Jails and Prisons Comparison Paper Essay

Jail and Comparisons Paper David L. Alexander CJA/234 October 8, 2012 Robin Kemp In considering the jails, as well as state and federal prisons, and in modern America, one must understand the historical contexts in which the three institutions were conceptualized and put into practice. Then a discussion of the reasons behind the drastic recent growth off these three ancient institutions must be had.

Finally, a review of the security classifications which enable these facilities to carry out the business of incarceration and rehabilitation in a secure and safe manner should be conducted to round out our consideration of these ancient institutions. The role of jails and prisons is a complicated one, made more complicated by an increase in demands upon these facilities, both in terms of higher populations, and an increase in rehabilitative functions expected from them, as well as political pressures and general changes of policies over the years.By understanding the reason jails and prisons came into such wide use and the historical changes to those institutions, it can be more fully examined whether these institutions, have been successful in the missions they have been tasked with.

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These modern jails, in America, trace their predecessors back to England, where the very first jail, or gaol, as it was called in 1166, was built by King Henry II.Originally these buildings were designed to house offenders awaiting trial, but changes came about quickly. For example, vagrancy became a common problem in the 1300’s through the 1600’s and vagrants and other poor were often housed in jails. Another change in England saw authorities commonly use ships for jails. Docked, overcrowded, and filled with vermin and disease, they were floating horrors of their time for offenders kept in them.A Sheriff of Bedfordshire named John Howard was appalled at conditions of jails in England and wrote a book, and even sponsored legislation, to improve conditions in such facilities in that island nation.

When the colonists fled England, however, they brought the concept with them to the New World and into the future (Seiter, R. 2011. pp 72 – 73). That future has brought jails to where they are today. Little has changed in jails over the years, most are still administered by a sheriff. Their missions are varied, but similar in scope to when they were in England.Simply, their missions are incarceration of: “individuals pending arraignment and awaiting trial, conviction, or sentencing, probation, parole, and bail bond violators and absconders, juveniles, pending transfer to juvenile authorities, mentally ill people, pending their movement to appropriate mental health facilities, individuals held for the military, for protective custody, for contempt, and for the courts as witnesses, inmates pending transfer to federal, state, or other criminal justice authorities, inmates held for federal, state, or other authorities because of crowding of their facilities, offenders assigned to community-based programs, such as day reporting, home detention, or electronic monitoring, and inmates sentenced to short terms (generally less than one year),” (Seiter, R.

2011. Corrections: An introduction (3rd ed) pp 73). Jails vary from small town jails, with a few cells, to the more recent regional jails, which may house inmates over several counties, which alone might have the resources to administer their own jail (Seiter, R. 2011. pp 74).The main difference between the jails of yesteryear and the modern American jails of today would have to be primarily the professionalism of the facilities, as funded by (mostly) local legislatures to the professionalism of the men and women who work in them, especially those hired with that initiative and desire for leadership, which makes the organization better, no matter what type of organization it is. Hart, J.

(2008) stated, “We all have the employees that come to work each day to earn a paycheck. There is nothing wrong with these employees; they however, are not focused on corrections as a career. We also have those employees that are energetic, take on additional responsibilities, have high degrees of initiative, and strive to learn as much as possible to prepare themselves for that next promotion or assignment within this environment,”(pp 97).Jails are primarily holding areas, except for inmates sentenced to short terms, have few programs available and inmates sit idle, in cells most of the time. It takes highly trained personnel to deal with them in that environment. Prisons, however, have much more to offer convicted offenders, especially those being sent there for longer terms. It was from jails that the first prison was spawned. The first prison was created when a wing of a jail, the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was converted to house already-convicted inmates for long sentences.

Thus, the prison, or penitentiary, was created eschewing the cruelty of previous punishment methods, and replaced those methods with incarceration as a punishment in itself.These prisons functioned upon the further basis of “separate but silent” which meant the inmates were not allowed to speak to each other and, were kept separate, so as not to even be able to see each other when moving around the facility. The next generation of prisons starting with one built in Auburn, New York, was based upon the similar ideals. However, budget and space constraints in Auburn soon gave way to the new concept of “congregate but silent”, which meant inmates lived/slept alone, but would work and use common facilities together. New state prisons built across the country (i. e.

Sing Sing Prison, etc. ) routinely followed this model as opposed to that of its predecessor. Federal-level prisons were not used until 1891 (Seiter, R. 2011. pp. 21 – 23, 148). Prior to 1891, offenders convicted of violating federal statutes were housed in state prisons.

Overcrowding in state prisons and a desire to house federal inmates in separate facilities led of the passing of the Three Penitentiaries Act in March of that year, authorizing the construction of the first three of many federal prisons to be built and managed under the auspiciousness of the Department of Justice. In 1930, a separate federal agency was formed to administer the eleven federal prison facilities which had been built by then. The Bureau of Prisons was created and still administers federal prisons today, though there are now over 118 prison facilities in existence (Seiter, R. 2011. pp 147 – 150).

