Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Prisons in the United States
The USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world - though other nations (such as North Korea), which do not release incarceration statistics, may exceed it. The large prison population in the US is thought to result primarily from high crime rates, long sentences, and the "War on Drugs". Some observers have gone so far as to accuse the United States of deliberately developing the legal system and the prison industry as a means of social control beyond that normally associated with criminal justice. A major reason for the high numbers in prison in the U.S. is the drug laws that result in imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders.
Prisoners are released, many without job skills, so they often become homeless. 75% of released inmates return to jail.
Many facets of prison society have made their way into mainstream culture, such as the practice of secretly brewing pruno, a type of illicit beverage, the custom of dominant prisoners retaining personal bitches, and the dangers of "dropping the soap". These representations of prison life, however inaccurate, are frequently referenced in popular culture.
Gang violence is a major problem, since many gang members retain their affiliations when incarcerated. Identified gang members are often segregated from the general population of inmates, with different gangs being housed in separate units with the result that these gang members are imprisoned with their friends and criminal cohorts. In some ways, this has the effect of turning prisons into "institutions of higher criminal learning".
Some observers regard prison conditions in the United States as problematic, with prisoner violence and rape wide-spread, and medical care for inmates inadequate. An August 2003 Harper's article by Wil S. Hylton estimated that "somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of American prisoners are, at this very moment, infected with hepatitis C". Prisons may outsource medical care to private companies such as Correctional Medical Services , which, according to Hylton's research, try to minimize the amount of care given to prisoners in order to maximize profits.
In recent years, there has been much debate in the US over the privatization of prisons. The argument for privatization stresses cost reduction, whereas the arguments against it focus on standards of care, and the question of whether a market economy for prisons might not also lead to a market demand for prisoners (that is, a strong lobby for ever-tougher sentencing to satisfy the need for cheap labor). While privatized prisons have only a short history, there is a long tradition of inmates in state- and federal-run prisons undertaking active employment in prison for low pay.
Private companies which provide services to prisons combine in the American Correctional Association. Their lobbying arm, ALEC, advocates legislation favorable to the industry, such as California's "three-strikes law" which has the end result of incarcerating more individuals. Because inmates are the 'raw materials' that the industry is based on, more people in prison means more prison business.
Sentences in the U.S
In the U.S., the average murderer is sentenced 20 years to life. But due to overcrowding in the America's prison system, he serves only 7 years of real time. Other criminals also have sentences cut in half or down to one-third the original sentence. This overcrowding problem was caused by the War On Drugs of the 1980s. Fire codes will not allow more than a certain number of inmates in a prison. Before America's War on Drugs in the 1980s, there was often one or two inmates per cell. However, as a result of the War On Drugs, prisons became full of drug offenders, more than doubling the prison population.
There are, as of 2004, 110,000 women incarcerated in the U.S., the greatest number of women ever incarcerated.
See also United States prison population
Prisoners are placed into different facilities that vary by security level, especially in security measures, administration of inmates, and weapons and tactics used by corrections officers. The following levels are used in state prisons in the United States; the federal government uses a numbered scale from 1 to 6, with Level 6 being the most secure.
Prisoners placed in Maximum Security are generally ones that pose a severe risk to the safety of the public and correctional officers. All have individual cells with sliding doors that are controlled from a secure remote control station. Prisoners are confined in their cells 23 hours a day and when out of their cells, are always kept in the cellblock or an exterior cage. Movement is tightly restricted through the use of restraints and escorts by correctional officers.
During the 1990s, both the federal government and many state governments experimented with a new type of prison dedicated to maximum security prisoners, known as a "supermax." Such prisons are formally known as "Administrative Maximum" (ADX) prisons at the federal level, and the only federal ADX is in Florence, Colorado - ADX Florence. On top of confining inmates to their cells for 23 hours a day, such prisons usually feature soundproofed cells, near-total deprivation of human contact, and a routine policy of solitary confinement.
