Jails/Prisons are commonly referred to as "total institutions" (Goffman 1961) where almost every aspect of life is controlled by the authorities. Jails/Prisons are also places which accelerate the aging process. It has been estimated that in terms of physical toll on the body, an inmate doing any amount of substantial time will be 10 years older than their actual chronological age. The one thing that's certain, for everybody concerned, staff included, is that they are "doing time" (a phrase that refers to all the kinds of human suffering that surround the prison environment). Correctional Officers, for example, suffer abnormally high rates of heart attacks, ulcers, hypertension, depression, alcoholism, and divorce. Statistically, serving twenty years in prison will take 16 years off your life expectancy (Silverman and Vega 1996). In terms of control, the reality is that there are two groups -- the convicts and the staff -- who are totally at odds with one another, each one constantly fighting each other in numerous ways. Each side sees the other only in terms of stereotypes, and there is no such thing as getting to know the real person in prison. Examples of well-run prisons are rare, and although each prison may have its own local customs, the majority of prisons have many issues, or problems, a select few which are discussed below.
Prisons have traditionally been considered "schools of crime" because the prison experience helps build up a reservoir of resentment, not to mention a grab bag of criminal tricks, that released inmates take back into society. Many inmates go in as petty, nonviolent offenders, and come out as serious, violent offenders. Serious, violent crime is committed by a "revolving door" group of people, referred to as 7/70 theory, where 7% of offenders commit 70% of the crime (Wolfgang et. al. 1972). It's customary to state that two-thirds of all released prisoners will be back in prison within three years of their release.
There are at least four sets of codes, or rules, that govern prison life: (1) the official administrative rules and regulations; (2) the convict code; (3) the color line; and (4) gang membership rules. The official rules tend to be basic expressions of do's and don'ts, and the convict code tends to be an idealized description of how the perfect convict should behave. The color line tends to be invisible, but one becomes instantly aware of it when certain racial groups are seen dominating turf areas, such as the weightlifting equipment. Race tends to determine friends, assignments, and cell location in what is sometimes called the process of balkanization (Carroll 1988). Gang codes of conduct tend to be underground outlines for criminal enterprise, and what little we know of them comes from translations of confiscated written material. In criminal justice, the official rules and the convict code (Cloward et. al. 1960) are the most studied.
|OFFICIAL RULES: Obey all orders; carry your ID card; stand for count; stand for searches; keep your cell orderly; report to assignments and your cell promptly; don't fight; don't gamble; don't have weapons or drugs; don't possess contraband.
|CONVICT CODE: Mind your own business; watch what you say; be loyal to convicts as a group; play it cool; be sharp; be honorable; do your own time; be tough; be a man; pay your debts; don't snitch; don't pressure; don't lose your head; don't attract attention; don't exploit others; don't break your word.
Note that the convict code doesn't outlaw beating, raping, or killing another inmate. Those activities might possibly draw unnecessary attention, but they go on all the time, and are, in fact, positively endorsed by the other codes involving the color line and gang membership. Violations of the convict code result in penalties ranging from disrespectful stares to swift death. Violations of official rules result in penalties ranging from 30 days loss of privileges (movie, yard, commissary) to 180 days in the hole (disciplinary segregation, or isolation).
SEGREGATION AND CONTROL
Use of a segregation cell where the inmate doesn't get to go out for 30, 60, or 90 days is the prison's ultimate tool for control. There are four ways an inmate can wind up in segregation: (1) disciplinary; (2) voluntary; (3) administrative; and (4) medical. There are also some prisons, designated supermax, which consist totally of segregated living units. The front of segregation cells are usually covered with a hard, Plexiglas covering designed to cut down on talking and reaching. Living conditions are usually harsh with a dim light on all the time, insects crawling all around, and poorly functioning toilets. Loud inmates are sometimes strapped down and sometimes gagged in segregation cells, although this practice is officially banned as unconstitutional. Symptoms of solitary confinement include hearing voices, seeing ghosts, amnesia, and violent psychosis. There are high rates of self-mutilation, head-banging, and suicide.
Disciplinary Seg (short for segregation) is the most common type, and generally consists of one side of a converted cellblock (four or five stories). Voluntary Seg (also known as Protective Custody) generally consists of the same setup in another cellblock on the other side of the prison. Administrative Seg often involves transfer to a supermax facility based upon the inmate's classification as being a security risk. Medical seg units consist of psychiatric floors, suicide watch wards, and hospital-like wards for the elderly, infirm, or seriously ill inmates. While in disciplinary seg, an inmate is entitled to one hour of outdoor recreation a day, and most prisons have small, special fenced-in areas for this, but "yard" privileges depend upon good behavior, both in segregation and general population.
