What you should remember:
- Today's overcrowded prisons are largely the result
of historical efforts to humanize the treatment of
offenders. Prior to the development of prisons, early
punishments were often cruel and torturous. "Doing time for
crime" is modern society's answer to the corporal
punishments of centuries past.
- Prisons are long-term secure confinement facilities
in which convicted offenders serve time as punishment for
breaking the law.
- Prisons in the United States have evolved through
nine stages: 1. the Penitentiary Era (1790-1825); 2. the
Mass Prison Era (1825-1876); 3. the Reformatory Era
(1876-1890); 4. the Industrial Prison Era (1890-1935); 5.
the Punitive Era (1935-1945); 6. the Era of Treatment
(1945-1967); 7. the Community-Based Format (1967-1980); 8.
the Era of Warehousing and Overcrowding (1980-1995); and 9.
the Just Deserts Era (1995-present).
- Prisons today exist at both the state and federal
level. Although most are overcrowded, prison populations
continue to grow--fed in part by America's long-standing
War on Drugs. Similarly, the just deserts philosophy,
characterized by a "get-tough-on-crime" attitude, continues
to swell prison populations.
- The just deserts model emphasizes individual responsibility. Grounded squarely on the concept of just deserts, imprisonment is seen as the appropriate and preferred response to criminal behavior.
- Some scholars argue that the rate of criminal offending varies inversely with the level of imprisonment. That is, as imprisonment rates increase, crime rates decline. Other scholars, however, argue that there is not a strong relationship between the two.
- Jails are short-term confinement facilities which
were originally intended to hold suspects following arrest
and pending trial. They face many of the same problems as
prisons, including overcrowding and burgeoning growth.
- The movement towards increased use of privately-run
correctional institutions which began a few decades ago has
since expanded. Privatization continues to face many
hurdles, however, not the least of which is the question of
deciding who is ultimately responsible for the fate of
inmates held in such facilities--the state or the
corporations that run them.