Close security prisons have individual cells operated from a remote control station. Each cell has its own toilet and sink. Inmates are allowed out of their cells for work assignments or correctional programs. The fences are generally double fences with watch towers, housing armed guards.
Prisoners that fall into the Medium Security group sleep in dormitories on bunk beds with lockers to store their possessions. They have communal showers, toilets and sinks. Each dormitory is locked at night with a correctional officer supervising, however there is less supervision over the internal movements of prisoners.
Minimum Security prisoners live in non-secure dormitories which are regularly patrolled by correctional officers. As in Medium Security, they have communal showers, toilets, and sinks. The facility generally has a single fence that is watched, but not patrolled by armed guards. At facilities in very remote and rural areas, there may be no fence at all. Prisoners may often work on community projects, such as roadside litter cleanup with the state Department of Transportation. They generally pose little physical risk to the public, and are mainly non-violent "white collar" criminals.
The California penal system (which had 161,000 inmates as of 2003) has been the focus of attention for growing influence upon the state's political arena. Former Governor Gray Davis was accused of favoring the prison guard union more than the interests of education. A number of allegations of prisoner abuse has given rise to increased attention to the prison oversight committees. These committees have been accused of favoring the prison guard union.
The Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles County, California is now (2004) the largest insane asylum in the United States. It houses over 2,000 mentally ill inmates and 6,000 psychotropic drugs are given out daily.
1 of every 143 US residents is in prison in 2002, or roughly 474 out of every 100,000 Americans. This is around 22% of the total world prison population.
The three states with the lowest ratio of imprisoned to unimprisoned population are: Minnesota (121 per 100,000), Maine (128/100,000), and North Dakota (120/100,000). The three states with the highest ratio are: Louisiana (763/100,000), Texas (704/100,000), and Oklahoma (653/100,000).
In terms of federal prison, 57 percent of those incarcerated are for drug offenses . Currently, considering local jails as well, almost a million of those incarcerated are in prison for non-violent crime.
In 1993, roughly 2 1/2 percent of the U.S. population, or 4.9 million adults, were either on parole, probation, or in (local) jails or (state and federal) prisons.
In 2002 roughly 88% of prisoners were male. About 12 percent of all black males in the United States between the ages of 20 and 39 were in prison, compared to 4 percent of Hispanic males and 1.6 percent of white males.
Comparison with other countries
The United States has the highest numerical prison population of any reporting world nation. Russia, which is currently in the process of releasing a number of improperly incarcerated citizens, has a rate of 644 per 100,000, and a 2002 total population of around 900,000. For the most part, the U.S. rate is five to eight times that of the Western European nations and Canada. The rate in England and Wales, for example, is 139 persons imprisoned per 100,000 residents while in Norway it is 59 per 100,000. The prison population in China was 111 per 100,000 in 2001 (sentenced prisoners only) .
- Leavitt, Fred (2003) The REAL Drug Abusers. Rowman & Littlefield.
- Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (1992) From Alcatraz to Marion to Florence - Control Unit Prisons in the United States. 
Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens, Paul Wright (Eds.): The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry. Common Courage Press; Reprint edition (February 1998). ISBN 1567511406.
Tara Herivel, Paul Wright(Eds.): Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor. Routledge (January, 2003). ISBN 0415935385.
- The Official U.S. Department of Justice Site. (DOJ)
- The Official Federal Bureau of Prisons Site. (BOP)
- List of Federal Correctional Facilities by U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons
- Federal Bureau of Prisons | QUICK FACTS
- US Surpasses Russia As World Leader In Rate Of Incarceration, report by The Sentencing Project, a "501(c)(3) non-profit organization which promotes decreased reliance on incarceration and increased use of more effective and humane alternatives." Includes the rate of incarceration for the ten leading nations (US, Russia, Cayman Islands, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Bahamas, US Virgin Islands, Belize, Bermuda, Kyrgyzstan).
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