Prison realities

I WAS VERY HAPPY to see the articles about prisons in the July/August Monitor. These articles helped advance knowledge. On the other hand, there are some things that were not said, or at least not emphasized, that need more attention.

As I wrote years ago in Psychological Reports (Vol. 67, No. 3), prison can be a very difficult place for a psychologist to work. Prisoners are often hostile, as might be expected, but staff too are often hostile to psychologists and others trying to do treatment. They do not understand what we are doing, and see us as getting more money and more status than them, but doing some kind of mumbo jumbo which they think does not work.

At times, what we do does not work. More often than we want to admit. Despite the rather optimistic tone of the articles, there are many in prison who can never be helped. Perhaps most. That is one reason many prisons in the United States have turned away from rehabilitation as a goal, and adopted the goal of incapacitation. Perhaps it is no accident that while the incapacitation ideology has been in effect, violent crimes in the Unites States have decreased. I doubt that the left-leaning APA wants to hear that, but we need to face reality. Personally, I favor an approach of both rehabilitation and incapacitation, but you seldom find people wanting to integrate the two.


University of Texas-Pan American

Edinburg, Texas

THE HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN prison system presented in the July/August article "Rehabilitate or punish" is incomplete and does not present the reasons for the current prison situation. I suggest Etienne Benson and psychologists read Jessica Mitford's book, "Kind and Usual Punishment" (Knopf, 1974). I further suggest they review the history of the civil rights movement and its influence on how the federal court system interpreted prisoners' rights.

Mitford, her husband, Robert Truehaft, and others supporting the movement for prisoners' rights presented a biased case against the indefinite sentence, treatment/rehabilitation, psychiatry and psychology. This movement, combined with federal court decisions relating to civil rights of prisoners, made it impossible for state corrections departments to continue to support the indefinite sentencing laws and policies that were recommended by the 1870 Prison Congress (but not implemented until after World War II in California and other states) to rehabilitate prisoners. After World War II, California led the movement for rehabilitation of prisoners, but since the late 1970s has led the way for definite sentencing and the super max prison. Moving from sentencing based on a determinate time rather than one based upon successful rehabilitation will require a careful balance between prisoners' rights and rehabilitation needs, and the public's safety.

Regarding the article section, "The mentally ill," without state-supported rehabilitation, is it surprising that the mentally ill wind up victims of crime, homeless or in prison? Unfortunately, prison usually is the last stop for them.


Western Oregon University

Monmouth, Ore.

On civility in peer review

APA PRESIDENT DR. ROBERT Sternberg raises important issues in his July/August Monitor column, "To be civil," regarding the importance of having a constructive approach when providing feedback as part of the peer-review process. He further outlines a number of negative effects that hostile reviews have on the field. I have observed many colleagues and students with exemplary research skills decide not to pursue research, explaining basically that research is noncollaborative, overly critical and exploitative.

When psychologists make hostile comments toward others, especially in public, they not only lose the opportunity for productive scientific exchange, but they have also engaged in an aggressive act that potentially damages another's career and contributes to the internal reputation of academic psychologists as having a marked tendency toward unkindness and unhelpful competition.

On a personal note, I am an early-career psychologist, having graduated in 1997. I received a hostile review while completing a postdoc. Fortunately, throughout my own training, I had received mentorship from a number of psychologists who are skilled educators and supportive individuals. So although I do not hold a unitary view of academic psychology as "mean," I do view the culture of academic psychology as being too accepting of behavior that is damaging to individuals as well as to the field.

It is my hope that civility becomes a higher priority in our profession and that we develop infrastructures for translating this priority into behavior change. I am heartened that our APA president has identified this area as a priority.



ROBERT STERNBERG'S JULY/August presidential column evoked a strong response in me, particularly his comments about the impact of journal reviewers on "junior people."

I want to add my vote to his call for dignity and civility in the review process by recalling an incident in my own career. As a newly minted PhD in the early 1970s, I submitted my first research report on child abuse to a psychological journal. The review (which I later learned was done by Ross Parke) came back loaded with constructive criticism to be sure, but also with some encouraging words (to the effect of "this investigator is encouraged to pursue this line of work"). As a young scholar looking for affirmation, this was a very important message.

Child maltreatment became my focus. Twenty-five years, nine books, 100 articles/chapters, hundreds of invited lectures and several national awards later, I am still grateful for that encouragement. Had the reviewer offered the kind of nasty criticism of which Sternberg speaks, my interest might well have wilted, and my future contributions to the field of child maltreatment become only unrealized possibilities.

Sternberg speaks of the positive orientation of his mentor (Wendell Garner). I recall as well that my mentor (Urie Bronfenbrener) always urged us to take a positive approach to the research of others, seeking always to find its contribution beyond its limitations, to see what we could learn from it, not what we couldn't. Reviewers should remember that they are mentors too...for better or for worse.


Cornell University

The need for consumer-driven care

JENNIFER DAW HOLLOWAY'S balanced and informative article, "Putting consumers in the driver's seat" (July/August Monitor), states that consumer-driven health care is an idea "created to give consumers more control of their health-care dollars and decisions."

American businesses compete for the privilege to serve customers, but not so with health insurance. Most patients do not directly choose their health care and thus have very little comparative information about plan quality and restrictions (i.e., "You must treat that patient in six sessions.").

Employer-provided coverage means that choice of health plans is limited by choice of jobs--a deep impediment to consumer-driven health-care competition. It means that third-party payment does a great deal to drive up health-care costs. The managed-care marketplace is not a marketplace at all. Market transactions are voluntary choices made on terms chosen or negotiated by the transacting parties--not the case in the health-care "marketplace."

There needs to be more trust in the average consumer, and less paternalism.

We are already seeing changes in this direction as more employer health-care plans move from defined benefits to defined contributions. The time has come to put consumers in the health-care driver's seat and to open markets and minds.


Plymouth, Mich.