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  Although there are those who will maintain that imprisonment is not punishment, but merely a time out from society, the operational definition of incarceration embodies virtually every classical and scientific definition of punishment published. (See Logan and Wagner, reward and Punishment, 9/1996.)

  One of the foremost behavioral scientists of our time, B.F. Skinner in 1953, more than four decades ago, published a definition of punishment that clearly incorporates the concept of incarceration. Skinner stated that "Positive punishment is the application of a noxious stimulus and negative punishment is the withdrawal of a pleasant stimulus." Most prisoners would agree that incarceration is a noxious, abusive environment where pleasantries of any kind are rare.

  The potential rewards available to members of a free society but not to prisoners, numbers into the hundreds of millions. This fits Skinners definition of negative punishment. In 1963, Church defined punishing events "as ones that the subject will seek to terminate." This definition would include incarceration. Prisons have miles of razor wire, expensive high tech security systems and patrols of armed guards for the specific purpose of keeping inmates from prematurely terminating their sentences in these unpleasant environments. Along the same lines, research done by Ferster (1951) demonstrated that a time out from free responding such as results with incarceration is aversive. (Reward and Punishment, Frank Logan and Allan Wagner, Contemporary topics in Experimental Psychology 9/1966).

   Whaley and Mallott, in 1971, clarifying the difference between negative reinforcement and punishment reported that in a negative reinforcement paradigm the subject has a choice that effectively terminates an aversive stimulus. This means that the subject can avoid aversive situation through the exertion of some kind of control over the situation. Although this paradigm appears similar to punishment, it is not, and is much more effective in promoting behavioral change. The major difference between punishment and negative reinforcement is that the punishment paradigm gives the subject no means of averting the negative consequences once the undesired behavior has been consummated, unless the subject somehow escapes.

   The same is true for prisons. Incarceration is very similar in that once a person is sentenced there is little chance of avoiding the punishment of incarceration. In short, for all practical purposes, the operational definition of incarceration and the scientific definition of punishment are synonymous. Incarceration is punishment which does not significantly impact ingrained behavior. This being the case, then behavioral researchers close to five decades ago clearly predicted the failure of our current prison policies based on punishment paradigms.

   It is incredulous that our legal and penal systems have completely ignored the copious and well-established research done with regard to the ineffectiveness of punishment as a change agent on established behavior. Existing policies driven by politics and erroneous public opinion regarding the effectiveness of punishment, is driving the investment of billions of dollars of U.S. tax payer money yearly to fuel punishment oriented prison systems committed to a course of action at odds with reason, compassion and well established behavioral research. U.S. prison systems are currently costing taxpayers over five billion dollars a year. (Prison Sentencing Project fact sheet Despite the massive amount of money invested in these systems, recidivism rates continue to bounce between 50 and 70% within three years.

   Most people would not invest money in a car if they were told to expect a 50 to 70% chance of a catastrophic failure or breakdown within three years. No other business could remain in business with such a high product failure rate. There is something fundamentally wrong here. Would any of us patronize an airline whose planes crashed at a rate of between 50 and 70%? Of course not, so why do we continue to tolerate such high failure rates from our prison systems?

   With such large amounts of money being expended on prisons based on the punishment of offenders, it seems necessary to revisit the scientific and behavioral research which underpins the severe drawbacks associated with the utilization of punishment as a long term behavioral change agent. There are several basic behavioral laws discovered by experimental psychologists that appear to be based on the neurological hard wiring of the nervous systems of higher organisms. These behavioral laws must seriously be taken into account if punishment is to have any substantial effect.

   Two of the most solidly established rules with regard to the effective use of punishment have to do with latency and consistency. (1) Punishment is most effective when the punishing influence is immediately associated with the targeted behavior. (2) Punishment must be consistently applied when the undesirable target behavior appears. The longer the latency of the application of the punishing stimulus to the targeted behavior, and the less consistently it is applied, the less likely the organism will be to associate the aversive stimulus with the behavior.

