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Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick, Canada is an institution that is part of Corrections Canada. Opened in 1880 as a maximum security prison, it now functions as a medium security facility.
A prison, penitentiary, or correctional facility is a place in which individuals are physically confined or interned and usually deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Prisons are conventionally institutions which form part of the criminal justice system of a country, such that imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime.


A criminal suspect who has been charged with or is likely to be charged with a criminal offense may be held on remand in prison if he or she is denied, refused or unable to meet conditions of bail, or is unable to post bail. This may also occur where the court determines that the suspect is at risk of absconding before the trial, or is otherwise a risk to society. A criminal defendant may also be held in prison while awaiting trial or a trial verdict. If found guilty, a defendant will be convicted and may receive a custodial sentence requiring imprisonment.

Prisons may also be used as a tool of political repression to detain political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and "enemies of the state", particularly by authoritarian regimes. In times of war or conflict, prisoners of war may also be detained in prisons. A prison system is the organizational arrangement of the provision and operation of prisons, and depending on their nature, may invoke a corrections system. Although people have been imprisoned throughout history, they have also regularly been able to perform prison escapes.

[edit] Other names and uses of the term

There are a variety of other names for prisons, such as a prison-house, penitentiary (IPA: /pɛnɪˈtɛnʃʌri/), or jail (in British English, the spelling gaol is sometimes used in formal contexts, although this spelling is pronounced in the same fashion). There are, also, many colloquial terms for prisons — such as big house, the Pen (short for penetentiary), the hole, beantown, stir, The Yard, can, clink, joint, jug, cooler, hoosegow, lockup, graybar hotel, concrete Hilton, lockdown, nick, pokey, slammer, up the river — and a similar range of terms for imprisonment, including doing time, bird, doing a bid, being a guest of Her Majesty, porridge, working for Copper John, etc.

The United States is one country where the term jail generally refers to facilities where detainees are locked up for a relatively short time (either while awaiting trial or serving a sentence of one year or less upon conviction for a misdemeanor). Prison and penitentiary typically denote a place where inmates go to serve long terms after having been found guilty of a felony. In the United States, jails are usually operated under the jurisdiction of local (county) governments while prisons are operated under the jurisdiction of state or federal governments. In the state of Massachusetts, some jails are known as houses of correction. In Washington some adult prisons are called reformatories, while in other states this is reserved as a term for a prison of the juvenile justice system. The term correctional facility has also been used.

[edit] Prison design and facilities

Male and female prisoners are typically kept in separate locations or prisons altogether. Prison accommodation, especially modern prisons in the developed world, are often divided into wings identified by a name, number or letter. These wings may be further divided into landings that are essentially "floors" containing up to thirty cells. Cells are the smallest prison accommodation, each holding at least one or two prisoners. Cells which hold more than three or four prisoners may be known as dormitories. A building holding more than one wing is known as a "hall".

  • A main entrance, which may be known as the gatelodge.
  • A chapel, which will often house chaplaincy offices and facilities for counselling of individuals or groups. Prisons may also contain a mosque (eg. HMP Stafford in the United Kingdom) or other religious facility.
  • An education department, which may include a library, and which provides adult or continuing education opportunities for prisoners.
  • At least one exercise yard, fenced areas which prisoners may use for recreational and exercise purposes.
  • A healthcare facility or infirmary, which often includes a dentist.
  • A segregation unit or "block", which is used to separate unruly, dangerous, or vulnerable prisoners from the general population. Inmates may be placed into segregation to maintain the safety and security of the institution, or the safety of any persons. Also, they may be segregated to preserve the integrity of an investigation, or when no other housing is practical.
  • Vulnerable prisoners units (VPs), or Protective Custody (PC), used to accommodate prisoners classified as vulnerable, such as sex offenders, former police officers, informants, and those that have gotten themselves in debt to other inmates.
  • Safe cells, used to keep prisoners under constant visual observation.
  • Isolation cells, often referred to as "the hole" in some jurisdictions, used to keep prisoners completely isolated, usually as a punishment for misbehavior.
  • Visiting rooms, where prisoners may be allowed restricted contact with relatives, friends, lawyers, or other people.

Other facilities that are often found in prisons include kitchens, gymnasiums, and accommodation for prison staff.

[edit] Prisons and the criminal justice system

A convicted defendant will typically receive a "custodial sentence" if found guilty of committing a serious criminal offense such as physical assault, rape, murder, and acts involving circumstances of aggravation (eg. use of a weapon, violence, children), or has reoffended. In some countries, the law may require that courts hand down a mandatory and sometimes lengthy custodial sentence whenever a crime involves property, drugs or other prohibited substances, or where the defendant has previously been convicted (see mandatory sentencing). Some jurisdictions may hold a suspect in prison on remand for varying periods of time.

