There are two types of prisons systems in the United States which are the State and Federal Prisons systems. When did these prison systems begin? Throughout history, man has had to deal with deviant behavior in several ways mostly punishment or death. However, with the passage of time, there was a need to have a location where these people could be separated from society, monitored and even rehabilitated.
The Federal prisons in the country began in the 1890’s. However, the actual buildings were built in 1930 (Nutall, 1980). President Hoover signed a bill that authorized the commencement of the buildings. The bill was established with the key aim of making the prison service more professional and ensuring that inmates were cared for in a progressive and humane manner. Furthermore, the bill aimed to promote consistency and centralization of administrative services among the prisons that were in existence at that time (Pizarro & Stenius, 2004).
Previously, the Federal authorities would depend on the State and Local authorities to lock their prisoners in their facilities. When the bill was passed, it signified an ease of burden on the Federal authorities as they did not have to pay the State and Local Authorities maintenance costs. The criminals who are usually found in federal prisons are the major drug lords, former political, judicial and law enforcement officers and illegal immigrants into the country. There has been an increase of the prisoners in the federal systems as the government has increased the scope of federal laws in relation to white collar crimes and bank robberies. The State prisons have been in existence for a longer period than the federal systems. They started in the early 19th century. The Sing Sing State Prison is among the oldest facilities in the country. The budgets of State Prisons has been rising in the recent times, causing the taxpayers to pay millions of dollars to maintain prisoners. California is a State that has had to allocate a substantial amount of its budget to the prison systems (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980).
The Federal security has different levels of security ranging from one to five. They differ in the security policies, control of the prisoners, the features of the cells and buildings and the authority exercised by the guards or correction officers. The State prison systems have the same security attributes as the Federal prison systems. Level 5 security is applied in the supermax facilities. These are the prisoners who are dangerous and usually violent crimes. These are people who have engaged in crimes like assault, battery and homicides while others are gang members. There are several supermax facilities in the country such as the ADX Florence which is known to have the highest level of security in the country. In level 5 security, the prisoners are confined for a period of 23 hours while the amenities are limited (Bentham, 1992).
The ADX Florence facility is stricter in that there is 24 hour confinement. It is rare for the prisoner to be allowed to have visitors. There are also few opportunities for the prisoners to get access to better facilities by demonstrating good behavior. For these facilities, the individual cells have sliding doors that are controlled by the guards using secure remote controls. During the one hour per day they are out of the cell, they are kept in a cell block where movement in and out is highly minimized. The guards usually escort the prisoners around this area. The prison fences are usually double in nature. They are also armed watchtowers in the facilities that have guards that watch over the place. It also has an electric fence that is dangerous for unauthorized access or exit (Pizarro & Stenius, 2004).
The fourth and third security levels are considered to be medium security systems. The facilities allow prisoners to stay in dorms together. They usually have lockers to keep their personal items. They also share bathrooms, toilets and sink facilities. In the maximum facilities, each individual cell has a toilet and a sink. In this system, the fence is double in nature with the guards continually patrolling the area. There is generally minimal supervision on the activities of the prisoners. At night, one or more guards keep watch over the prisoners.
Lastly, there are the prisoners who are in prisons with minimal security features. The authorities do not consider them to be dangerous to the public. These are usually people who have engaged in white collar crime. They also share toilet and bathroom facilities. There is a single fence that guards keep watch. However, there are no officers patrolling the area. In the rural areas, these facilities may actually lack a fence. The prisoners are allowed to participate in activities in the community such as clean ups. These prisoners act a source of labor for the military bases and other government institutions. The dormitories also have less security features. In some places, prisoners are allowed to access to internet facilities.
The country has in the recent past witnessed a surge in the number of state prisons and this can be attributed to various factors. The increasing gap between the rich and the poor has resulted in many poor people engaging in crime and ending up in prison. When someone comes out of prison, employers usually do not agree to hire such people causing them to be even poorer resulting to crime. The people who have been most affected are the African Americans. There has also been an increase in the levels of juvenile incarceration due to the harsher sentence structures that have been introduced in the prison systems. It has led to youth going to prison to serve longer sentences. When these young people come out of prison, it becomes even harder for them to get good employment and the chances of them going back to criminal life increases. There has also been an increase in the number of women who have been incarcerated in the period 1970s to 2005. The female offenders are increasing at a rate faster than the male offenders. These women are usually drug offenders while others have mental problems such as schizophrenia and depression. There are also women who are dealing with poverty, homelessness and illiteracy. It has been noted that the rate at which women’s prison facilities are being constructed is much higher than the rate of construction for men’s facilities. There has also been a change in the sentencing laws in most states with prisoners now serving time for offenses that in the past would have been sorted out by community service or probation (Pontell & Welsh, 1994).
The level of security in a prison is dependent on the type of crime that the person has committed. There are therefore different levels of security in the State and Federal systems. There has been also a high increase in the incarceration rates in the country causing the State Prisons to be overcrowded. This has raised concerns among the scholars due to the high maintenance costs to taxpayers. There has to be a balance maintained between incarceration, probation and community service for these Federal and State systems to work.
Bentham, J. (1992). Punishment and deterrence. In A. von Hirsch &A. Ashworth (Eds.),
Principled sentencing (pp. 62-66). Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Farrington, D. & Nuttall, C. (1980) Prison Size, Overcrowding, Prison Violence, And
Recidivism. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 8, 221- 231.
Pizarro, J & Stenius, V. (2004). Supermax Prisons: Their Rise, Current Practices, and
Effect On Inmates. The Prison Journal, 84(2), 248-264.
Pontell, H. & Welsh, W. (1994). Incarceration as a Deviant Form of Social Control: Jail
Overcrowding In California. Crime & Delinquency, 40(1), 18-36.