Just as there are many different types of crimes that may be committed, there are many different ways a person may be punished for committing a crime. The following is a primer on some of the types and kinds of jails and prisons, and other forms of confinement in America.

Jails and Prisons

  • Many convicted criminals are sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. Generally speaking, prisons are institutions run by the federal or state government. Jails, on the other hand, are institutions run or utilized by cities or counties.
  • The actual setting of any jail or prison varies according to the type of inmates and the rules of the particular state or federal jurisdiction. While all inmates are entitled to basic necessities, such as food, water, and toilet facilities, some inmates are also entitled to privileges such as keeping radios, televisions, books, and “extra” food in their cells. In addition, most inmates are entitled to have contact with other prisoners, limited access to an outside exercise yard, the use of indoor exercise facilities, the use of a library, and other similar activities. Many jails and prisons offer “employment” to able-bodied inmates. In most situations, the employment is menial labor such as making electrical cables or license plates for the government.
  • Most inmates are also allowed to have visits from family, friends, and their attorneys, although the scope of this contact is determined by the security level and rules of the institution.
  • For most inmates, good behavior in prison or jail is rewarded by giving credit against a sentence and may allow inmates to leave the facility before their actual sentence expires. Note: With limited exceptions, only inmates who are convicted of violating federal laws are sent to federal prisons. Most inmates who are convicted of violating state or local laws are sent to state prisons or city or county jails.

Private Jails and Prisons

A number of jails and prisons in America are not run by the government, but are instead owned and operated by private companies under contract with the government. Generally, private jails and prisons are run in the same day-to-day manner of structured inmate schedules and limited contact with the outside world. Private institutions have come under attack from many people who argue that privatization of criminal incarceration facilities is improper, as it allows private individuals to “profit” from crime.

Super-Maximum Security Prisons

The most dangerous inmates are generally kept in super-maximum security prisons or “Control Unit Prisons.” In addition to federal super-maximum facilities, many states and counties have also constructed (or adapted existing facilities into) super-maximum jails.

 

  • Most super-maximum facilities require that prisoners in a control unit be kept in solitary confinement for between twenty-two and twenty-three hours per day. The inmates are not allowed to eat, exercise, work, or attend religious services together. The inmates are considered to be in permanent solitary confinement, as opposed to other less-secure prisons where inmates may be placed in solitary confinement for a period of time in order to punish misbehavior. The inmates are given access to medical and mental health care, books, chaplains, and religious materials.

Podular/Direct Supervision Jails

Podular/direct supervision jails, sometimes also called “New Generation” jails, house inmates in units or pods centered around a common multipurpose space, as opposed to being incarcerated in a traditional row of cells. Podular/direct supervision jails operate on the premise that consistent direct supervision of inmates can curb negative behaviors. Obviously, this type of system is not a good method of incarcerating dangerous criminals, as the common interaction areas with other prisoners can lead to additional crimes.

Regional Jails

Regional jails are facilities that two or more jurisdictions run together, and which is populated by inmates from those jurisdictions. In some situations, a regional jail may be the only incarceration facility in a particular jurisdiction. In other situations, a jurisdiction may have its “own” jail, and may also send some inmates to a regional facility.

Secure Mental Health Facilities

When an inmate is adjudicated to be insane or mentally incapacitated, they are often sentenced to “serve time” in a secure mental health facility, rather than placed in a normal prison or jail. The purpose of specialized facilities is dual: they ensure the safety of others if the inmates are considered dangerous, and they ensure that the inmates will receive proper care and treatment for their mental disabilities.

Boot Camp Incarceration

Correctional boot camps (sometimes called “shock incarceration”) are an alternative that focuses on deterring future unlawful conduct through a combination of military-style physical training and psychotherapeutic counseling.

  • In some areas, inmates may volunteer for boot camp as an alternative to incarceration, and may voluntarily drop out if it is found to be too tough to handle.
  • The goal of most boot camps is the rehabilitation of the offender. Boot camps often use peer pressure in counseling sessions to reinforce positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. Many boot camps are designed to “punish” and resocialize criminal drug abusers.
  • After release from boot camps, most inmates are closely monitored by the appropriate corrections department to aid their reintegration to society. Most inmates placed in boot camps “serve” less time than they would if placed in a typical incarceration facility. Juvenile Detention Facilities Generally, underage offenders are placed in juvenile detention facilities. Many of these detention facilities focus on rehabilitation of the juvenile offender, rather than pure penalization. In some cases, juvenile detention facilities are used to house offenders who commit a crime that, if not for their age, would have required incarceration. In other cases, juvenile detention facilities are used to punish behaviors unique to that age group, such as habitual truancy.
  • Juvenile detention facilities are often run much like a regular prison or jail, with strict schedules, codes of expected behavior, and punishment for misbehavior.
  • The purpose of placing juvenile offenders in separate facilities from adult criminals is to insulate juveniles from “bad influences,” to protect them, and to attempt to curb criminal tendencies before adulthood is reached. However, many juveniles who commit serious crimes and are tried as adults may be placed in juvenile facilities until they reach adulthood, at which time they may be transferred to adult facilities.

 

Probation and Intermediate Sanctions

Probation, and other intermediate sanctions, are different from incarceration. An example of an intermediate sanction might be community service. An individual convicted of a crime who receives probation, rather than incarceration, will be required to comply with “rules” set down by the court. For instance, the individual might need to participate in counseling or psychotherapy, might have to submit to drug testing, might have to search for and find work, and will have to report regularly to a probation or parole official. If the convicted individual violates the terms of their probation or other intermediate sanction, they risk incarceration.

Disclaimer

This publication and the information included in it are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.

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