the notion that the rehabilitation of prisoners can enhance public safety 65, 66, 67.

The resarch presented in this paper on the basis of the historical record of crime control and prison reform efforts is pointing towards a future correctional system. A system that challenges conventional ideas about work and education for individual offenders and provides guidance to re-design correctional supervision options promoting humanity and accountability. Among recent efforts in this regard, the National Institute of Justice funded research about work and education programs, in particular joint ventures (i.e., 3Ps), over the period from 2010 to 2019. These grants funded empirical studies that informed students and practitioners regarding penal philosophies, resources, and issues that an ethical progressive lens resolves 19, 59, 60, 56.

5. Methodology

The methodology for this study was qualitative, involving analysis of the content of social media expressions and data in the public domain. One aim of this research was to assess the discrepancies between social media users and academic (scientific) research, either used in course teachings in higher education institutions and basis for professional trainings. Essential to examine the literature for best practices for creating a nurturing an environment of accountability such as using partnerships and adhering to moral ethical norms. The analysis of discussion on social media about corrections and prison reforms did focus is on expressions and slogans appearing on the four main social media platforms in the United States that served to identify users’ attitudes on the key issues. Pulsar Social Media Listening was useful to address the research questions. The communication engagements among social media affinity groups is a source of qualitative (and quantitative) data from Pulsar. Academic researchers find social media technologies useful to monitor public opinion.

Assessing social media expressions and noting the emotional content, including Emoji pictures (thumbs-up, hearts, and smiley faces) which proved labor-intensive, and exploratory content analysis of this sort is established as a valid research design 68, 69. In 2021, we began with a search of the national social media platforms Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit over a 155-day period in 2020 using terms related to prison reform that returned 19,700 posts. These included tweeting dislikes of housing prisoners in “cages,” inhumane treatment, and defunding of prisons. The search terms thus included “prison reform,” “prisoner rehabilitation,” “corrections reform,” and “prisoner reform.” The timeframes were 30 days, 6 months, and 12 months (Facebook’s data reporting window is 30 days). The search focus was United States. The next step was filtering of the original search using the terms “work, education,” “work or education,” “morals or ethics,” and “work, education, morals, or ethics.” Selecting these terms reflected statements by social media site users about prison management and, in particular, inadequacies in the programs and services that prisoners receive.

Data cleaning was to remove images, leaving only users’ comments about issues relevant to this study. Repeating the data analysis for data gathering of another search, a 30-day period in 2021, did use the same key words on four social media platforms. During the 30-day examination was noted an additional 488 posts on Facebook. Prison affinity groups were particularly prominent on Twitter and YouTube, attracting numerous comments to make prisons more effective and humane. Notably, Reddit users focused on non-violent offenders, and there was more collegiate content. These social media users addressed the efficiency, morality, and ethics of professionals who work with prisoners and rehabilitation and even the notion of defunding prisons and rendering them obsolete. The methodology for the study also involved analysis of information in the public domain in library databases such as JSTOR, ABI/Inform, with statistical analyses performed using Intellectus Statistical software.

6. Results

The analysis of the expressions on these platforms served to address the research questions regarding the extent of social media communications about corrections reform, ethics, and rehabilitation. Figure 1, shows the volume of expressions, totaling 85,000 posts and engagements, for the 12-month period on Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit (February 3, 2020, to February 3, 2021) and additional 488 Facebook posts from for a 1-month period (January 3-February 3, 2021). The search terms were “prison reform, rehabilitation,” “prison reform,” “prison reform, rehabilitation,” and “prison reform, ethics or morals,” and the filters were “work, education.”

In February 2020-February 2021, over a 30-day period such as from May-June 2020, the expressions in posts and engagements on forums on the topic averaged 284 daily. These expressions include buzzwords “prisons are inhumane” and “reform prisons, social justice.” The graph in Figure 2 shows the number of expressions over the six-month (155-day) period from September 8, 2020, to February 7, 2021, for the four platforms. The aforementioned search terms yielded 25,300 posts and engagements on forums.

On average, 159,670 expressions (Emoji) appearing monthly on social media sites, indicate an interest corrections reform and rehabilitation. The frequency peaked during October 2020 and in February 2021, indicating the periodic resurgence of interest in the subject.

