State prisons are administered by state departments of corrections whose heads are usually appointed by state’s governor (qtd. in Cassel, 2007). According to Cassel, there are 30 federal prisons that house inmates convicted in federal courts of federal crimes. The Federal Bureau of Prisons administers these facilities, most of which are classified as minimum or medium security.
Two maximum-security federal prisons – at Marrion, Illinois, and Leavenworth, Kansas – were built to hold the most violent, dangerous, and aggressive inmates but even these are not sometimes sufficient that is why there are around 60 “supermax prisons” in 40 states, an construction is underway on an at least 15 more; in fact, the federal penitentiary system has committed itself to the supermax model for all future construction (qtd. in Cassel, 2007).
Although they do what they were designed to do, these new prisons cause considerable concern among criminologist and psychologist because, for one thing, the conditions of extreme isolation is prevalent in supermax prisons leave inmate especially vulnerable to abuse by guards; further, as many as half of these inmates may develop serious mental disorders, especially severe depression or some form of psychosis (qtd. in Cassel, 2007).
As Cassel (2007) quoted, a landmark federal court case challenging the conditions in California’s supermax prison system left the system intact, even though the court conceded that these prisons “may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate. Criminal Injustice Supermax prisons employ isolation, control, and behavior modification techniques. Prisoners are not allowed to communicate with other prisoners; since the trend in these institutions is utilize solid steel doors, rather than bars, complete isolation is virtually assured.
According to Rosenblatt (1996), prisoners must eat, sleep, and leave their entire lives alone in a cell; there is no congregate exercise or religious service, and censorship of reading materials is strict and educational programs via correspondence courses are severely restricted, if allowed at all. Prison official seek to curtail the expression of creativity or individuality by the prisoners.
Based on Rosenblatt (1996), prisoners are no allowed to know the time of day or night and basic human needs such as human contact, communication, and individuality are viewed by prison officials are threat to the smooth running and security of the institution and are, therefore proscribed. Visit by family members, often critical to a prisoner’s psychological well being, are restricted and take place under oppressive conditions that many family members refuse to return
Looking Toward the Future Although the supermax has been the promoted as the solution to chronically violent inmates, there is no good evidence to indicate that such facilities have been instrumental in reducing violence; on fact one study found that the state that most frequently utilized a supermax had higher rates of violence in their prison after they began sending prisoners to the supermax (qtd. in Pollock, 2005).
There are disturbing reports that the states send inmates who have mental health problems to supermax facilities rather than to mental-health facilities. This settings are worst possible environments for those who have mental health problems, and the solitary confinement can exacerbate an individual’s problems, especially when anti-psychotic drigs are also withheld (qtd. in Pollock, 2005). Conclusion
It is safe to assume that all prison systems will find some of their prisoners much more difficult to manage than others; Britain, too, has its share of serial killers; the prisoners typically housed in the special security units have been responsible for multiple deaths in bombing outrages; and some prisoners in its close supervision centers have killed in prison and openly threaten to kill again, while others have repeatedly taken hostages or assaulted staff; but in response to these and similar problems, the United States has embraced the idea of super-maximum security custody to a quite extraordinary degree, whereas, in Europe, the concept has fallen on stony ground (Jewkes, 2006).
There can be no question that both Federal and some state prison systems have to cope with the extremely violent and seemingly unpredictable prisoners, some of whom have been involved in gangs whose subcultures appear to be governed by racially motivated or other ‘hate’ crimes involving extreme violence (Jewkes, 2006). According to Jewkes (2006), some response has been necessary if only as temporary and tactical measure to protect both staff and prisoners; but it is hard to resist the conclusion that the use of supermax custody has become at best a pre-emptive strategy that is almost certainly disproportionate in scale to the problems faced and at worst a routine and cynical perversion of penological principles.
There is seems to be little doubt that American prisons have been, and continue to be, much more violent than their British counterparts: but before jumping to the extreme levels of response currently adopted in the United States it would be prudent to pose the question as to why this should be so (Jewkes, 2006).
Cassel, E. & Bernstein, D. A. (2007). Criminal Behavior. New York: Routledge. Jewkes, Y. & Johnston, H. (2006). Prison Readings: A Critical Introduction To Prisons and Imprisonment. New York: Willian Publishing. Liebling, A. & Maruna S. (2005). The Effects Of Imprisonment. New York: Willian Publishing. Pollock, J. M. (2005). Prisons: Today and Tomorrow. New York: Jones & Bartlett Publishers. Rosenblatt, E. (1996). Criminal Injustice: Confronting the Prison Crisis. New York: South End Press.