   Taking a quick look at the latency of punishment as typically applied through our criminal justice system it is clear that not even the most basic of conditions for the effective use of punishment are being met by our criminal justice systems. Most criminals are not caught the first time or even dozens of times after they break the law. Often there is a lengthy and rewarding criminal history during which a transgressor has been significantly rewarded for their criminal behavior. These rewards can be immense as in the case of drug dealers who can make more money with one quick deal than most of us make in a year. Even when caught, there is an arrest process that could go awry resulting in the criminal being let free with no assurance that the punishing stimulus will be administered for criminal behavior. There are no lack of unscrupulous lawyers who knowing their clients are guilty still do their best to get them off of lessen the punishment. Those with enough money consistently escape punishment. There is then an arraignment and often a lengthy court process that could stretch out into years of appeals. There is no timely application of punishment within our legal system.

   Many times drug dealers or other criminals with a lot of money, such as the ex-governor Fife Symington, of Arizona or O.J. Simpson, convicted of a felony in federal court, can afford a good lawyer and avoid imprisonment. These common occurrences within our judicial system are far from the kind of brief latency periods between targeted criminal behavior and the ensuing punishment that experimental psychologists reported to be essential to the correct and effective use of the punishment paradigm. Being let off on a technicality or a court failure reinforces the criminal's idea of invincibility and promotes a return to criminal behavior.

   The very nature of the legal process itself assures that punishment cannot be applied swiftly or consistently and consequently cannot be used with any assurance of effectiveness according to the scientific research.

   Even though our legal system is heavily invested in the utilization of punishment with regard to the treatment of criminals, the basic scientific laws for the effective administration of a punishment paradigm are not, and cannot be met as our systems are currently structured and operated. Our criminal justice system more often than not administers punishment inconsistently with latency periods well beyond the bounds of what behavioral scientists consider effective for any punishment paradigm. In short, the scientifically established laws for the effective utilization of punishment as a behavioral change agent are consistently being violated or totally ignored by our criminal justice and penal systems. Even if punishment were properly utilized by these systems, severe problems with the paradigm would not be eliminated. Behavioral scientists maintain that the most effective use of punishment is to quickly suppress dangerous behavior until it can be replaced with a more socially acceptable or less dangerous alternative behavior. In the case of prisoners, such appropriate behavior needs to be taught and established through consistent positive reinforcement.

   The second part of this equation is where our current legal and penal systems are also failing miserably. Positive behavior is seldom rewarded in our prison systems, and little is being done anywhere to teach prisoners viable alternative behavior. Punishment does not teach new behavior, it merely temporarily suppresses targeted behavior. This means that the effects of punishment even when properly utilized merely serves to temporarily suppress criminal behavior. If undesired or maladaptive behavior is not replaced, and the punishment stimulus is not constantly in place and consistently administered, then the undesired or in this case, criminal behavior can be expected to return. In the case of prisoners, this means that if while incarcerated, prisoners are not taught otherwise, they can be expected to return to criminal behavior when the punishing stimulus is removed or in the case of prisoners, upon release. This is what such high recidivism statistics are clearly showing us. Some of our most renowned and widely published research psychologists have summarized the best case scenario or outcome of a punishment paradigm as follows: "A term often used to denote the effects of punishment on behavior is suppression. Punishment merely temporarily suppresses unwanted behavior. Some writers have suggested that punishment can never totally eliminate response patterns. Rather, they suggest, punishment tends to foster a temporary suppression in responding. It is assumed that, given time, the response will return at its original rate, force and topography. Early research engendered this point of view, for it was repeatedly found that the (punished) response remained eliminated for only brief periods of time. (Whaley and Mallott P. 347, 1971).

   Our prison systems are based on fallacy and revenge. Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting different results. This being the case, our prison systems as they are currently operated are one of the largest examples of socially funded insanity on the face of the planet and the U.S. is one of the most flagrant of offenders. With 5% of the worlds population, we have 25% of the worlds prisoners with average recidivism rates running from 50 to 75% over a period of three years.

   Given the dearth of measurable rehabilitation programming within our prisons that could serve to teach alternatives to criminal behavior, our current astronomical recidivism rates are predictable from the basic scientific studies done on punishment decades ago. According to these well researched concepts, punishment even under the best of circumstances cannot be expected to effectively alter established criminal behavior.