Pulsar uses a “sentiment scale” rating to summarize emotional content based on the frequency of emoji and words such as “trust,” “good,” “bad,” “anger,” “happy,” and “disgust.” The scale ranges from -50 to +50 and served in this study to represent the emotional content of posts. The ratings considered buzzwords such as “prisons punishing people is bad,” and “prisons are cages.” The dashboard from the Pulsar system counts 9.6 impressions, a -35 sentiment (Sentiment Scale rating out of 50 positive views, or -50 negative views), and is displayed in an Emoji sad face. These data reflect author’s data summarizes the volume of expressions related, in this case, to moral and ethical language (-35).

The assumptions of normality for the data (Figure 2) did use the Shapiro-Wilk test to determine whether a positive rating (despite a negative Pulsar rating), is possible in a normal distribution on social media for the search criteria in this study (Razali & Wah, 2011). The results indicate signficance based on an alpha value of 0.05, W = 0.40, p < .001; therefore, violating the normality assumption for positive engagements and expressions.

The 85,000 posts, discussions, engagements, expressions (Emoji, other) generated 9.6 billion impressioins (sentiments) representing emotional content (words, Emojis) about corrections reform in 50,000 mentions (engagements) over the 12-month period (February 3, 2020, to February 3, 2021; the Facebook posts added the 30-day period in 2021). Some impressions had up to 7 sentiments per one mention. Coding of the qualitative data served to analyze the language of interest for the study in terms of expressions, mentions, and opinions in the posts and on forums on the subject of corrections reform. Summary of calculations using the moral ethics variables are in Table one. The observations for education had an average of 179.67 (SD = 83.79, SEM = 24.19, min = 30.00, max = 363.00, skewness = 0.64, kurtosis = 0.07). When the absolute value for skewness is greater than 2, the variable is considered asymmetrical about its mean. When the value is greater than or equal to 3, then the distribution of the variable differs markedly from a normal distribution in its tendency to produce outliers (Westfall & Henning, 2013).

Below (Figure 3) shows total cases for work, education and moral ethics for comments in February 2020 to February 2021, for the aforementioned social media sites (30-days evaluations in 2020 and 2021 are in totals).

Assuming a connection between each work and morals/ethics (e.g. words/sentiments such as good, trust, justice, among others) as defined by Pulsar, were tested for a monotonic relationship by the Spearman correlation. Figure 4, presents the scatterplot of the correlation. A regression line assists the interpretation

The results of the Spearman examination at an alpha value of 0.05. A significant positive correlation was observed between work and moral/ethics (rs = 0.57, p = .043, 95% CI [0.02, 0.85]). The correlation coefficient between Work and Moral Ethics was 0.57, indicating a large effect size. This correlation indicates that as work increases so does moral/ethics (Table 1).

The results of a Pearson correlation coefficient (alpha value of 0.05) between work and moral ethics (rp = 0.62, p = .025, 95% CI [0.10, 0.87], Note: n=13), indicates a large effect size. The results of the correlation (using an alpha value of 0.05) examined the correlation between education and moral ethics showed a significant positive correlation, therefore, as education increases, moral ethics tends to increase.

A random sampling of 1,500 words/short phrases of participants on the four social media sites for the three-month periods from April to June 2020 and October to December 2020 as well as Facebook commentary for the period from January-February 2021 are shown in Table 2.

The assumptions of normality were tested using a two-tailed, one-sample z-test to determine whether a probability distribution with a mean of 0.05 could have produced a positive rating. The results were significant based on an alpha value of 0.05, z = 4.66, p < .001. The null hypothesis was, therefore, rejected since the mean of the distribution was greater than 0.05. The quantitative and qualitative data expressions and emotional content collected by Pulsar Social Media Listening (i.e., the sentiment scale) showed statistically significant variations. The negative sentiment represents the conceptualization of prisons as inhuman cages unable to help prisoners achieve their rehabilitation goals. There is a desperate need for rehabilitation resources and a moral and ethical culture in corrections that provides for the accountability of both prisoners (e.g., through pastoral education and counseling) and corrections officials.

