Prison Issues and Concerns: Security, Privatization
1. List the four main reasons prisons are overcrowded.
2. Identify six methods of controlling prison overcrowding.
3. Identify five causes of prison riots.
4. Describe what can be done to prevent prison riots.
5. Outline the emergence of supermax housing and its impact on prisoners and staff.
6. Describe “no-frills” jails and prisons and their impact on corrections.
7. List the reasons correctional agencies and facilities should be accredited.
8. List the arguments for and against privatization.
9. Discuss the impact of technology on corrections.
Why are Prisons Overcrowded?
· Four main reasons:
o Continuous increase in the number of people sent to prison.
o Offenders now serve a larger portion of their sentences.
o Many incoming prisoners are drug users, not drug dealers who were the target of the tougher drug laws.
o States have an incentive to incarcerate, because the 1994 crime bill provides matching funds to states to keep violent offenders in prison longer by denying them parole and requiring they serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.
How can Prison Overcrowding be Controlled?
· Reduce the number of people going to prison.
· Release the less dangerous to make room for the more dangerous.
· Change prison or jail sentences to community-related sentences.
· Increase the number of releases.
· Expand existing prison capacity or build new prisons.
· Implement an overall program of structured sentencing.
TIP: Should the U.S. continue to build more prisons? Would the public support it?
What are the Consequences of Prison Overcrowding?
· Idleness, drug trafficking, predatory sexual behavior, safety risks, gang confrontations, arguments, fights, assaults, murders, suicides, riots, medical and mental health problems, staff turnover, and stress.
· Prisons under court order.
· Inmate assaults.
Prison Gangs—Security Threat Groups
· Prison gangs have been in existence since the 1950s.
· Most gangs were founded along racial and ethnic lines to offer inmates protection, but today many of them have joined alliances with other gangs to conduct organized criminal activity such as drug trafficking, prostitution, assault, or extortion.
· Influx of street gangs has impacted the prison systems.
· Gang members are five times more likely to incite or be involved in prison violence than are nonmembers.
Prison Riots and Disturbances
· Each prison disturbance and riot is unique.
· Precipitating conditions, resolutions, and aftermath are shaped by the characteristics of the institution, its staff, its administration, and its inmate population, as well as the state or federal agency to which it belongs.
o Random chance.
o Bad conditions.
o Rebellious inmates and racial antagonism.
o Institutional structure and readiness.
o Administrative factors.
o Formal inmate grievance procedures.
o Ombudsmen to mediate disputes.
o An improved classification system.
o Smaller institutions.
o Meaningful prison school and work programs.
o Alternatives to incarceration.
o Professional corrections staff who are trained and well paid.
o Administrators who are visible and available to staff and inmates.
o Clearly written and understood policies on the use of force when necessary.
Supermax Housing and “No-Frills” Prisons and Jails
· Supermax prisons are a relatively new and expensive trend whose overall constitutionality is unclear.
· Supermax prisons are significantly more expensive to build than traditional prisons due in part to the enhanced and extensive high-security features.
“No-Frills” Prisons and Jails
· No-frills prisons and jails take away prisoner amenities and privileges.
· Policies are designed to make jail and prison life as brutal as possible in the belief that such conditions deter even the most hardened criminals.
Why Should Correctional Agencies and Facilities by Accredited?
· There has been no conclusive research to determine if privatization is effective in saving money and reducing crowding.
· Little savings have yet been found.
Privatizing Community Supervision
· There has been a movement to privatize offender assessment, drug testing and treatment, electronic monitoring, halfway house management, and probation field services.
TIP: Ask the students who they believe a private prison or supervision program would like to supervise. They will understand then that private agencies want the low security, easy-to-supervise inmates. If this area is expanded to a point where it actually impacts state prison populations, what type of offenders will be left in the state prisons?
· An increase in private prisons.
· The number of companies operating privatized prisons is likely to decrease as competition and the costs of doing business increase.
· Important inroads can be expected for the geriatric inmate population.
Offender and Officer Tracking and Recognition
· Remote-location monitoring.
· Geographical information systems (GIS).
· Ground-penetrating radar.
· Heartbeat monitoring.
· Drug testing using viewfinder (ion scanning).
Prisons are overcrowded for four main reasons. First, over the past decade there has been an increase in imprisonment. Second, changes in federal and state sentencing laws require more offenders to serve longer periods. Third, there has been an increase in imprisonment for drug and violent offenses. Fourth, a prison industrial complex has emerged.