   If punishment does not work in the long run why does society and the criminal justice system demand prisoners be punished instead of being provided treatment? There appear to be quite a few reasons. First of all, the average man on the street is not familiar with the fact that punishment does not work over the long haul. The public for the most part is not aware of the research. In addition, there is an emotional component with the public displaying a more emotional reaction to the behavior of criminals and demanding retribution. The "eye for an eye" mentality appears as justice.

   Yet another explanation is offered by Martin and Pear who reported that, "Because punishment results in suppression of undesirable behavior, it can tempt the user (or society in the case of prisoners) to rely heavily on it and neglect the use of positive reinforcement to bring up the incidence of desirable behavior." Punishment does not establish any new behavior; it only suppresses old behavior. In other words, punishment does not teach an individual what to do. (Martin and Pear, Behavior Modification: What it is and how to do it, 6th edition 1999, Ch. 13. Eliminating inappropriate behavior through punishment pp. 161-175.) This critical factor is almost completely ignored by our current prison systems.

   Without effective programs in place to teach prisoners how to live more productive, effective lives, the research predicts that our current prison systems, heavily invested in and inappropriately utilizing punishment in an attempt to control criminal behavior, will fail. And it has, at great expense to the average taxpayer.

   To highlight the insanity of the current situation, consider this. Over the 20 or more years I have worked in and been associated with prisons, I've seen prisoners who had finished doing their time released into the public. Some were so psychotic and dangerous that there was no doubt in my mind that within a short period of time there would seriously hurt or kill someone. When their time is done, they walk out the front gates of the prison once again free to ravage society and not a squeak is made about it in the papers or elsewhere. However, if that very same prisoner escaped from prison an hour before his scheduled release, the escape would hit the papers and the public would be terrified. People would lock their doors and windows and pull their children in from the street. The director of corrections would have the warden’s head for permitting the escape. The public would be terrified. Wake up people. Criminally insane and extremely dangerous prisoners are being released into your communities by the many thousands DAILY and not a peep is made. They are walking among you at this moment. They can often be spotted by a plethora of demonic tattoos.

   One of the most basic missions entrusted to our prison systems is the protection of the public. Society seems to forget that almost all prisoners are eventually released, more often than not without treatment and in a more maladjusted and enraged state than before incarceration. Almost as many prisoners are being release each year as are being sent to prison. Without effective, large scale programs to help them change, our prisons are like large black boxes where people are incarcerated in bad shape and come out in bad or worse shape only to recidivate in large numbers a short time later. This grind eventually leads to institutionalization and the inability of inmates to function in a free society. In prison their ability to support themselves is very limited. They are told what to do and where to be. They don't have to worry about thinking for themselves or supporting themselves. With recidivism rates approaching 70%, and almost as many convicts leaving the prisons each year as are going in, how could it possible be said that prisons are serving to protect the public?

   Prisons in their current state are gladiator schools, dangerous merry-go-rounds with old riders getting off to make room for new riders and then standing in line for another ride. The failure of prisons to execute their basic mission of protecting the public clearly comes to light when research surveys such as this one done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1983 are even given a cursory glance. This study revealed that of the 108,580 prisoners released from 11 states in 1983, representing more than half of all released prisoners that year, an estimated 62.5% were re-arrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years. (Ibid. Pg.6).

   Despite such astronomically high recidivism rates providing clear evidence that our current prison systems are failing at protecting the public, more fuel is being added to the fire in the form of harsher and longer mandatory prison sentences. Today, every state and the Federal systems have some type of mandatory sentencing laws requiring imprisonment, most often for drug offenders. (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 1996 National survey of state sentencing structures, 1988, pp. 4-5).

   Unlike many other industrialized nations that consider addiction to be a national health problem requiring treatment, the U.S. has adopted the attitude that addiction is a moral problem requiring punishment. This is despite the fact that the definition of addiction is; a behavior that persists despite overwhelming aversive consequences. There are few things more aversive than getting addicted to crack cocaine, heroin or alcohol and loosing everything, job, home, family, health, everything. What in the devil makes society think that more punishment is going to stop these people from using? Wake up folks, it doesn't. Spokesmen for the Prison Sentencing Project sum up current U.S. prison policy as follows: "As a response to the problem of drug abuse, national drug policies have emphasized punishment over treatment and have had a disproportionate impact on low income communities and minorities" (The Sentencing Project-Briefing Fact Sheets Drug Policy and the Criminal Justice System, (