7. Discussion

The summary of comments are in Table 2, and additional commentary not shown supports assumptions that social media users want corrections (prisons) reform. The phrases used to describe prisons were mostly negative, describing them as “bad” places and “cages” holding prisoners in need of “help” align to the outcry in news media spurred by the #BlackLivesMatter protests 71. The search results show a few positive expressions regarding the benefits of Pell Grants, felons voting rights and successful education outcomes, redivisim reducation programs, and services such as PIECP work programs, vocational training, and counseling. In addition, pastoral programs and activities are having a positive effect on individual offenders that seek spirituality combining with rehabilitation programs 72, 73, 74, 75. Analysis of social media content 76, 77 indicates civic engagement using social/digiatl media has an impact on discussions about prison reform. The Pulsar Sentiment Scale using emoji expressions shows moral ethical considerations are factors determining the magnitude and direction of evolving ideas about prison reform. There is a large effect size for relationships between work and moral/ethics (r= .57) and education and moral/ethics (r=.62) based on the definition in Pulsar, indicating a role of education and work on morality, which reflects the extant literature on the role of rehabilitation (work, educatioin) to induce positive prisoner post-release outcomes. Language about giving offenders a second chance and expressive emojis that showing support for a correctional services helpful to individual prisoner reform goals reflect humane and socially oriented ideals. These ideals are not lost on the millennial generations, albeit, the framework for a future corrections that represents humane treatment of prisoners (and ex-offenders) is not yet clear in terms of turning away from “just desserts” 78 towards a more humane reform system 79.

This study shows that trust, such as the public trust, treating ex-offenders as citizens returning home 80, 81, helping non-violent offenders, and abolishing the death penalty were expressed opinions that received thumbs up re-tweets and emojis, embracing Rawl’s (social justice) and Frederickson (social equity) ideals. Still, getting the data and resources necessasry to wholeheartedly support rehabilitation for individual offenders that make that choice is an ongoing challenge 82, 83, 84.

7.1. Study Questions

The study aims to assess discrepancies between social media discourse and scientific research regarding efficient corrections administration and prison population management shows the evolution of civic engagement using communication technologies. These technologies are shape policy making, and serve as a platform for decision makers in politics and administration that want to improve corrections. The specific platforms considered functioned as a public sphere for the expression of sentiments, slogans, and full-blown discussions (Reddit) about prison reform and, in particular, ethics and the role of work and education. Data collection periods for all platforms reveal engagement through social media is ongoing. Whether engagements are in affinity groups or forums, and visible by emoji expressions and tweets (likes, dislikes, hearts, faces), there is voluminous engagements among users greater than 18 years (capturing millennials or new entrants into corrections). There are practitioners sentiments in this study as well as their expressions are in affinity groups.

Electronic communications through social and digital media are influencing public opinion and discourse regarding integrating humanitarian principles into the administration of correctional institutions by allowing for frank discussions of their shortcomings. Social media technologies have potential for sharing opinions about moral ethics in decision-making processes concerning rehabilitation and punishment for lawbreakers. The effect of rehabilitation programs on the administration of corrections (prisons) is understandable through transparent civic engagements on social media platforms, and dialogue at protests in safe spaces in classrooms (virtual, brick-and-mortar) in which the impact on new and veteran working professionals is reaching a crescendo. The ongoing debate of what is the purpose of prisons either over-reliance on punishment (warehousing offenders) or something else entirely that shows the best of our humanity. Just punishment is at odds with public opinion and, sometimes with career professionals seeking to perform job tasks more efficiently but are unable without sufficient resources.

Social media users are fearless discussing disagreements regarding the relative merits of rehabilitation and failure, for some offenders, punishment. The study aim that is still unclear, though, is how to better align public opinion and the evidence in the literature. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons (2020), is well aware of the potential of rehabilitation schemes to reduce recidivism. Otherwise, policies that undermine the confidence of corrections professionals may result in token efforts or encounter resistance. Undeniably, the social media expressions have value for shaping corrections policy for a future correctional system with accountability, humanity and morality through work and education. Conceptualizing the framework for future corrections’ (prisons) re-design does deserve consideration.

