Friday, October 26, 2012

Locked Away in the Official Style

To analyze usage of the Official Style, I chose a scholarly article about issues concerning correctional rehabilitation, authored by the distinguished drug court researcher, Douglas Marlowe. Although I am a Communication major, I’ve always been interested in the life of a convicted felon, and the process of rejoining society once on parole.  Because I do not study this topic in the academic setting, I am a perfect example of how the Official style can be used in certain documents and articles to prevent readers from becoming educated about the topic. It was frustrating to read my article because Marlowe uses highly bureaucratic and jargonistic language.   Not being a part of this particular academic community, I find myself reading passages over and over again, just to make some sense of it.  Below is a passage reflecting Marlowe’s usage of bureaucratic language in the Official Style.

“Reenacting this process simply demonstrates that their jaded expectations are justified and may make them less likely to trust future overtures of assistance, which could explain why a history of previous treatment episodes has been paradoxically associated in some studies with negative outcomes in correctional rehabilitation programs”

This one complex sentence should be reconstructed into more organized and coherent ideas.  Even reading this now, after a good twenty attempts, I still struggle with what he is trying to communicate. What does “jaded” mean in this context? What does it mean to be “paradoxically associated” with something? The chosen terminology is unique to Marlowe’s field.  Conscious of it or not, Marlowe has prevented an entire group of readers who are equally interested, from learning about correctional rehabilitation. The Official style in this case acts as a wall, blocking readers from understanding the content of the message. The most disappointing part about this is the inability to learn about how our criminal justice system may be flawed and ineffective. Without getting into the politics of it all, it is important to understand how difficult it is for ordinary citizens to educate themselves about important issues with most articles on the topic (like the one I chose) being written in the Official Style.       
Another symptom of the Official Style is when the author sounds passive and impersonal.  Throughout his article, Marlowe lacks voice. I am turned off by his dry prose style and his impersonal tone. The passage below is an example of his inability to connect with the reader through is usage of the Official Style.

“Kitchen sink” interventions are usually bad practice and ill-advised policy because they place unwarranted demands on participants and on system resources. Most offenders are characteristically irresponsible and have considerable difficulty satisfying basic obligations. It defies logic to expect that increasing the dosage of ineffective treatments would improve their outcomes. This course of action would be most likely to overburden participants, interfere with their engagement in productive activities, and drain precious resources from effective programs.”

This was the part of his article when I caught myself thinking about what I was going to eat for dinner instead of focusing on what was being said.  The above passage lacks any action. It would be more effective if Marlowe used his expertise to flat out say what a better program would look like. Instead he drones on about the ineffective treatments of the program, and I start to become detached from his words.  It’s not because I lack interest in the topic. It’s because Marlowe did not write this for the general population, but rather his specific discourse community. This passage alone is written at the Average Grade Level of 17.6, and has a reading ease score of 13. Although this is not extreme Official Style, it is too complex to be understood for the average reader.  As we discussed in class, most adults read at a 7th grade level.  It’s difficult to want to learn about things when you recognize it as above your level of understanding. Does the Official Style then discourage people from wanting to learn?
It is also important to understand how this text functions in our culture and society.  There is currently a nationwide debate on rehabilitation and correctional programs. The perceived failure of most prisons to discourage criminal behavior—(shown through high recidivism rates) has renewed an interest in brainstorming new programs to help convicted felons reintegrate back into society once released.  Project Greenlight was a short-term, prison-based reentry demonstration program, trying to do just that.  It was operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services. The developers of the Project Greenlight program drew extensively from research and the model seemed very good in theory. However, Project Greenlight was a failed attempt. Recidivism rates did not improve.  Marlowe saw this as an opportunity to make his own research heard within this community by comparing it to the failed attempts of Project Greenlight.  As an activity system process, Marlowe is trying to persuade professionals in the field of correctional services (his targeted audience) to prevent correctional intuitions from developing programs similar to Project Green Light (the motive), resulting in what he believes to be more effective rehabilitative approaches for institutions to adapt  (the outcome).   He uses the projects failure to establish his own credibility and expertise.  He was already an established name within the criminal justice community. However, he now has the stage to put his ideas forward on why the program failed, and offer his own plan on what needs to be done to improve recidivism rates throughout our country.
Marlowe uses the Official Style to impress his target audience of professionals in the field of correctional services. He uses bureaucratic and jargonistic language to portray his professionalism and knowledge on the topic. Although his ideas are important in reshaping correctional rehabilitative programs, they are difficult to understand if you are outside of this academic and professional community.  It is hard to feel like our country is progressing in anything, if we are simply not invited to participate in the process. The Official Style often alienates us from understanding something that could be easily understood if written plainer.
-Emily Stacken     



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