   These policies appear to have been generated by societal thinking to the effect that if current levels of punishment are not capable of stopping addicts from abusing drugs and committing crimes, then the level of punishment must not be sufficient and should significantly be increased. Again we have here the classic definition of insanity. Do more of the same and expect different results. The consummation of this policy did not result in a decrease in crime, but an increase in the number of inmates in state and federal prisons of more than five-fold with numbers jumping from less than 200,000 in 1970 to 1,210,000 by midyear 1998. (The prison sentencing Project briefing fact sheet

   Our failure to teach inmates more productive forms of behavior while their criminal behavior is suppressed during imprisonment, is brought to light in a BJS Drugs and Crime facts study which reports that in 1994, "of all federal inmates, only 9% were enrolled in some form of drug treatment as of June 29, 1990. Among state prisoners, only 14% in confinement facilities were enrolled. (BJS Drugs and Crime facts, 1994, pg. 22). From statistics like these it is very clear that prisons are failing to teach drug-addicted inmates how to live without drugs and that punishment, the most prevalent current treatment is not working despite massive capitol investment. We are releasing onto society almost as many crazed, violent and maladjusted inmates as prisons are taking in, and providing little or no substantial treatment to change the way prisoners think and consequently behave. Prisons are failing at their primary mission of protecting the public.

   Rather than waking up to the copious fact of failure, it appears that policy makers have been actively acerbating the problem by cutting funding for the few prison programs that do exist leaving a violent and maladjusted criminal society dwelling within prison walls as the major remaining influence on first time offenders. "As time has passed, prison inmates are less likely to be receiving drug treatment while in prison." (Douglas C. McDonald and Kenneth E. Carlson, Federal Sentencing in Transition 1986-90, Bureau of Justice statistics 1992, p4.).

   It is clear that our prisons are little interested in providing "honest" treatment or programs for inmates. The few programs that do exist are often let to contractors bidding lowest, with the associated repercussions thereof. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the reason critics can get away with saying that prison rehabilitation does not work, is that there is, relatively speaking, no meaningful rehabilitation going on within our prisons. How could rehabilitation possibly work when the number of treatment programs and the number of prisoners they serve are so astronomically small as to be virtually invisible? How can such a pathetic effort be expected to have any impact on these massive populations? Of course prison rehabilitation programs are not working, relative to the size of the problem we are facing, their inefficiency, non-measurability, poor construction and design and ignorance of how prison society works along with their microscopically small size render programs as they currently exist impotent when applied to prison populations.

   Rather than treatment, the emphasis within our current prison systems is on punishment, which is very poorly carried out in the most ineffective of manners resulting in more negativity, damage expense and inefficiency. The result of current policies emphasizing punishment over positive programming is massive public expense, insane mandatory sentences and soaring recidivism. The combination renders our prison systems akin to a run away locomotive with a crazy man at the controls who would rather destroy himself frantically shoveling coal into the burner than slow down and take the time to come to his senses as passengers scream for more speed to reach their own destruction. The end result is an increasingly dangerous society and impending disaster. Substance abuse programs run on a scale large enough to have any significant impact on recidivism do not exist in prisons despite what your legislators and prison directors are telling you. A.A. one of the most effective alcohol and substance abuse programs going is severely limited in its scope due to lack of volunteers willing to work in prisons and the extreme hassle prison wardens subject these volunteers to should they want to come in. You would think that wardens would welcome such free volunteer programs. Unfortunately, most of them that I have seen over the many years I've worked in prisons would rather not be bothered with the little bit of time and trouble it takes to clear these people and find them a room in which to hold their meetings. The public is growing increasingly unwilling to throw more money at the problem to increase the size of currently existing programs with questionable effectiveness. Unscrupulous prison administrators are saying that prison programs do not work because prisoners are incorrigible. They cannot and do not want to be rehabilitated. This is one of the most destructive and insidious lies ever fabricated. Anyone even inclined to believe such nonsense should take a look at Richard Shelton’s new book, "Crossing the Yard." It is clear from its contents that even one volunteer with the right attitude can effect profound, lasting a positive change on the lives of inmates. Unfortunately, it appears that volunteers not tied to corrupt prison systems are proving to be one of the very few positive influences that exist within the prison walls today and their numbers are severely curtailed by wardens who view them as uncontrollable and generally a pain in the “arse”.

