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According to historians, temples were used as sanctuaries before the concept of prisons evolved. They were used for the accused to flee to, but if they were unable to make it to one, they were to be punished by the accuser, which sometimes ended in death (Kosof, 1995, pp.19).
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Instead of incarcerating the serious offenders, England began transporting of criminals. England's first deportation law was passed in 1597, allowing them to send the worse criminals to the Americas (Kosof, 1995, pp.20).
After the American Revolution, transporting of criminals was no longer allowed, so Britain began using 'convict ships'. They were even worse conditions. Many felons died on the sea. These ships were equipped with chains, torture devices, and barbaric equipment to put people to death in gruesome ways (Kosof, 1995, pp.20-22).
But it was British social reformer John Howard's work that helped pass the Penitentiary Act of 1779. He criticized prison conditions and visited several facilities in different countries; then he would report his finding to politicians in England. In turn the British Parliament passed penal reform legislation, hence the Penitentiary Act of 1779. Under this, new prisons were constructed, allowing prisoners to have clean, individual cells and adequate food and clothing.
In 1816 New York established a prison at Auburn. The original design of the prison included 61 double cells, but William Britten, the first warden, made each double cell into solitary cells. Thinking this would help in the rehabilitation of inmates. (Kosof, 1995, pp.22). Prisoners wore different uniforms to set them apart from one another. Since the thought of keeping up a prison would be expensive and very costly, they made deals with surrounding businesses and made the prisoners work as part of sentencing.
The American Civil War was what changed the structure and purposes of prisons at least indirectly in the South. Prisons there were beginning to be frowned upon, and officials think they were exploiting the inmates. So the basis changed to the like of the North. Today, prisoners are allowed to work for wages though (Paragraph 14).
The number of state and federal prisoners in the United States quadrupled during the 1980s and 1990s: 319,000 in 1980 to 773,000 in 1990 to 1,302,000 in 1999. The ones convicted on a drug offense makes up the largest group: sixty percent of federal prisoners and twenty-one percent of state prisoners.
Nearly 94 percent of all prisoners are male. Most male prisoners in the United States are poor and members of the minority groups. African Americans make up nearly half of all male prisoners in the U.S. prisons. Hispanics make up about 18 percent of the male inmate population. According to studies most of the male inmates were unemployed and the average level of education was the 11th grade at the time of their arrests.
One-third of all male prisoners in state and federal penitentiaries are in the age group of 35-54, which has dramatically increased by 70 percent since 1990, another one-third is comprised of prisoners in the age group of 25-34, and one-fifth are between the ages of 18-24.
Approximately one-fourth of male inmates in prisons in the United States have been convicted of property offenses, while nearly half were sentenced for violent crimes. Drug offenders make up slightly less than one-fourth of male prisoners.
For the female inmates, nearly half of the prisoners in United States prisons are between the ages of 25-34, and a similar proportion have never been married. Similar to the male prisoners, half of the female inmates are African Americans. Hispanics make up 14 percent and Caucasian females make up 36 percent of the female population. As true for the males, most of the females have not completed high school, and half were without jobs at the time of their arrests. Though more than 75 percent of convicted female inmates have children. In 1997 studies show that about 6 percent were pregnant or gave birth in prison .
In the United States, drug offenses and violent crimes are the most frequent charges for incarceration for women. Together these two categories make up two-thirds of the female population. Females convicted of property offenses (i.e. fraud) make up just under half to one-third of the inmates.
There are several different types of prisons that house criminals that committed ranges of crimes. They are used to determine an inmate's custody level. The higher the custody level, the more security and supervision.
Minimum-security prisons are designed to contain low-risk, first-time offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes. They are also used for prisoners from maximum-security and medium-security prisons who will soon be paroled. In 1998, one fifth of all United States prisons were made up by these facilities.
These facilities are much like the freedoms on a college campus. The housing is like the dorms and the grounds and buildings are set up like a school. Inmates that are assigned to these are trusted to an extent to comply with the rules and regulations. Most of the inmates here are just trying to get out in as quick as time with no possible restrictions.
Medium-security institutions make up one-fourth of all state and federal prisons in the United States. Medium-security prisons are known as 'catchall', which means they harbor criminals or inmates in ranges of convictions. Meaning extremely violent and nonviolent offenders are placed in common living quarters.