8. Recommendations

Redressing the injustices resulting from the dominance until recently of the “lock ’em up” mentality is a particular concern among millennial activists. The disproportionate funding of correctional security staff compared with “curative” programs thus remains a perennial concern. Limiting misinformation and self-promotion efforts is necessary for a new vision for corrections rooted in truth, empathy, and accountability to take shape. The discussions among stakeholders on social media, however, show a lack of accurate knowledge about corrections budgets; thus, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons (2020) reported that costs for the 2019 fiscal year totaled about $7.1 million, representing an increase of 0.8% over the previous year. Breaking down this sum by program, pastoral programs cost $48,149, education and vocational programs cost $148,335, and unit management, including vocational and life-skills training, cost $468,222 (p. 19). Users of social media overall, however, show a strong preference for rehabilitation over punishment. Shifting vocabulary away from prisoners, and convicts to released prisoners, or prisoners returning home, is reasonable and reflects the progressive politicizing of criminological nomenclature. Social and digital media discussions are crucial for shifting the vocabulary to “citizens returning home” as a way to humanize them as well as helping those with a strong desire to reform with rehabilitation programs. As scholars (Rawls, Frederickson and others referenced in this essay) have rightly observed, the principles of justice include both a procedural step to help offenders achieve reform goals and a proportional reward for individual effort.

9. Conclusion

All stakeholders in the reform of the justice system can benefit from the sharing of relevant knowledge through social media. Activists can improve the prospects for the incarcerated by engaging with departments of corrections in the pursuit of policies that combine concern for the overall well-being of the community with concern for the social, economic, and spiritual well-being of offenders and ex-offenders. There is, then, a need for further research into social media as a space for prison administrators and staff members as well as prisoners, ex-offenders, and their families to share and discuss news and promote education and activism. One key issue is the funding for rehabilitation; buy-in from corrections professionals eager for reform is another. Insights into the policymaking (agendas, budgets) and philosophical constraints on the efficient preparation of offenders for successful reentry can inform improvements in the curricula delivered to students who are preparing for careers in criminal and justice administration. Today’s corrections professionals may not have been responsible for implementing the administrative regulations associated with the old prison management model, but they have been enforcing them and, going forward, will need training and moral support to adapt to new models. Understanding of prisoner rehabilitation through work and education and the implications for the victims of crime, the families of lawbreakers, and the community as a whole are happening in social media communications.

Acknowledgements

The author thanks the Faculty Research Council at Azusa Pacific University for research funds to support this research.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author declares that she has no conflicts of interest related to the research, authorship, or publication of this article.

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Published with license by Science and Education Publishing, Copyright © 2021 Kimberley Garth-James

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Kimberley Garth-James. A Proposal for Studying Social Media Sentiments about Corrections in the United States. World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. Vol. 7, No. 3, 2021, pp 106-116. http://pubs.sciepub.com/wjssh/7/3/3
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Garth-James, Kimberley. "A Proposal for Studying Social Media Sentiments about Corrections in the United States." World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities 7.3 (2021): 106-116.
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Garth-James, K. (2021). A Proposal for Studying Social Media Sentiments about Corrections in the United States. World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 7(3), 106-116.
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Garth-James, Kimberley. "A Proposal for Studying Social Media Sentiments about Corrections in the United States." World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities 7, no. 3 (2021): 106-116.
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[1]  Mihalek, D. J., & Frankel, R. M. (2019). The dangers of social media for law enforcement take center stage amid series of scandals: Analysis. https://abcnews.go.com/US/dangers-social-media-law-enforcement-center-stage amid/story?id=64252037.
In article      
 
[2]  Marrow, S. (2019). Social and news media’s effects on law enforcement. https://irispublishers.com/gjfsm/fulltext/social-news-medias-effects-on-law-enforcement.ID.000516.php.
In article      View Article
 
[3]  Statista. (2020). Share of U.S. population that currently uses social media. https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/.
In article      
 
[4]  Shapiro, A., Sullivan, B., & Fuller, J. (2020, June). As the nation chants her name, Breonna Taylor's family grieves a life “robbed”. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/04/869930040/as-the-nation-chants-her-name-breonna-taylors-family-grieves-a-life-robbed
In article      
 