Privileges are revoked on the basis of behavior, and depend upon custody level (A grade = all privileges; B grade = some privileges; C grade = no privileges). Usually a mini-hearing (often by a correctional counselor) is held for minor violations, and yard, movie, commissary, phone, or job assignment privileges can be revoked for period of time. For major violations, or adjustment issues, a hearing is held (often by a panel of three employees) and good time can be revoked. Good time is the prison's second most powerful tool for control. All but four states have good time policies, and although the amount varies, the following is typical: day-for-day good time (where one year of good behavior results in one less year to serve); compensatory good time (something like five to ten days a month are earned, much like an employee earns sick time or vacation time); and meritorious good time (doing something like saving a guard's life or turning in some lost keys) which ranges from 90-180 days per year at the discretion of the warden. Good time is also sometimes awarded for successful completion of an educational or vocational program, and some states have passed laws requiring at least a GED or high school diploma to be released.
The snitch game, or snitch system, is the prison's third tool for control, existing side-by-side with another tool, the referent power of guards who have the respect of inmates because they are connected with the administration. New penology (DiIulio 1987) dictates that good governance by correctional officers is the key to maintenance of good prisons. Others (Rolland 1997) argue that use (and abuse) of a snitch system is the main cause of violence in prison.
PATTERNS OF INMATE ADAPTATION
One of the oldest areas of research in criminal justice is the study of how (male) inmates adapt, accommodate, or adjust to prison life. Classic books by some well-known authors in this area include Clemmer (1940), Sykes (1958), Cloward (1960), and Cressey (1961). These works were less concerned with the process of institutionalization whereby an inmate becomes so adjusted they prefer prison life over street life (an idea best captured by Goffman's term colonization), and were more concerned with the concept of prisonization (a term generally attributed to Clemmer) whereby inmates learn the values, attitudes, roles, and argot (language) of inmate life. These authors intended to see if sociological principles of organization applied to prisons as mini-societies.
Wheeler (1961), for example, found that inmate commitment to prison society followed a U-shaped curve. That is, when an inmate first enters the prison, they are still highly committed to the rules of conventional society. As time passes, their misbehavior increases, reflecting more of a commitment to inmate codes. As they get close to release from prison, they renew a commitment to the values of the outside world. This is both good and bad. It means most inmates orient themselves for law-abiding behavior shortly before they get out, but on the other hand, there is no sharp increase in prosocial behavior toward the end like there is in the J-shaped curve of conformity in the free population.
Other researchers have debated what might be called the importation-exportation hypothesis. This refers to the question of whether inmate codes are simply a reflection of general criminal values, and imported or brought to prison from the street, or whether general criminal values originate from the deprivations of prison life, and are exported by prisoners raised in these schools of crime. This debate remains largely unsettled, and it still persists in many circles where prisoner argot, or language, is studied to see if the words have the same meaning to criminals out on the street. To me, there appears to be more support for the importation argument because in the 1960s and 1970s at least, prisoners seemed sensitive to protest and demonstrations going on in the outside world (Jacobs 1977). Irwin (1970) describes, for example, the way prisoner subcultures tend to reflect cultural changes on the outside. The exportation (also called the deprivation or indigenous origin) model also has its adherents, such as Sykes' (1958) listing of the pains of imprisonment -- which allegedly form the nexus around which prisoner and criminal subcultures are built:
loss of liberty
loss of goods and services
loss of heterosexual relationships
loss of autonomy
loss of personal security
Certain forms of rhyming, rap, tattoos, and dress have prison origins. For example, the practice known as "sagging" where adolescent boys allow their pants to sag -- exposing their underwear -- originates from jail and prison policies denying inmates the use of belts (because they could be used as a weapon or means to commit suicide). It was exported to the streets on or around 1995 as a statement of African American solidarity as well as a way to offend white society.
INMATE PERSONALITY AND HEALTH
There have been many studies about what types of personalities develop while in prison, and these typologies have been analyzed dozens of ways, from the psychological perspective (Toch 1977) to the more modern tendency to regard them as "desocialized" lifestyles typified by insecurity, stress, and unpredictability (Cordilia 1983). The lifestyle approach refers to inmates finding their niche, or place, in inmate society, and there are three general ones (Schrag 1961). A "doing time" lifestyle involves comfort-seeking and avoiding any trouble that might lengthen one's sentence. A "jailing" lifestyle is embraced by state-raised inmates who are colonized. A "gleaning" lifestyle focuses on self-improvement while in prison. A fourth category, "disorganized" is used to refer to inmates who are unable to develop any of the other three orientations (Irwin 1970). The disorganized types (often those with low IQs or mental impairments) are the most frequent violators of official prison rules.