   The manner in which prisons are currently operated leaves old, hardened convicts as the major influence on young, new prisoners entering the system. After years of association with hardened criminals, forced dependence on the system, learned helplessness and intimate exposure to criminal ways of thinking and behaving, all taking place within a harsh, high pressure, antisocial prison environment, young prisoners are often turned into dangerous animals. One state prison warden, off the record summed up what was happening by describing his prison system as a giant "gladiator school", and giant they are. "An analysis of 1998 prison population figures released by the Bureau of Justice statistics indicated that the nation's prison and jail population will soon reach a total of two million inmates in the first year of the millennium if current trends continue. The current level of incarceration in this country represents the continuation of a 25-year escalation of the nation's prison and jail population beginning in 1973.

   The U.S. rate of incarceration of 672 per 100,000 represents a level of incarceration that is 6-10 times that of most industrialized nations. (The Sentencing Project Briefing/fact sheets

   "Despite an almost doubling of the rate of incarceration in the U.S. for the period from 1985-95, overall crime rates remained virtually unchanged and violent crimes were up by 23% at the end of the decade." The Sentencing Project Police Reports - Americans Behind Bars; U.S. and international use of incarceration, 1995, Marc Mauer (1997) In light of such statistics, the continuation of punishment oriented prison policy represents a penny wise but pound-foolish approach to our criminal justice problems. The costs associated with the continuation of policies based heavily on punishment only are astronomical and growing. The Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1996 reported that the cost of corrections throughout the U.S. back in 1996 was in excess of 27 billion 565 million dollars." "In the fiscal year 1995, state and federal governments planned $5.1 billion dollars in new prison construction at an average cost of $58,000 for a medium security cell. (The Sentencing Project Briefing Fact Sheets, "The annual expenditure on criminal justice in the U.S. at the present time now exceeds $70 Billion. (Wayne Northerly, director of Victim Offender Programs of the Mennonite Central Committee, Canada). In spite of the astronomical sums of money being spent by our criminal justice system, "The proportion of inmates receiving treatment while in prison has declined." This is despite the fact that, "A Rand analysis concluded that whereas spending $1 million to expand the use of mandatory sentencing for drug offenders would reduce drug consumption nationally by 13 kilograms, spending the same sum on treatment would reduce consumption almost eight times as much, or 100 kilograms.

   Similarly, expanding the use of treatment was estimated to reduce drug-related crime by up to 15 times as much as mandatory sentencing." (Jonathan P. Caulkins, et. Al., Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers money? Rand, 1997, pp. xvii-xviii. A good summation of our current prison policy was written by Prison Sentencing Project officials as follows; "In light of a series of studies which reveal that drug treatment is more cost-effective in controlling drug abuse and crime than continued expansion of the prison system, cutbacks in prison programming and rates of recidivism of 60% or more for released prisoners, the increased use of incarceration in many respects represents a national commitment to policies that are both ineffective and inhumane." (The Sentencing Project Briefing Fact Sheets, Prison Populations, Projections and analysis:

   Other "studies of drug treatment in prisons have also concluded that inmates who receive treatment are significantly less likely to recidivate than those who do not”. One of the oldest such programs is the Stay'n Out Program in New York State, established in 1977. Evaluations of the program have found that 27% of its male graduates are re-arrested after parole, compared with 40% of inmates who received no treatment or only counseling. Recent publications in the September 1999 American Psychologist also reflect what has been stated in this paper. Thomas O'Brien and Derek Jones of the Horizon Institute for Policy solutions published in the September 1999 issue of the American Psychologist that a balanced approach for corrections policy is badly needed.

