The Different Types of Prisons in the US Explained
Published Aug 22, 2021
Not all crimes deserve harsh punishments. In the same vein, not everyone who broke the law deserves to be treated as a savage criminal.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), there are over 2.2 million inmates in the US as of 2016. About 80% of whom were convicted of crimes of varying severity, while the remainder is still awaiting their trial.
Of the entire inmate population, only about 39% are charged with violent crimes. A large percentage committed crimes ranging from driving under the influence (DUI) to simple burglary and car theft. With these numbers, it’s evident that these people have different needs when it comes to security and punishment.
Fortunately, the government has realized this in the past few decades. They figured out that incarceration should focus more on rehabilitation and punishment.
As such, mixing non-violent criminals with violent ones will only make the former more indoctrinated. Instead of giving them a proper environment for rehabilitation, you’ll just be exposing them to violent behavior. This goes for young offenders too. Putting them in adult prison can reduce their chances of reintegrating successfully back into society.
This is why there are various types of prisons in the US. They serve different purposes and hold a specific group of offenders.
Jails vs. Prisons
Most people think that jails and prisons are the same. But they’re actually two different types of incarceration facilities.
Inmates who are still awaiting their trial are often held in jails. Once they get a conviction, they’ll be sent to prison. If an inmate also has less than a year of sentence, they’re generally kept in jails.
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1. Minimum Security Prison
A minimum security prison is sometimes known as a Federal Prison Camp (FPC). The majority of inmates in minimum security prisons are white-collar offenders, which means they committed a white-collar crime such as fraud or embezzlement. While these offenses are nonetheless considered severe, the criminals are not deemed dangerous, and they do not pose the same risk of violence as other prisoners.
White-collar offenders are transferred to minimum security prisons, where they will be housed in dorm types of rooms. Additionally, there are fewer guards here, and convicts have greater personal freedoms than in higher security facilities. Additionally, many sites have minimal to no perimeter fences.
Numerous minimum security prisons have employment programs or similar initiatives. Additionally, they are frequently positioned adjacent to a large institution or on a military base. This is because inmates may assist with labor requirements.
2. Low Security Prison
A low security prison, also known as a Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), will include a double-fenced perimeter with housing in the form of cubicles or dormitories. They typically have employment programs or other types of programs, similar to minimum security prisons. While the staff-to-inmate ratio is not as high as at a low security prison, it is higher than at a minimum security facility.
3. Medium Security Prison
The majority of criminals are sentenced to a medium security prison. These are perhaps the most recognizable types of prisons – they feature cage- or cell-style living, a rigid daily schedule, and armed guards. Additionally, medium security prisons include strong perimeters, which are achieved through double fencing and electronic detention systems; a high staff-to-inmate ratio; and a variety of robust internal controls to maintain order. Additionally, many prisons offer a variety of work and other programs.
4. Maximum Security Prison
Maximum security—or high security—prisons are reserved for the most violent and dangerous offenders. Everyone who is imprisoned in a maximum security prison is considered a high-risk inmate. The staff keeps a careful check on the inmates, and these types of prisons have an extremely high staff-to-inmate ratio. While these prisons include multi-occupant cells, they also have single-occupant cells.
These prisons have a greater number of guards than a minimum or medium security prison. Additionally, those imprisoned in a maximum security prison have minimal personal liberties. Perimeters are heavily fortified with reinforced fences or high walls.
5. Supermax Prison
A supermax facility is a type of prison that is contained within a maximum security prison. This is where the most hardened and dangerous criminals are housed and the inmates who are difficult to govern.
A supermax facility’s primary objective is to keep everyone safe, including convicts, prison staff, and the general public. This is the facility to which offenders will be transferred if they have demonstrated aggressive behavior toward a staff member or another inmate or if they have demonstrated a lack of compliance with the rules in previous, lesser security prisons. Furthermore, supermax prisons may house inmates on death row or members of another type of special population.
Numerous supermax prisons maintain convicts in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours per day. Inmates in these types of prisons are not permitted to engage in communal activities such as eating, attending religious ceremonies, working, or exercising. This form of solitary confinement is permanent, in contrast to other forms of solitary confinement used in less secure prisons as a form of temporary punishment.
6. Ankle Bracelets for Home Detention
Electronic ankle bracelets are employed in numerous jurisdictions throughout the United States in place of arresting a defendant. The criminal justice system faces challenges such as overcrowding and the expensive expense of incarceration, which is why an ankle bracelet is an excellent solution for some criminals. In addition, ankle bracelets are used to ensure that the wearer remains at home or in designated areas, such as work or school.
These are durable and waterproof, and the wearer cannot remove them. The authorities will be contacted if the unit is tampered with or the wearer attempts to remove it. Numerous ankle bracelets are connected to a GPS and are, thus, monitored.
7. Halfway Houses
A halfway house is a residence for individuals who might otherwise be incarcerated. Halfway houses may be run on a municipal, state, or federal level. Here you will find prisoners who are serving an alternate sentence or have been released from jail into a halfway home.
The majority of individuals who reside in a halfway house fall into one of three categories: (1) they are undergoing treatment for an addiction to drugs or alcohol, (2) they are receiving treatment for a mental health disorder, or (3) they are learning to re-enter society following incarceration.
8. Juvenile Prison
A person under the age of 18 is legally classified as a juvenile. Therefore, juveniles are not housed in adult prisons. Rather than that, they are placed in an institution or program designed exclusively for children. In juvenile court, there are a variety of sentencing options available, ranging from incarceration to non-incarceration.
Home confinement or house arrest, a juvenile detention facility, placement with a relative or in a foster home, or probation following a term in a juvenile detention facility are all options for incarceration. In rare situations, depending on the circumstances of the case, a child may be committed to an adult prison.
There are also various alternatives to incarceration. These penalties may include fines, verbal warnings, mandatory counseling or community work, electronic monitoring via a wrist or ankle bracelet, or probation.
9. Military Prisons
Each military branch has its own prison, which is used to detain military members who have violated the law, particularly if the offense jeopardizes national security. Military prisons are also utilized to house detainees.
10. Podular Jails
A podular jail, also known as a direct supervision jail, is distinct from jails with rows of cells. In a podular jail, inmates are housed in units or pods organized around a central common area. This enables more consistent and direct supervision of convicts to keep undesirable behavior in check. However, this is not the type of incarceration utilized for dangerous criminals, as there is an excessive amount of interaction with other inmates, which could result in difficulties.
11. Psychiatric Prisons
When a person violates the law but is deemed mentally unfit to serve time in a typical prison, they will be committed to a psychiatric prison. These prisons resemble hospitals, and they serve as a location for convicts to receive treatment for their mental disorders. Rather than just confining the convict, psychiatric prisons work to assist them.
12. Federal Prisons vs. State Prisons
Federal prisons are administered by the Bureau of Prisons, a division of the Department of Justice. If the offense is federal, the majority of convicts will be sent to federal jail rather than state prison. However, even when prosecuted on a federal level, violent crimes frequently result in the perpetrator being sentenced to state prison.
In the United States, there are more state prisons than federal prisons, and each state has its prison system. While state prisons systems are similar, they each have their distinct characteristics. Each state has the authority to select how its penal system is to be operated.
One area where federal prisons differ significantly from state prisons is in terms of sentence length. Since federal prisons do not allow parole, offenders tend to spend more time here than in state prisons, where parole is more likely to be granted.
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About The Author
Krizzia Paolyn is an SEO Specialist with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. It has always been her passion to share her voice, and at the same time, to encourage other people to speak up.