Many prisons have significant problems with the physical and mental health of their inmates. Most lawsuits by prisoners against the prison have to do with substandard medical treatment. Some prisons now contain geriatric wings to house a growing number of elderly inmates over 75 years of age. Older, ill inmates costs taxpayers twice as much a year as an average inmate, about $65,000 a year. A little over 2% (26,000) of inmates are infected with the AIDS virus and are HIV positive, but only about 19 states test for HIV/AIDS upon admission, whereas the other states test only if the inmate belongs to a high-risk group, or upon request. Tuberculosis (TB) rates run higher than HIV rates because prisons provide optimal conditions for the spread of this disease. The U.S. DOJ did a study in 1996 and found that 14% of inmates had positive tuberculin skin test results, but it was not known how infectious their conditions were. AIDS, however, is the single leading cause of inmate death, with about 1,500 inmates dying every year from it.
It is commonly reported that at least 20% of inmates have some form of serious mental illness. The rates are higher in the nation's jail system. Only about 13% of this population are receiving regular treatments of psychotropic medication. A smaller fraction, about 2%, are so mentally ill that they need to be housed in a special mental health unit. The demographic group with the highest rates of mental illness are white female prisoners. Blacks and Hispanics, for some reason, have much lower rates of mental illness in prison. The most common type of mental illness is full-blown psychosis with symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.
TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION
Educational programs seem to be the most effective treatment program. The most common figure quoted on its success is that inmates who complete at least a GED or high school diploma are at least 10% less likely to reoffend after release. Prior to the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1994, it used to be that inmates could obtain college educations by qualifying for federal aid, but now that is up to each state in how it decides to find funding for higher education. Vocational training programs have mixed results, with some work programs (like computer data entry) producing trouble-free employment rates of 30% for ex-offenders with other programs (like food service) only producing 1% success rates. Psychological, counseling, and social work programs have been studied extensively, with some experts in criminal justice agreeing with the Martinson Report (Martinson 1974) that "nothing works" in the hundred or so variations of treatments that have been evaluated, to Palmer's (1991) findings that certain programs can work if adequately funded and properly run. A basic problem is, that in most prisons, rehabilitative programs only reach about 5% of the inmate population.
VIOLENCE IN PRISON
Prisoners suffer injuries caused by staff, other inmates, and from accidents. Most violence is socialized, which means it's a normative part of coping with the status hierarchies and gangs in prison. There is no statistical reporting system for injuries in prison, but best estimates are that 26,000 serious assaults occur each year. Prisons have a more widespread problem with instances of sexual abuse. The Stop Prisoner Rape organization estimates that one-fourth (25%) of inmates experience at least one forced sex episode. In a 2001 article, "The Rape Crisis Behind Bars", the New York Times estimated that more than 290,000 males are sexually assaulted behind bars every year, and many victims report single incidents becoming daily assaults. Another organization put the daily estimate at 60,000 unwanted sexual acts per day. Each year, about 100 prisoners commit suicide, 100 more are murdered by fellow inmates, and an additional 250 die of unknown causes that were apparently not natural, self-inflicted, accidental, or resulting from homicide.
Gangs are implicated in about 85% of all prison violence, and racial or ethnic gangs dominate prison society in many institutions. Prison gangs usually have stricter "blood-in, blood-out" rituals than street gangs, and they control the hidden economy and rackets in many prisons. They are more tightly organized than street gangs, and in some cases, can arrange the killing of someone on the street or in another prison.
Riots have been extensively studied, especially during the extraordinary 1970s prison riot decade (Useem &Kimball 1989). One theory, called the deprivation model, holds that prison riots are caused by the stressful and oppressive conditions of living without freedom and the staples of life outside the institution. The Attica riot of 1971 may have been due to deprivation, as the inmates there felt a pent-up frustration of being treated like animals. Another theory, called the power vacuum model, holds that prison riots occur when there is turnover among staff and particularly when wardens and assistant wardens come and go. During times of personnel turnover (and prisons have notoriously high rates of turnover), power tends to concentrate in the hands of mid-level managers, who rely on snitch systems, enact inconsistent policies, and believe they are accountable to no one. Inmates tend to react to these things by rioting, as they did in the New Mexico Santa Fe riot of 1980.