   They quote an article by "Haney and Zimbardo (July 1999 reporting that "the past 25 years of corrections policy suffers from politicization and suggests an ideological freighting inappropriate to the advance of psychological science. Haney and Zimbardo argued that national prison policy has become remarkably punitive" (Haney, C. an Zimbardo p. 718 The Past and Future of U.S. Prison Policy: American Psychologist, 1998, 53, 709-727.) Despite the increasingly punitive nature of U.S. corrections and the massive consumption of public funding, Cullen reports that "For over a decade, virtually every contemporary commentary on corrections in the United States has reminded us that the system (is) in crisis" (Cullen, 1995, p. 338)" (p. 718). Again highlighting the ineffectiveness of punishment as a long term approach to changing the behavior of criminals, O'Brien goes on to state in the 9/99 issue of the American Psychologist that; "We believe that the most crucial challenge to correctional science today is to ensure appropriate contingency in order to reward positive changes in inmate, probationer, and parolee behavior."

   As mentioned previously, specific and timely positive reinforcement designed to teach more socially acceptable behavior on the part of inmates is an aspect of current correctional policy that is virtually absent in today's institutions.

   Along these same lines, Carl B. Clements of the University of Alabama also writing in the American Psychologist reported that; "Preliminary findings from a national survey conducted by Boothby and myself (Boothby & Clements, 1999) suggest that many psychologists are concerned about the decreasing availability of treatment resources even as prison numbers and associated stressors increase." (Boothby, J. L., & Clements, C.B. (1999). National survey of correctional psychologists. Manuscript preparation, University of Alabama.) Craig Haney in an article entitled Ideology and Crime Control also writing in the American Psychologist reported that, "between 1985 and 1990, the rate of violent crime increased approximately 32% while the incarceration rate increased some 46%. Drug offenses-where the bulk of crime-fighting resources have been concentrated and where, as Zimbardo and I showed, imprisonment practices have become almost draconian-have produced no overall crime rate reductions. In fact, drug use has continued to rise, leading the American Bar Association (1998) to recommend that the nation rethink its exclusive reliance on arrest and incarceration for drug offenders. Haney goes on to say that, "Clements (1999 American Psychologist) correctly observes that elected officials continue to exploit crime issues, citing the very fears they helped to create.

   Members of the public, long denied any serious debate about these policies, now do clamor for the draconian laws politicians compete with each other to pass. In my experience, many lawmakers know all too well that these laws will have little or no impact on the crime problem but support them because of their enormous electoral cache. In the political economy of prisons there is inelasticity to the relationship between crime and the demand for prisons that is quite unlike anything that exists in the economic world. When the crime rate is stable, we need more prisons to make it go lower, when it decreases, we need more prisons to make sure it does not go back up; when the crime rate goes up, we really need more prisons to regain control. There is simply no scenario under which "more prisons" is not the answer. I continue to believe that psychologically informed perspectives, ones based on data and professional experience and not on anecdotes or ideology, are needed to break this irrational cycle, regardless of whether "all sides" of the political community agree with their implications." (Craig Haney, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, writing in the September 1999 issue of the American Psychologist).

   Neale Donald Walsh in his 1999 publication grandly sums up the failure of punishment to accomplish any positive purpose through using it in the manner in which our society is currently with its huge prison systems. Walsh wrote, "To punish for purposes of retribution - for basically getting even - will not create the kind of society you say you wish to create. All sentient beings know the difference between punishment and consequences. Punishments are artificially created outcomes. Consequences are naturally occurring outcomes; punishments are imposed from the outside by someone with a value system different from the one being punished. Consequences are experienced on the inside, by the Self. Punishments are someone else's decision that one has done wrong. Consequences are one's own experience that something does not work."

   That is, it did not produce an intended result. In other words, we do not learn quickly from punishments, because we see them as something that someone else is doing to us. We learn more readily from consequences, because we see them as something that we are doing to ourselves. Punishments are artificially created outcomes, not naturally occurring results. The attempt to convert a punishment into a consequence by simply calling it that, does not make it that. Only the most immature being can be fooled by such a verbal contrivance, and, even that being, not for very long.

Computer Assisted Program at cruise. This figure shows the productivity and efficiency of a Computer Assisted Program Lab consisting of ten discarded office computers salvaged from a state surplus warehouse. Note how the combination of valid computerized testing of a self-study program format combine to produce an extremely efficient, high-volume, yet objectively measurable program. The study material is very comprehensive and inmates often emerge knowing more about alcohol and alcoholism than most doctors are taught in medical school.

Figure 4. Click to enlarge.

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This Program Sponsored by The Patrick Crusade.