Prison

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Inside view of Presidio modelo, a prison on an island, in Cuba

A prison or jail is a building where people are forced to live if their freedom has been taken away. The main use for prisons is as a punishment for breaking the law. Those who break the law and are convicted (found guilty) in court can receive a prison sentence, which is an order to spend an amount of time in prison. Prisons are usually run by the government.

There are other reasons why someone might be held in prison. Sometimes, people be held in prison before their trial (known as pre-trial detention or remand). In times of war, captured soldiers may become prisoners of war and civilians (non-soldiers) may be placed in an internment camp. In some countries, prisons are also used for political prisoners (people who disagree with the country's leader or government).

Other words for a prison include a gaol (pronounced like "jail"), penitentiary or correctional facility. In the US, the words "prison" and "jail" mean separate things. A US "jail" is run by a local government and holds people who have not yet had their trial or who have been convicted for a minor crime. A US "prison" or "penitentiary" is run by the state or federal government and holds people who are serving a long sentence for a serious crime. Outside of North America, "prison" and "jail" mean the same thing. There are lots of slang words for prisons.

Prison buildings and facilities[change | change source]

Presidio modelo, from outside

Prisons are usually surrounded by walls and gates. There are usually many locked gates inside the prison to control the inmates.

The inmates sleep in small locked rooms called cells. Cells have a bunk bed, a toilet, and a sink. Inmates are allowed to leave their cell every day for exercise. Some inmates work in the prison during the day, either in a factory or doing cooking or cleaning. Law enforcement officers called prison guards watch the inmates. The manager of a prison is called the warden (US, Canada), superintendent (some parts of the US, India) or governor (UK, Australia).

Prisons usually also include other buildings and facilities, such as a chapel, a library, an exercise yard, a gymnasium, an infirmary (small hospital), visiting rooms (for visits from family and lawyers), kitchens, and accommodation for prison staff.

The level of security a prison has depends on the type of prison. A "maximum security prison" has even more protection than a regular prison. Some prisons in the United States have a section called "death row", where people who have been sentenced to death are kept in prison until their execution. On the other hand, an "open prison" is a prison where inmates can often travel out of the prison. These are used for prisoners who have been convicted of minor crimes, or who will soon be released.

The United Nations made the "Standard Minimum Rule" for human treatment for prisoners in 1955.[1] Also the Article 10 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also affirm the treatment with humanity for them in prison. In some prisons, people imprisoned for child sexual abuse are separated from other prisoners for their own safety.[2]

Purpose[change | change source]

There are four main ideas about what prisons should be used for:

  • Rehabilitation: Prisons should be places that turn the prisoners into good people.
  • Deterrence: People should be scared by the thought of going to prison, so they will not want to commit crimes.
  • Incapacitation: Locking criminals up stops them from committing more crimes.
  • Retribution: By forcing them to spend time in prison, society is taking revenge against people who break the law.

Pre-trial detention[change | change source]

A person who has been charged with a crime, but has not yet been convicted for it in a court, may be sent to prison if:

  • the court thinks that the person may not come to their trial,
  • the court thinks that the person may be a danger to the community, or
  • (mainly in the US) the court has asked for bail money but the person cannot pay the amount.

In some parts of the US, a person who is arrested may be held at a county jail until they decide whether to charge or release the person. In other places, a person who is arrested will be held at a police station, not a prison.

Special prisons[change | change source]

Male and female inmates are usually kept in separate locations, and often in separate prisons.

There are special prisons for people under the age of 18 who commit crimes. These inmates are called young offenders or juvenile offenders. These places will not always have the word "prison" in their name, instead having names like "Young Offenders' Institution".

Controversy[change | change source]

Prisons are a controversial topic that people have different views about.

  • People who think that we should have prisons say that removing people who commit crimes from society prevents them from committing more crimes and punishes them for their behavior. They also say that putting people in prison may also prevent others who are likely to commit similar crimes from committing them.
  • People who think that we should not put people in prisons say that being put in prison makes people more violent and angry. People who commit minor crimes that are sent to prison meet violent criminals. As well, when people are sent to prison, they cannot see their family or children, which can cause problems for their family. Sometimes people are put in prison who have done nothing wrong. An American theory that is critical of prisons is called the prison industrial complex. People who believe in the prison industrial complex think that private prison companies want lots of people to be put in prison in order to make money.

Number of people in prison[change | change source]

As of 2006, there are currently nine million people in prison in the world. The United States currently has the most people in prison; it has more than 2 million people in prison. In 2002, both Russia and China also had over 1 million people in prison. In 2003, the United Kingdom had 73,000 people in prison; France and Germany had a similar number of people in prison.

Famous prisons in history[change | change source]

  • Alcatraz, San Francisco (historical)
  • Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York, scene of the most infamous prison riot in United States history
  • The Bastille, Paris, France (historical) In French
  • Devil's Island French Guiana (historical)
  • Leavenworth, Kansas, site of a federal prison and the military's primary prison, the United States Disciplinary Barracks.
  • Rikers Island, New York City, US (since 1884)
  • Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York, U.S. (since 1828)
  • The Tower of London, London, England (historical)

Cultural references to prisons and prison life[change | change source]

There are many books and poems about prisons or prison life, such as The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père and The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde.

There are also movies that depict prison life, including:

There have also been television programs, such as Prisoner: Cell Block H (1979–1986), Prison Break (2005–2009), Lockup (2005 - present) and Lockdown: Americas Hardest Prisons (2006 - present). A current TV show about a women's prison is Orange Is the New Black.

Related pages[change | change source]

  • County jail is a term used for local administrative security prisons that are in each county of the United States and for those awaiting trial as well those serving short sentences. Some of these institutions can also hold sentenced maximum security immates and some who are awaiting transport to state prisons if they're convicted of crimes.
  • state prisons is a term used for prisons that are in each state of the United States and for criminals convicted of crimes that land them in these institutions.
  • federal prison is a term for special prisons that are in each state of the United States, run by the Federal Bureau Of Prisons and for criminals who committed federal crimes that land them in these institutuions.
  • military prisons is a term for special prisons that are in each state of the United States, run by the miltary and for criminals who are convicted of war crimes that land them in these institutions.

References[change | change source]

  1. Standard Minimum Rule for the Treatment of Prisoners
  2. Kerbs, John J., and Jennifer M. Jolley. "Inmate-on-inmate victimization among older male prisoners." Crime & Delinquency 53.2 (2007): 187-218.
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, New York: Random House 1975.