Current Conditions in US Prisons Today

Prisons can either be federal or state facilities. In both cases they are distinguished with regard to the level of security: minimum, medium and maximum. The security level categorizations are dependent on the design of the facility.

While levels of custody are variable from state to state, classification of inmates with respect to the level of security that can be accorded in incarceration is determined by the perceived level of public safety risk the convict presents, extent of violence, crime severity, use of weapon, escape history, history of violence, unresolved arrest warrants and time left to serve as well as other factors related to institutional risk like severity of institutional misconduct, frequency of institutional misconduct, gang affiliation, primary program compliance, substance abuse and age(Stanko et al 2004, p.

18; May et al 2007, p. 13). Even though, the criminal justice system relies on the correctional facilities to achieve the fundamental foundational principles and purposes of incarceration, the inability of the prison system to achieve its core operational objectives has been blamed for the increasing recidivism rates in the United States today. Current Conditions in US Prisons Today Following the 1980-90s get tough attitude on fighting crime, the number of people incarcerated has been growing. Currently, US prison facilities are understaffed, overcrowded, dangerous and unhealthy living environments.

At the extreme, a list of hazardous conditions include overflowing toilets and pumping systems, inadequate heating systems, unsafe and unsanitary kitchen facilities, grossly inadequate medical care, few or absent suicide prevention measures, unventilated cells, inadequate sleeping arrangements and the confinement of more than one person in a cell. Overcrowding and under staffing aggravate violence between inmates and correctional officers or even among the inmates themselves. Killing of other inmates has become more rampant.

Coupled to all these, sharp budgetary cuts in substance abuse treatment, prison based education and other rehabilitation driven programming imply that there are fewer rehabilitation programs in prison facilities today(Worell 2001, p. 620). These deteriorating prison conditions have been complicated by the existence of super maximum or “super max” prisons. Prisoners incarcerated in such facilities are kept in windowless individual cells for 22 or even 23 hour a day. Showering and exercising in isolation takes between 60-90 minutes in the 24 hours.

Contact with other prisoners or staff is almost completely eliminated. For highly computerized facilities, operations of each single unit are basically run via remote control from a central control center. While these prisons are reserved for the most serious crimes in the criminal justice system, they are grossly incompatible with human rights. In a punitive and an overcrowded environment, effective administration of correctional programs is complicated and even when such convicts are released, they cannot adjust to the outside community.

Besides lacking education, family violence counseling, and job readiness training, these individuals are psychological impaired due to long periods of exposure to isolation. Upon release without even being prepared for transiting to the community, the inability to cope undoubtedly influences their subsequent actions and they are most likely to land back to prison hence the increasing recidivism rates (Worell 2001, p. 622). Apart from the long prison sentences, legislations such as the “three strikes law” have also been directly responsible for overcrowding and directly responsible for the increase in recidivism rates (Whitman 2005 p.

59). Programs Which Seek to Reduce Recidivism in Modern Prisons: A Brief Overview In almost all the states, convicted offenders are handed over to the department of correctional services which observes, interviews, tests and classifies an inmate. This classification system is used in assigning prisoners a custody level that is based on their perceived threat to other prisoners and to the institution. Classification is also used to assess a prisoner’s needs for education, vocational training, counseling or special problem treatments related to violence and drug abuse.

An inmate will be given a program which effectively occupies most of their time, helps them to develop constructive time management, decreases boredom and idleness which may turn into violence or disruptions. Psychological programs include cognitive skill building, behavior modification and psychotherapy. Additionally, special programs for sex offending, substance abuse, family living, self reliance like job training, and prerelease programs are equally provided.

Depending on the degree of volunteer efforts, self help groups can also exist in prisons. However, these programs are not prolific as politicians or the public may think or believe. A majority of prisoners (64%) are involved in prison industry, 33% in vocational and academic training, 4% in mental health programs and approximately 1% in sex offender programs (DeRosia 1998, p. 20). While there are numerous reasons why those in rehabilitation are so few, the main reason is inadequate financing.