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Jails, Prisons and the US Correctional System Essay

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Updated: Dec 5th, 2021

Introduction

A correctional system is meant to be a holding place for antisocial elements so that law and order is maintained in a society. The term ‘jail’ and ‘prison’ are interchangeably used however; there are significant differences in its usage and operative principles. This essay outlines the main differences between jails and prisons and the connected related components of the correctional system in the United States.

Discussion

Hall states that a “Jail is a place for the confinement of persons in lawful detention; Prison is a place where persons convicted are confined” (2009). In the United States, Jails are short term holding facilities where first time offenders and those committing minor offenses are held. They are also used as temporary facilities for transferring those convicted of more serious offences on their way to the prison. Jails are facilities created and used by cities or counties while prisons are facilities created and used by state or federal authorities. There is a time restriction on jail time which extends from a few hours to a maximum of about one and a half years. Prison time however can extend up to life imprisonment and even the death row. Consequently, Jail inmates have a higher turnover while those in prisons are usually long term offenders. The environment inside a jail and a prison are markedly different. Since jails have small time offenders and the ‘rookies’ they are less organized and less violent than prisons. Prisons usually hold the ‘hard core’ or the serious crime offenders, are prone to violence and have organized prison gangs operating from within the walls of the prison. Because of the nature of the crimes, Jails have large transient populations while prisons have a smaller clientele.

The disturbing fact in the United States is that today, the American

‘Correctional’ system has the largest population of prisoners in the world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, “2,299,116 prisoners were held in federal or state prisons or in local jails” (2008, para 1) as on 30 June 2007. Such a large population has led to overcrowding of jails and prisons with its deleterious effects on the society as a whole. According to (Cilluffo ), the U.S. prison ”facilities (are) hugely overcrowded – operating at 200% capacity”(2006, 4) leading to tremendous administrative and logistical problems for the prison officials. Since jail populations are larger than prison populations, “most prisoners consider city and county jails to be worse than prison, especially facilities in the Deep South” (May, Ruddell, & Wood, 2008, p. 10).

For incarceration of juveniles, separate juvenile detention centers are set up. These juvenile detention centers are run much like a jail or a prison with strict rules, routine and punishment codes. The system however has not delivered any lessening of crime rates as Worall observes that, “The verdict for juvenile crime control, as opposed to prevention, is not a favorable one (2006, p. 325)”. In case of juvenile detention centers, the marked differences that characterize the adult holding facilities such as jails and prisons are blurred. There also exist privately funded prisons which hold prisoners on behalf of the states. “The first private prison opened 1984, and today, there are an estimated 165,000 secure beds in the U.S. being managed by the eight largest private corrections providers” (Seiter, 2008, p. 3).

Conclusion

In conclusion it can be reiterated that jails and prisons have many differences chiefly in the type of offenders they hold and the institutions that support them. Connected to the jails and prisons are also private prisons and juvenile detention centers which together make up the American Correctional System.

Works Cited

Bureau of Justice. ( 2008). Prison Statistics. Web.

Cilluffo, Frank J. (2006). Prison Radicalization: Are Terrorist Cells Forming in U.S. Cell Blocks?. Web.

Hall, D. (2009). Jails vs Prisons. Web.

May, D. C., Ruddell, R., & Wood, P. B. (2008). How Do Inmates Perceive Jail Conditions? A View From Jail Administrators. Web.

Seiter, R. P. (2008). Private Corrections: A Review of the Issues. Web.

Worall, J. (2006). Crime Control in America, An Assessment of the Evidence. Boston: Pearsons Education.

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