The privatization movement in corrections has its roots in the history of 19th century prison labor, and there have been five models of prison labor: the lease, the contract, the piece-piece, the state account, and state use (Shichor & Gilbert 2001). The first three models are private systems, and the last two are public systems. Starting with the last two, the state account system allowed whatever prisoners made or built to be sold on the open market, with the money going back into the state treasury, or state accounts. The state account system ended with the 1929 Hawes-Cooper Act in response to demands from labor unions. The state use system, which many states currently use, requires whatever inmates make or build to only be sold or used among other government facilities. For example, the common stereotype of inmates making license plates for a state's department of motor vehicles is a state use system. The private lease and contract systems were common in the 19th century, and have involved the hat making, shoemaking, barrel making, lumber milling, turpentine making, tobacco farming, and sugar cane industries, to name a few. In a lease arrangement (more commonly used in the South with black inmates), inmates were farmed-out to corporations during the day and went back to sleep in their prison cells at night. For example, chain gangs are a type of lease system when inmates do more than just clean roadways. In a contract arrangement (more commonly seen in the North with white inmates), a warden with extra cell space or a corporation that has built a secure dormitory offers to take inmates in from overcrowded facilities (usually at a cost of $30 per day) and requires work out of those inmates enough to turn a profit (usually $40 a day). The piece-piece system is a variation of a lease or contract arrangement where a corporation agrees to buy certain prisoner-made goods at a certain price per item. For example, the federal UNICOR system in the Bureau of Prisons is a piece-piece system in which federal inmates help guarantee continued delivery of low-priced machine or wire parts.
Modern privatization follows the contract model, and almost 200 private prisons exist in 31 states (Texas, California, Florida, and Colorado are heavily privatized). The market is dominated by three big corporations - Prison Realty Trust, Corrections Corporation of America, and Wackenhut Corrections Corporation - which together account for over half of the private prison population. Ten other corporations are involved in the private prison industry. About 6% of the state prisoner population are housed in private prisons, and about 11% of the federal prisoner population are housed in private prisons. Private prisons are typically well-staffed and well-equipped, and have an extraordinary safety record. Critics argue that if they were allowed to engage in "cherry-picking" the most well-behaved inmates, they too could have well-run prisons. Australia and England make extensive use of private prisons.
WOMEN IN PRISON
Only about 6% of the inmate population are women, and this percentage has remained relatively stable for years, although there have been steady increases since 1980. The United States has 53 prisons women and 29 coed facilities. The coed facilities present less problems than one would expect, a phenomenon some experts attribute to the "softening" effect women have on male inmates. The living conditions at a women's prison are somewhat more pleasant, but there is often a shortage of programs. Women's prisons are usually less security-conscious. Neither the inmate code nor the hidden economy is well-developed. Rather than form gangs, women tend to create pseudofamilies, in which they adopt various family roles -- father, mother, daughter, sister -- in a type of half serious, half play-acting set of relationships. Some of these roles, but not all of them, involve homosexual relationships.
About 80% of women in prison are mothers, and about 25% of women in prison get pregnant during their prison experience. States vary on their policies for how long a newborn infant can remain with their mother, and a small number of states have provided in-house nurseries allowing for lengthy stays. In most places, however, the policy is a newborn must be placed with a family member or social service agency within three weeks.
Courts held to a hands-off policy with respect to prisons until Cooper v. Pate (1964) which gave inmates the right to sue for guard brutality, inhumane conditions, inadequate nutrition and medical care, theft of personal property, and denial of basic rights. Constitutional rights have been slow in coming for inmates. The most gains have been with their First Amendment rights (speech, mail, religion), but these are generally constrained by the courts in allowing for normal penological practice. Their Fourth Amendment rights (search, privacy) are severely constricted. Their Fifth Amendment rights are practically non-existent. Their Eighth Amendment rights (cruel & unusual punishment) are activated when prison officials violate a deliberate indifference standard, from Estelle v. Gamble (1976), which essentially means ignoring serious medical problems or conditions that make up wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain. Their Fourteenth Amendment rights include minimal due process in disciplinary hearings (Wolff v. McDonnell 1974), and at least some equal protection from racial segregation, at least during periods when racial violence is not on the verge of happening. On average, there are over 20,000 inmate lawsuits a year, but few are successful, with only one usually reaching the Supreme Court every four years. Many people find the subject of prisoners' rights and correctional law very interesting.