Gatehouse of former 19th century St Albans prison in England, as seen in the British TV comedy Porridge.

The nature of prisons and of prison systems varies from country to country, although many systems typically segregate prisoners by sex, and by category of risk. Prisons are often rated by the degree of security, ranging from minimum security (used mainly for nonviolent offenders such as those guilty of fraud) through to maximum security and super-maximum or supermax (often used for those who have committed violent crimes or crimes while imprisoned).

The issue of crime and punishment is a highly politicized issue. Prisons, prison systems, sentencing and imprisonment practices, and the use of capital punishment may all lead to controversy and debate. For example, the use of mandatory sentencing and the effectiveness of custodial sentences for minor property crimes is often debated, especially where the prison sentence required in such cases is more harsh than for the commission of violent crimes. Some of these issues are discussed further below.

[edit] Criminal justice goals of the prison system

Criminal justice models are based on the goals of the penal system:

[edit] Retribution/Vengeance/Retaliation

This is founded on the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" philosophy, which essentially states that if one person harms another, then an equivalent harm should be done to them. One goal here is to prevent vigilantism, gang or clan warfare, and other actions by those who have an unsatisfied need to "get even" for a crime against them, their family, or their group. It is, however, difficult to determine how to equate different types of "harm". A literal case is where a murderer is punished with the death penalty, the argument being "justice demands a life for a life". One criticism of long term prison sentences and other methods for achieving justice is that such "warehousing" of criminals is rather expensive. Yet another facet of this debate disregards the financial cost for the most part. The argument regarding warehousing rests, in this case, upon the theory that any punishment considered respectful of human rights should not include caging humans for life without chance of release--that even death is morally and ethically a higher road than no-parole prison sentences.

[edit] Deterrence

Here the criminal is used as an "example to himself/herself and others". By subjecting prisoners to harsh conditions, authorities hope to convince them to avoid future criminal behavior and to exemplify for others the rewards for avoiding such behavior; that is, the fear of punishment will win over whatever pleasure the illegal activity might bring. The deterrence model frequently goes far beyond "an eye for an eye", exacting a more severe punishment than would seem to be indicated by the crime. Torture has been used in the past as a deterrent, as has the public embarrassment and discomfort of stocks, and, in religious communities, excommunication. Executions, particularly gruesome ones (such as hanging or beheading), often for petty offenses, are further examples of attempts at deterrence. One criticism of the deterrence model is that criminals typically have a rather short-term orientation, and the possibility of long-term consequences is of little importance to them. Also, their quality of life may be so horrific that any treatment within the criminal justice system (which is compatible with human rights law) will only be seen as an improvement over their previous situation.

[edit] Reform/Rehabilitation

(This refers to treatment of the individual prisoners, rather than to reform of the penal system.) The purpose of reform, and the level of resources to apply to it are much disputed areas of public policy. One school of thought is that a criminal should be encouraged to rehabilitate his or her inherent deficiencies. Alternatively, the process may be seen as providing the person with an alternative to criminal behaviour upon release. This rehabilitation process may involve provision of education, vocational training, treatment for drug addiction, counseling, and/or an attempt to encourage socially acceptable behaviors: for instance the need to treat others with respect, or for self-discipline might be stressed.

The approach to take with younger criminals, the severity of any regime, and whether efforts at rehabilitation should be mandatory are all areas of political debate, as is the issue of funding. Whilst some argue that the cost to society is offset by preventing crime in the future, others contend that it rewards those in jail with training that would not otherwise have been available to them. A key issue that frames these debates is the view taken on responsibility for crime in society; are criminals inherently prone to illegal behaviour, or does crime stem from a failure of social policy?

[edit] Removal from society

The goal here is simply to keep criminals away from potential victims, thus reducing the number of crimes they can commit. The criticism of this model is that others increase the number and severity of crimes they commit to make up for the "vacuum" left by the removed criminal. For example, a drug dealer removed from a location will result in an unmet demand for drugs at that locale, and an existing or new drug dealer will then appear, to fill the void. This new drug dealer may have been innocent of any crimes before this opportunity, or may have been guilty of less serious crimes, such as being a look-out for the previous drug dealer.

[edit] Repayment

Prisoners are forced to repay their "debt" to society . Unpaid or low pay work is common in many prisons, often to the benefit of the community. In some countries prisons operate as labour camps. Critics say that the repayment model gives government an economic incentive to send more people to prison. In corrupt or authoritarian regimes, such as the former Soviet Union, many citizens are sentenced to forced labour for minor breaches of the law, simply because the government requires the labour camps as a source of income. Community service is increasingly being used as an alternative to prison for petty criminals.