This chapter examined six methods of controlling prison overcrowding. First, reduce the number of people who go to prison by making more use of front-end strategies such as diversion, community corrections, and intermediate sanctions. Second, put a cap or ceiling on the prison population, sometimes called a trap-door strategy. Third, use what are called side-door strategies, such as giving sentenced offenders the opportunity to apply to the sentencing court for release to intensive community corrections programs, usually six months after imprisonment. Fourth, use more parole and halfway houses, called back-door strategies. Fifth, build more prisons and/or expand existing facilities. Sixth, use structured sentencing guidelines that are designed to save prison space for serious crimes and violent offenses, while using community corrections and intermediate sanctions for lesser offenses.
Prison riots occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes they are a result of spontaneous outbursts. Most experts believe that the primary causes of prison riots are bad conditions (overcrowding, antiquated facilities, low staffing levels, insufficient staff training, lack of programs of inmates, lack of funding, and poor implementation of correctional policy), rebellious inmates and racial antagonism, institutional structure and readiness, and administrative factors (for example, frequent staff turnover, low correctional officer qualifications, inadequate training, poor staff-inmate communication, and low staff pay).
Preventing prison riots requires changes both outside and inside the prison. Outside prison, it is important for other social institutions to reduce sources of tension that contribute to crime. Inside prison, experts recommend formal inmate grievance procedures, ombudsmen, improved classification systems, smaller institutions, meaningful educational and work programs, alternatives to incarceration, professional prison staff who are well trained and well paid, and clearly written and well-understood policies on the use of force.
A supermax housing facility is a free-standing facility, or a distinct unit within a facility, that provides for management and secure control of inmates who have been officially designated as violent or who exhibit serious and disruptive behavior while incarcerated. It is not yet known what impact conditions of extreme isolation have on a prisoner or on the public when prisoners released form these facilities return to the community. However, criminologists, psychiatrists, lawyers, and the courts who have studied the effects of long-term solitary confinement report evidence of acute sensory deprivation, paranoid delusion belief systems, irrational fears of violence, resentment, little ability to control rage, and mental breakdowns. Supermax prisons also present extraordinary challenges for staff, possibly creating a “we-they syndrome” and magnifying tensions between inmates and staff.
“No-frills” prisons and jails eliminate prisoner privileges and amenities in the belief that this process will deter criminals from future criminal activity. It appears, however, that “no-frills” correctional facilities may actually produce the results they were designed to avert, thereby increasing the number of prison disturbances and making it difficult for corrections staff to motivate appropriate inmate behavior. Corrections professionals tell us that what outsiders perceive as privileges and amenities, they consider to be important management tools. Research from Florida shows that public views on prison amenities are not as harsh as many assume. The public is willing to provide and retain amenities if they are useful for inmate management and rehabilitation.
Correctional facilities and agencies should be accredited for eight reasons. Accreditation improves staff training and development, assesses program strengths and weaknesses, is a defense against lawsuits, establishes measurable criteria for upgrading operations, improves staff morale and professionalism, offers a safer environment for staff and offenders, reduces liability insurance costs, and offers performance-based benefits.
Arguments in favor of privatization include construction financing options that allow government clients to pay only for capacity as needed in lieu of accumulating long-term debt; modern state-of-the-art correctional facility designs that are efficient to operate; less time to build than comparable government construction projects; convenience and accountability of one entity for all compliance issues; rapid mobilization and specialization in unique facility missions; and economic development opportunities from hiring and purchasing locally. Reasons not to privatize include the moral issue of the government’s responsibility for public safety; a lack of private companies from which to choose; private contractor inexperience with corrections issues; the potential for private vendors to become a monopoly through political ingratiation and favoritism; the potential for government to lose the capability to perform the function over time; the potential for the profit motive to inhibit proper performance of duties; slow procurement processes that are open to risks; the difficulty of creating a contract with a private vendor; and the potential for a lack of enforcement to result in termination or expensive lawsuits as the only recourse.
Technology has affected corrections in the areas of communication, offender and officer tracking and recognition, and detection.
Structured sentencing: A set of guidelines for determining an offender’s sentence.
Exchange rates: An approach to sentencing that emphasizes interchangeability of punishments; for example, three days under house arrest might be considered equal to one day of incarceration.
Security threat groups
(STGs): The current term for prison gangs.
Disturbance: An altercation involving three or more inmates, resulting in official action beyond summary sanctions and for which there is an institutional record.
Riot: Any action by a group of inmates that constitutes a forcible attempt to gain control of a facility or area within a facility.
Supermax housing: A free-standing facility, or a distinct unit within a facility, that provides for management and secure control of inmates who have been officially designated as exhibiting violent or serious and disruptive behavior while incarcerated.
Special master: A person appointed by the court to act as its representative to oversee remedy of a violation and provide regular progress reports.
“No-frills” prisons and jails: Correctional institutions that take away prisoner amenities and privileges.