This number seems large, however, there are over 1,250 state prison facilities in existence, today (Seiter, R. 2011. Corrections: An introduction (3rd ed) pp 154).Clearly, both prison systems have experienced changes and vast growth over the course of history, particularly over the past 30 years.

Changes include the introduction of varied programs, educational, medical, and rehabilitative, with an eye toward releasing inmates back into society. Conversely, the reasons for the growth include many shifts in administrative policies over the years, since the inception of prisons, from stressing warehousing and deterrence as a means to keep the public safe, to periods of rehabilitation and medical treatment as a means to “cure” inmates of whatever caused their unlawful behavior. The reliance on prison labor before, during, and after the prisons’ industrial age had some bearing as well.

A change in laws embracing stricter sentencing guidelines and the elimination of indeterminate sentencing and early release have probably had the largest effect on prison population increase, along with laws allowing prison sentences for crimes which used to engender only a fine, such as drunk driving. The “war on drugs” started in the 1980’s, allowed many more drug crimes to be eligible for much longer sentencing. Interestingly, the federalization of many drug crimes actually caused a slowing in the growth of state prisons in favor of federal prisons (Seiter, R. 2011. pp 149 – 150). The effects of imprisonment in America have been staggering. With such a high jail and prison population and such a high incarceration population (in relation to other democratic nations) cannot help but have a profound effect on the economic well-being as a whole, as well as the economic well-being of former offenders released into the working world.

Inmates pay no taxes, (yet absorb tax revenue for their upkeep), and upon release, will make smaller average salaries and thus pay fewer taxes, further bringing the states and the nation into further economic downturn. Western, B. (2007), theorized, “Statistical analysis shows that imprisonment reduces the hourly wages, annual employment, and annual incomes of young men. Annual employment is reduced by between 10 and 15 percent. Hourly wages are reduced by between 12 and 16 percent.

The combined effects of incarceration on hourly wages and annual employment, produce large losses in annual incomes. I find that the annual incomes of formerly-incarcerated men are about 35 percent lower than for similar men who have not been incarcerated,” (Congressional Testimony). The overall economic effect on the nation should not be overlooked.Also interesting is the methods of prisoner classification used by federal and state prisons and local jails to determine how best to house inmates.

Inmate classification determines which type of prison particular inmates will be housed in, by security level. Federal institutions for example use the following: “one of five different security levels (minimum, low, medium, high, or administrative), with each level holding inmates with similar risks of violence and escape. Security levels are distinguished by such security features as towers and other perimeter security barriers (fences or walls) with detection devices, the type of housing for prisoners (cells or dormitory), and the staff-to-inmate ratio,” (Seiter, R. 2011. Corrections: An introduction (3rd ed) pp 150).State prisons use similar security classifications, though broken down to only minimum, medium, and maximum security levels. The main difference between federal and state systems, is that state prisons often make use of a “central distribution center”, where inmates are tested and classified based upon inmate risks and needs before being sent on to their designated prison.

Jails, being different still, house inmates between pre-sentence and post-sentence and further by specific risk factors of each inmate (Seiter R, 2001. pp 77 – 82). In conclusion, a review of America’s varied system of local jails, state prisons, and federal prisons has disclosed a series of very complex institutions.The three organizations with such common and interdependent origins, historically, have become so varied in function, each branching out according to their own specific mandates and the political climates each has had to weather in their overall goal of remaining an effective part of the criminal justice system. Jails of course were the first and have remained largely unchanged throughout history, being a gateway for lawbreakers to enter the justice system and sometimes to hold small amounts of offenders after trial, but offering few services besides walls and bars. State prisons, of course house the longer term inmates, providing such services as to prepare inmates for life outside the walls and bars. Federal prisons, the latest incarceration organization to come into being, also houses law-breakers for long periods, and with the hope of rehabilitation as well as incarceration.

Each of the three institutions, with their differing mandates, has found their own, (but similar) methods of classifying their charges, keeping those inmates and the public safe, restoring those offenders to society, all while weathering difficult shifting political winds, and increasingly tougher economic environments. The future of such methods of social punishment are seemingly in doubt, however, for now, they continue to achieve so much with such gallant effort, until the next best system appears on the horizon. References: Seiter, R.

(2011). Corrections: An introduction (3rd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

pp 72 – 73, 101 – 102, 140, 157 – 158 Hart, J. (2008, January/February). Jail staff today — Problems and challenges.

American Jails, 21(6), 4. Western, B. (2007, October 4). Increasing prison population. FDCH Congressional Testimony. *


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