[edit] Reduction in immediate costs

Government and prison officials also have the goal of minimizing short-term costs.

In wealthy societies:
This calls for keeping prisoners "happy" by providing them with things like television and conjugal visits. Inexpensive measures like these prevent prison assaults and riots which in turn allow the number of guards to be minimized. Providing the quickest possible parole and/or release also reduces immediate costs to the prison system (although these may very well increase long term costs to the prison system and society due to recidivism). The ultimate way to reduce immediate costs is to eliminate prisons entirely and use fines, community service, and other sanctions (like the loss of a driver's license or the right to vote) instead. Executions at first would appear to limit costs, but, in most wealthy societies, the long appeals process for death sentences (and associated legal costs) make them quite expensive.
In poor societies:
Poor societies, which lack the resources to imprison criminals for years, frequently use execution in place of imprisonment, for severe crimes. Less severe crimes, such as theft, might be dealt with by less severe physical means, such as amputation of the hands. When long term imprisonment is used in such societies, it may be a virtual death sentence, as the lack of food, sanitation, and medical care causes widespread disease and death, in such prisons.

Some of the goals of criminal justice are compatible with one another, while others are in conflict. In the history of prison reform, the harsh treatment, torture, and executions used for deterrence first came under fire as a violation of human rights. The salvation goal, and methods, were later attacked as violations of the individual's Freedom of Religion. This led to further "reforms" aimed principally at reform/correction of the individual, removal from society, and reduction of immediate costs. The perception that such reforms sometimes denied victims justice then led to further changes. The hope, in the future, is that medical diagnosis and treatments might assist future generations of prisoner reformers. For example, if the "thrill-seeking gene" could be suppressed via RNAi technology, this could lead to less risk-taking behavior (some of it criminal).

[edit] Military and political prisons

Prisons form part of military systems, and are used variously to house prisoners of war, unlawful combatants, those whose freedom is deemed a national security risk by military or civilian authorities, and members of the military found guilty of a serious crime. See military prison.

Certain countries maintain or have in the past had a system of political prisons; arguably the gulags associated with Stalinism are best known. The definition of what is and is not a political crime and a political prison is, of course, highly controversial. Some psychiatric facilities have characteristics of prisons, especially when confining patients who have committed a crime and are considered dangerous.

[edit] Ecclesiastical prisons

It is plain from many decrees in the "Corpus Juris Canonici" that the Roman Catholic Church has claimed and exercised the right, belonging to a perfect and visible society, of protecting its members by condemning the guilty to imprisonment. The object of prisons originally, both among the Hebrews and the Romans, was merely the safe-keeping of a criminal, real or pretended, until his trial. The ecclesiastical idea of imprisonment, however, is that confinement be made use of both as a punishment and as affording an opportunity for reformation and reflection. This method of punishment was anciently applied even to clerics. Thus, Boniface VIII (cap. "Quamvis", iii, "De poen.", in 6) decrees:

Although it is known that prisons were specially instituted for the custody of criminals, not for their punishment, yet we shall not find fault with you if you commit to prison for the performance of penance, either perpetually or temporarily as shall seem best, those clerics subject to you who have confessed crimes or been convicted of them, after you have carefully considered the excesses, persons and circumstances involved in the case.

The Church adopted the extreme punishment of perpetual imprisonment because, by the canons, the execution of offenders, whether clerical or lay, could not be ordered by ecclesiastical judges. It was quite common in ancient times to imprison in monasteries, for the purpose of doing penance, those clerics who had been convicted of grave crimes (c. vii, dist. 50). The "Corpus Juris", however, says (c. "Super His", viii, "De poen.") that incarceration does not of itself inflict the stigma of infamy on a cleric, as is evident from a papal pronouncement on the complaint of a cleric who had been committed to prison because he vacillated in giving testimony. The reply recorded is that imprisonment does not ipso facto carry with it any note of infamy.

As to monastic prisons for members of religious orders, we find them recorded in decrees dealing with the incorrigibility of those who have lost the spirit of their vocation. Thus, by command of Urban VIII, the Congregation of the Council (21 September, 1624) decreed:

For the future, no regular, legitimately professed, may be expelled from his order unless he be truly incorrigible. A person is not to be judged truly incorrigible unless not only all those things are found verified which are required by the common law (notwithstanding the constitutions of any religious order even confirmed and approved by the Holy See), but also, until the delinquent has been tried by fasting and patience for one year in confinement. Therefore, let every order have private prisons, at least one in every province.

