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Jail and Prisons Comparison Essay Sample

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Jail and Prisons Comparison Essay Sample

Most people do not realize that there are differences between jails and prisons. Jails hold people awaiting trial or people that are sentenced for a short term, which is usually less than a year. That is jails place in corrections. Prisons hold people that are convicted of crimes and sentenced for a longer term. In the United States, jails are most often run by sheriffs and/or local governments and are made to hold individuals awaiting charges for their case, serving time for a misdemeanor sentence, or they have been convicted and are waiting to get transported to prison. Jails were mostly dark, filthy, and overcrowded in the 1800’s. There was no separation between men and women, the sane and the insane, the young and the old, and the convicted and the un-convicted. The state and federal prison systems are very much alike, but have many differences which make both systems unique. Many people refer to the federal system to be associated with white collar criminals, while state prisoners are blue collar criminals.

Under federal system, criminals usually are incarcerated for extended periods of time. Since the early 1800s, the state prison has been in existence with the first prison being the Sing Sing state prison. The Sing Sing state prison is one of the oldest prisons and is still in use today. The original history of the federal prison system dates back to the 1890’s but it was not until 1930 that a bill establishing a federal prison system was signed by president Hoover that would start the building of actual federal facilities. The growth of the federal prison system continued to rise because the United States government created more federal laws with the times of white collar crimes and bank robberies. In the federal system, security levels classify prisoners and institutions as administrative, high, medium, low, and minimum. A drug seller or a political person is usually the main types of criminals in the federal system today. The state prison system is arranged of a network of small prisons that hold most of the United States’ prison populations.

The state prison has three levels of security. This includes level one minimum security, level two medium security, and level three high security. They have recently added level four super maximum security. There is one type of institution that is referred to as an open security facility. These institutions are called half-way houses and are made to harbor pre-release offenders. Another form of institution is a multi-level prison which can house two or four types of security levels in the same facility. State prisons incarcerate sex-offenders, habitual offenders, violent crime offenders, and drug users. There are four state prison systems that exist in today’s penitentiary system. These include open security facilities, medium-security prisons, close-high security prisons, and maximum-security prisons. As of 2010, statistics show that the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other country. One out of every 100 adults is either in jail or prison. About two million Americans currently live behind bars in jails or state and federal penitentiaries.

There are obvious reasons and causes as to why people are going to jail or prison at such a high rate ranging from poverty to the effect of new or changed sentencing laws. The state and the federal government began to crackdown on crime which led to the rise of the prison population in the late 1970’s. A turning point was New York State’s 1973 deception of mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenses. This was under the administration of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The increase in prison rate is not just due to the number of arrests made, but because people are entering prison due to violations in probation or parole and people are staying in prison for longer periods of time under the mandatory sentencing laws. Poverty is one of the highest reasons why. Groups that are categorized as living at or below the poverty level tend to go to prison or jail.

Once someone has been to jail or has been incarcerated, they are categorized by most employers as third class citizens, which limit their circumstances to climb out of the cycle of poverty after their release. This is the reason why individuals usually end up going back to prison. Juveniles that are being tried as adults have also contributed to an increase in prison population. Most of the laws have been changed to punish youth offenders by altering and changing the sentencing structure. More juveniles have ended up going to prison for minor crimes than before in the history of the United States. Incarceration at a young age can set off a cycle of visits to prison and can be detrimental to a youth or young adult. If a juvenile does time and gets out, the chances of social stability and gainful employment are minimal because of their incarceration. Another factor to growth in prisons is an increase of women being incarcerated. Most reports say that women are the fastest growing section of jail and prison population.

That surpasses that of male prisoners in all 50 states. Many women that are incarcerated share similar traits. These include drug addiction and anxiety disorders. They also share mental problems such as depression, schizophrenia, and anger. Some women are uneducated and homeless and are victims of poverty. Jails and prisons for women are being built twice the rate of male prisons. Some criminals that do their time and get out have been in prison for so long that they do not know anything but that life. That leads to them doing another crime just to get back into prison to live, eat, and sleep. Jails were the beginning of how lawmakers would punish criminals. This is also how the prison system was started. The prison system went from holding criminals to trying to rehabilitate them. Although we may not have an answer to over population in these facilities, jails and prisons will continue to do their job in keeping society safe. Most state legislatures have altered or changed sentencing laws while prison reform advocates have been working to find solutions to reduce jail and prison populations.


Gil III, R. (2010). Federal and State Prison Systems. Retrieved from: http://voices.yahoo.com/federal-state-prison-systems-5523617.html. Johnston, N. (2012) Prison Reform in Pennsylvania. Retrieved from: http://www.prisonsociety.org/about/history.shtml. (2012). What Are The Causes Of Prison Growth? Retrieved from: http://www.ehow.com/info_8043714_causes-prison-growth.html.

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