Inmates often occupy cells that accommodate more than one prisoner. At medium-security facilities, freedoms are greatly restricted. Access to educational programs, freedom of movement, and any sort of privileges are monitored to a T. Visitation rights are limited, but when granted, visitors and inmates face one another through a glass window and talk on a telephone to one another. Sometimes work release and other types of transitional programs are offered, but only a small percentage of prisoners are allowed to participate.
Maximum-security facilities make up about 15 percent of all U.S. prisons. Inmates incarcerated in these types of institutions are usually the most dangerous, high-risk, offenders.
Maximum-security prisons have many harsh rules and regulations. Inmates are mostly isolated from one another in solitary cells for long periods. Video cameras are used by correctional officers to observe prisoners in their cells or work areas for a constant watch. Many maximum-security prisons confine inmates for 23 hours a day, allowing them out only for a short period of time to shower and exercise.
Examples of maximum-security facilities are more widely heard of by the public. The U.S. penitentiaries in Leavenworth, Kansas and Terra Haute, Indiana are examples. Other facilities are Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York and Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York.
In the United States, the highest security-level facilities are super-max or maxi-maxi prisons, which make up less than five percent of all U.S. penitentiaries. Also called 'control units', these prisons or areas within prisons have severe restrictions. Human contact in minimal. Inmates are kept in solitary confinement in small (usually six feet by eight feet) cells for long period of each day. They eat alone in their cells, and no opportunities for work or socialization exist. Outdoor recreation is only permitted once a week. Restraints, such as leg shackles, are used whenever inmates leave their cells.
The federal penitentiary located in Marion, Illinois, which was constructed in 1963, was the first designated super-maximum facility. Those sentenced there were convicted of the most violent crimes and considered the most dangerous prisoners who are most likely to escape. Many prisoners have been transported there after committing murder in other prisons.
The vast majority of female prisoners in the United States are held in women-only facilities. About one-fifth of all female inmates are housed in co-ed facilities. Interaction between male and female inmates at co-ed prisons is minimal, and men and women only share certain resources and recreational facilities. Female inmates are housed in units that are entirely separate from units that house male inmates during evening hours.
The first U.S. prison exclusively for women, known as Mount Pleasant Female Prison, was established in Ossining, New York in 1837. Because there were few female criminals and it was less costly, the government decided to house them with the male inmates in prison, instead of respecting women's needs and constructing a building for a female prison. From 1873 to 1990s more than 112 female prisons have been built in the United States.
In 1999 Amnesty International, a private human rights organization, issued a report expressing concerns about the treatment of female inmates in the U.S. prison system. Governments have provided few facilities and minimal services for female inmates. Women have not had the access to rehabilitation programs that have been available to male offenders. The organization reported widespread complaints of sexual abuse and rape as well. It criticized the practice of allowing male correctional officers to supervise female inmates.
According to an article entitled "Violated" by Stacie Stukin, in the January 2004 Vibe magazine, T'Nasa Harris, 32, was an inmate at Robert Scott Correctional Facility, a multilevel security state prison just outside of Detroit. She was raped by a correctional officer while she was serving her 90-day sentence for shoplifting. T'Nasa Harris' 90-day sentence turned to be something she would always remember and not only just for the correctional time. She now has a son who bares the look of the man who raped her. 18 women are part of a state class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) for failing to prevent or remedy allegedly rampant sexual abuse and harassment in its prisons; the case was filed in 1996 but is still pending.
Every prison facility runs into problems with inmates or rules and regulations being broken, or overcrowding. The prison system is not perfect, but the government is trying to correct all of the imperfections as well as possible. And they have made the first steps at trying to do so. Whether it is investigating a possible rape charge or conducting a 'lockdown' like the one similar to the Marion, Illinois incident, inmate violence is expected, and the government is now trying to find ways to quench that from happening. Maybe starker punishments need to be allotted or more prisons need to be built to accommodate all the criminals. Just as the rate of criminal's increases, the prison environments get a little bit better from the organizations that protest malignant mistreating.
1. Magazine article
Stukin, Stacie. "Violated" Vibe Monthly January 2004: 100-104.
Kosof, Anna. Prison Life: The Crisis Today. New York: Franklin Watts, A Division
of Grolier Publishing, 1995.
3. Online source
"Prison," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2003. Available. http://encarta.msn.com. copyrighted 1997-2003.