The crimes in question must be such as by natural or civil law would merit the punishment of death or imprisonment for life (Reiffenstuel, "Jus Can. univ.", no. 228). Innocent XII reduced the year required by the above-mentioned decree to six months (Decree "Instantibus", 2). A decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council (13 November, 1632) declares that a religious is not to be judged incorrigible because he flees from imprisonment, unless, after being punished three times, he should make a fourth escape. As the civil laws do not, at present, permit of incarceration by private authority, the Congregation on the Discipline of Regulars has decreed (22 January, 1886) that trials for incorrigibility, preceding dismissal, should be carried out by summary, not formal, process, and that for each case recourse should be had to Rome. A vestige of the monastic imprisonment (which, of course, nowadays depends only on moral force) is found in the decree of Leo XIII (4 November, 1892), in which he declares that religious who have been ordained and wish to leave their order cannot, under pain of perpetual suspension, depart from the cloister (exire ex clausura) until they have been adopted by a bishop.

This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia.

[edit] Prison population statistics

As of 2006, it is estimated that at least nine million people are currently imprisoned worldwide. <ref name="homeoffice-r188">Template:Cite web</ref> It is believed that this number is likely to be much higher, in view of general under-reporting and a lack of data from various countries, especially authoritarian regimes. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the prison population in most countries has increased significantly [citation needed].

In absolute terms, the United States currently has the largest inmate population in the world, with more than 2 million <ref>Template:Cite web</ref> in prison and jails. In 2002, both Russia and China also had prison populations in excess of 1 million <ref name="homeoffice-r188"/> <ref>Template:Cite web</ref>.

As a percentage of total population, Rwanda has the largest prison population as of 2002, with more than 100,000 (of a total population of around 8 million), largely as a result of the 1994 genocide. The United States is second largest in relative numbers with 486 prisoners per 100,000 of population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, also making it the largest in relative numbers amongst developed countries). New Zealand has the second highest prison population per capita amongst developed countries, with 169 prisoners per 100,000.

In 2003, the United Kingdom had 73,000 inmates in its facilities, with France and Germany having a similar number.

The high proportion of prisoners in developed countries may be explained by a range of factors, including better funded criminal justice systems, a more strict approach to law and order (eg. through the use of mandatory sentencing), and a larger gap between the rich and the poor. In non-developed countries, rates of incarceration may be a reflection of a tendency for some crimes to go unpunished, political corruption, or the use of other mechanisms which provide an alternative to incarceration as a means of dealing with crime (eg. through the use of reconciliation).

Prison population per 100,000 inhabitants
USA Russia UK Canada Germany Italy France Vietnam Sweden Denmark Japan Iceland
740 713 124 102 98 92 80 75 64 61 37 29

According to the last statistics by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (October 2005, "Prisoners in 2005), the "rate of incarceration in prison at yearend 2005 was 488 sentenced inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents". However, if one adds the jail population to that number, 252, one comes up with the more realistic figure of 740 inmates per 100,000 residents.

Mean: Estimate of 197 (196.63) Median: 92 Range: 696

[edit] Juvenile Prisons

Prisons for juveniles (people under 18) are know as young offenders institutes and hold minors who have been convicted, many countries have their own age of criminal responsibility in which children are deemed legally responsible for ther actions for a crime.

[edit] Prisons by country

[edit] Prisons in Australia

Many prisons in Australia were built by convict labour in the 1800s. During the 1990s various state governments in Australia engaged private sector correctional corporations to build and operate prisons whilst several older government run institutions were decommissioned. Operation of Federal detention centres was also privatised at a time when a large influx of illegal immigrants began to arrive in Australia.

[edit] Prisons in Japan

[edit] Prisons in the United Kingdom

For information on prisons and related subjects in the United Kingdom, see articles on Her Majesty's Prison Service, on the United Kingdom prison population and the List of United Kingdom prisons. Also see house arrest.

[edit] Prisons in Canada

Historic Morrow County jail in tiny Mount Gilead, Ohio, a purely temporary facility.

[edit] Prisons in France

France has 188 prisons in mainland and the oversea territories. Statistics showed around 50,000 places on July 1, 2005 for around 60,000 prisoners.

[edit] Prisons in the United States

[edit] Prisons in history

The following are a selected list of prisons with well-known historical significance:

[edit] Cultural references to prisons and prison life

There are many famous work of literature describing or discussing prisons. Examples include:

There have been several films produced that depict prison life, including:

There have also been a number of television programs, including:

[edit] Corresponding with prisoners

Corresponding with prisoners is very helpful to them, but carries risks for both correspondents - improper mail to inmates can cost them privileges (normally, all mail to inmates is read by prison staff). Use of a pen-pal service reduces (but not eliminates) these risks - as of 2005, there were more than 36 such services for U.S. prisoners alone.

[edit] See also

[edit] References


[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

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