State prisons can be defined as confinement and rehabilitation facilities for criminals, whose operation and maintenance is the responsibility of the state, in which they are in. Usually, state prisons are funded by tax money, collected within the state. State prisons are also called penitentiaries. Federal prisons, however, are run by the Federal bureau of prisons. This is a faction within the Justice Department law enforcement agency. Federal prisons usually confine prisoners that have been charged in court for federal crimes (Roth, 2006).
The idea of establishing state prisons originated from the need of having better methods of dealing with law offenders. Eighteenth century scholars explored ways, putting up legal reforms that would change the norm of punishing offenders by killing or inflicting physical punishments on them. Many people at the time began to get the general feeling that the methods, being used to punish criminals, were inhumane. Therefore, scholars began to look for reform oriented ways that were more humane in dealing with offenders (Foster, 2006). This need of adopting better methods of dealing with criminals led to the establishment of penitentiaries.
The first penitentiaries developed in the late 1700’s. These early penitentiaries aimed at isolating criminals and instilling in them the principles of work. They also wanted to impart criminals with the virtue of having a humble attitude. Some of these penitentiaries were built in open spaces and had large open spaces, covered by glass for better lighting. This design was adopted to allow better lighting while, at the same time, cut electricity costs. The design also made it easy for warders to supervise the activities of criminals within the penitentiaries. The great Depression, experienced in the early 1900’s, transformed state prisons into agricultural prisons. These prisons were put up within large plantations and firms, in which criminals went to work. This idea led prison supervisors to employ inmate labor to other areas such as working in public projects, forests and in building roads. Early state penitentiaries deployed a maximum level of security to watch over inmates. They were fenced, using high walls, and had cell blocks. They were built, using a lot of concrete and steel. Prisoner’s behavior was usually controlled by isolation and intimidation (Foster, 2006).
The first federal prisons, however, were started in 1930. At that time, there were few federal prisoners who were incarcerated in state and local institutions. Federal criminals only increased in number after the start of the civil war. During that period, prisons and jails filled up with inmates to the level, where something had to be done to create more space. This led to the establishment of the first U.S. penitentiary that was located in Kansas. It was used to confine federal offenders. In 1931, the Bureau of prisons was formed. Subsequently, the number of federal prisons continued to increase. This increase was as a result of the overcrowding problems within prisons (Foster, 2006).
State prisons hold a majority of prisoners as compared to federal prisons. There are different levels of security that exist within prisons. They, mainly, vary from open security facilities to super-maximum security. These levels of security differ slightly between the state and federal prisons. The highest level of security that exists within the prisons is the super- maximum security level. Such level of security is imposed on inmates that are a huge threat to the entire country and the world at large. Inmates, being guarded under maximum security, are locked individually in their cells. They stay locked up in solitude for 23 hours a day. They are usually placed under a very high surveillance.
The next level of security is the maximum security prisons. Prisons within this level are placed at an almost similar level of security to that of a super maximum security prison. These prisons are having the lowest inmate to guard ratio. It is used to house inmates that are dangerous to their community, fellow prisoners and warders. Like, super-maximum security prisoners, the level of security in maximum security prisons is very high.
Another level of security, within the prison department, is the close high security prisons. It is characterized by the presence of a double fence around the prison. It is manned by prison warders, stationed at watchtowers. It also has gunmen. Prisoners within these facilities have some time off their cells to work and attend programs (Whitfield, 1991).
Medium security prisons mark another level of security within prisons. Inmates in these prisons live together in cells. These prisons are characterized by watchtowers and gunmen. It is also double fenced and is less restrictive than closed security prisons.
Minimum security prisons form another category of prisons. It has no watch towers and lacks gunmen. It has far less supervision and confines inmates that pose the least security threat to society. Inmates, in these prisons, engage in community work.
The last level of security in the prisons is the open security prison. It is at times known as a half way house. There are no armed guards in these facilities. These prisons also have no fence. If any prisoner tries to escape, he/she is sent to a maximum security risk.
Historical role of prisons as correctional facilities
Prisons have, for a long time, served as correctional facilities. For a long time now, people who are deemed to be a danger to society are taken to prison with the aim that they will come out in the future as responsible citizens. This radical change is as a result of the reform measures that prison authorities have adopted to encourage these criminals to transform their bad attributes.
One way, in which prisons reform criminals, is by engaging the services of counselors talk to inmates and encourage them to amend their ways. Counseling has helped a lot of inmates to get over their personal issues and problems, which may have resulted in their criminal acts. Another way, in which jails have acted as a way of rehabilitating prisoners, is allocating some time for religious leaders to interact with prisoners. This may act as a way of reforming prisoners, helping them develop spirituality. A mental health team is also stationed within prisons to treat inmates with sanity issues. Prisons also provide educational classes, aimed at helping inmates develop skills. Programs that encourage inmates to return to family once they are released are also developed. They encourage inmates to develop a culture of making morally upright decisions in the future. Helping inmates overcome drugs, forms part of a major goal of prisons (Gaes, 2008).