[5]  Martinson, R. (1974). “What works?” Questions and answers about prison reform. The Public Interest, 35(1), 22-54.
In article      
 
[6]  Andrews, D. A. (2012). The risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model of correctional assessment and treatment. In J. A. Dvoskin, J. L. Skeem, R. W. Novaco, & K. S. Douglas (Eds.), Using social science to reduce violent offending (pp. 127-156). Oxford University Press.
In article      View Article
 
[7]  Cullen, F. T., & Gilbert, K. (1982, 2012). Reaffirming rehabilitation. Anderson Publishing.
In article      View Article
 
[8]  Cullen, F. T., & Gendreau, P. (1989). The effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation. In L. Goodstein & D. L. MacKenzie (Eds.), The American prison Law, society and policy (pp. 23-27). Springer.
In article      View Article
 
[9]  U.S. Department of Justice Archives. (2020). Prison reform: Reducing recidivism by strengthening the federal bureau of prisons. https://www.justice.gov/archives/prison-reform.
In article      
 
[10]  Urban Institute. (2016). Reforming sentencing and corrections policy. https://www.urban.org/research/publication/reforming-sentencing-and-corrections-policy/view/full_report.
In article      
 
[11]  Bowers, W. J., & Pierce, G. L. (1980). Deterrence or brutalization. Crime & Delinquency, 26(4), 453-484.
In article      View Article
 
[12]  Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program. (2017). Fourth-quarter prison industry enhancement certification program certification & cost accounting center listing. https://nationalcia.org/wp-content/uploads/Fourth-Quarter-2017-Certification-Listing-1.pdf.
In article      
 
[13]  Koenig, L. A. (2007). Financial literacy curriculum: The effect on offender money management skills. Journal of Correctional Education, 58(1), 43-54.
In article      
 
[14]  Frederickson, H. G. (1990). Public administration and social equity. Public Administration Review, 50(2), 228-238.
In article      View Article
 
[15]  Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Belknap Press.
In article      
 
[16]  Kingdon, J. W. (1997). Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. Longman Publishing Group.
In article      
 
[17]  Christenson, D. P., Kreps, S. E., & Kriner, D. L. (2020). Contemporary presidency : Going public in an era of social media: Tweets, corrections, and public opinion. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 51(1), 151-165.
In article      View Article
 
[18]  Marrow, S. (2019). Social and news media’s effects on law enforcement. https://irispublishers.com/gjfsm/fulltext/social-news-medias-effects-on-law-enforcement.ID.000516.php.
In article      View Article
 
[19]  Garland, B. E., Spohn, C., & Wodahl, E. J. (2008). Racial disproportionality in the American prison population: Using the Blumstein method to address the critical race and justice issue of the 21st century. Justice Policy Journal, 5(2), 1-42.
In article      
 
[20]  Upcounsel. (2020). Excuse, justification and exculpation in criminal law. https://www.upcounsel.com/lectl-excuse-justification-and-exculpation-in-criminal-law-criminal-defense.
In article      
 
[21]  Hannah-Moffat, K. (2005). Criminogenic needs and the transformative risk subject. Punishment & Society, 7(1), 29-51.
In article      View Article
 
[22]  Futschek, G., Kalinyaprak, H., & Kargl, H. (2005). Rehabilitation of prisoners via e-learning. [Conferece Session]. 8 th IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education, Cape Town, Africa. ISBN: 1-920-01711-9; 7 pages.
In article      
 
[23]  Quigley, W. P. (2004). Prison work, wages, and Catholic social thought: Justice demands decent work for decent wages even for prisoners. Santa Clara Law Review, 44(4), 1159-1178.
In article      
 
[24]  Visher, C. A., Winterfield, L., & Coggeshall, M. B. (2005). Ex-offender employment programs and recidivism: A meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 1(3), 295-316.
In article      View Article
 
[25]  Whitehouse.gov. (2008). Council of economic advisers report: Return on investment in recidivism reducing programs. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Returns-on-Investments-in-Recidivism-Reducing-Programs.pdf
In article      
 
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