Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Other fields of psychology: AI · Computer · Consulting · Consumer · Engineering · Environmental · Forensic · Military · Sport · Transpersonal · Index

This article needs rewriting to enhance its relevance to psychologists..
Please help to improve this page yourself if you can..

Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick, Canada is an institution that is part of Corrections Canada. Opened in 1880 as a maximum security prison, it now functions as a medium security facility.

A prison, penitentiary, or correctional facility is a place in which individuals are physically confined or interned, and usually deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Prisons are conventionally institutions which form part of the criminal justice system of a country, such that imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime.

A criminal suspect who has been charged with or is likely to be charged with a criminal offense may be held on remand in prison if he or she is denied, refused or unable to meet conditions of bail, or is unable to post bail. This may also occur where the court determines that the suspect is at risk of absconding before the trial, or is otherwise a risk to society. A criminal defendant may also be held in prison while awaiting trial or a trial verdict. If found guilty, a defendant will be convicted and may receive a custodial sentence requiring imprisonment.

Prisons may also be used as a tool of political repression to detain political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and "enemies of the state", particularly by authoritarian regimes. In times of war or conflict, prisoners of war may also be detained in prisons. A prison system is the organizational arrangement of the provision and operation of prisons, and depending on their nature, may invoke a corrections system. Although people have been imprisoned throughout history, they have also regularly been able to perform prison escapes.

Other names and uses of the term

There are a variety of other names for prisons, such as a prison-house, penitentiary (IPA: /pɛnɪˈtɛnʃʌri/), or jail (in Australian and British English, the spelling gaol is sometimes used in formal contexts, although this spelling is pronounced in the same fashion). There are, also, many colloquial terms for prisons — such as big house, the Pen (short for penitentiary), the hole, beantown, stir, The Yard, can, clink, joint, jug, cooler, hoosegow, lockup, graybar hotel, concrete Hilton, lockdown, nick, pokey, slammer, up the river — and a similar range of terms for imprisonment, including doing time, bird, doing a bid, being a guest of Her Majesty, porridge, working for Copper John, etc.

In the 1790s, the Quakers in Pennsylvania coined the term penitentiary to describe a place for penitents sorry for their sins.[1] In the United States, prison or penitentiary typically denote a place where inmates go to serve long terms after having been found guilty of a felony. The United States is one country where the term jail generally refers to facilities where detainees are locked up for a relatively short time (either while awaiting trial or serving a sentence of one year or less upon conviction for a misdemeanor). In the United States, jails are usually operated under the jurisdiction of local (county) governments while prisons are operated under the jurisdiction of state or federal governments. In Washington some adult prisons are called reformatories, while in other states this is reserved as a term for a prison of the juvenile justice system. The term correctional facility has also been used.

Prison design and facilities

Male and female prisoners are typically kept in separate locations or prisons altogether. Prison accommodation, especially modern prisons in the developed world, are often divided into wings identified by a name, number or letter. These wings may be further divided into landings that are essentially "floors" containing up to thirty cells. Cells are the smallest prison accommodation, each holding at least one or two prisoners. Cells which hold more than three or four prisoners may be known as dormitories. A building holding more than one wing is known as a "hall".

This list contains the main facilities that prisons have.

  • A main entrance, which may be known as the gatelodge or "Sally port".
  • A chapel, which will often house chaplaincy offices and facilities for counselling of individuals or groups. Prisons may also contain a mosque (eg. HMP Stafford in the United Kingdom) or other religious facility.
  • An education department, which may include a library, and which provides adult or continuing education opportunities for prisoners.
  • At least one exercise yard, fenced areas which prisoners may use for recreational and exercise purposes.
  • A healthcare facility or infirmary, which often includes a dentist.
  • A segregation unit or "block", which is used to separate unruly, dangerous, or vulnerable prisoners from the general population. Inmates may be placed into segregation to maintain the safety and security of the institution, or the safety of any persons. Also, they may be segregated to preserve the integrity of an investigation, or when no other housing is practical.
  • Vulnerable prisoners units (VPs), or Protective Custody (PC), used to accommodate prisoners classified as vulnerable, such as sex offenders, former police officers, informants, and those that have gotten themselves in debt to other inmates.
  • Safe cells, used to keep prisoners under constant visual observation.
  • Isolation cells, often referred to as "the hole" in some jurisdictions, used to keep prisoners completely isolated, usually as a punishment for misbehavior.
  • Visiting rooms, where prisoners may be allowed restricted contact with relatives, friends, lawyers, or other people.
  • In some prisons in the USA, Death Row, which is a section kept for criminals awaiting execution.

Other facilities that are often found in prisons include kitchens, gymnasiums, and accommodation for prison staff.

Prisons are normally surrounded by fencing, walls, earthworks, geographical features, or other barriers to prevent escape. Multiple barriers, concertina wire, electrified fencing, secured and defensible main gates, armed guard towers, lighting, motion sensors, dogs, and roving patrols may all also be present depending on the level of security. Remotely controlled doors, CCTV monitoring, alarms, cages, restraints, nonlethal and lethal weapons, riot-control gear and physical segregation of units and prisoners may all also be present within a prison to monitor and control the movement and activity of prisoners within the facility.

Modern prison designs, particularly those of high-security prisons, have sought to increasingly restrict and control the movement of prisoners throughout the facility while minimizing the corrections staffing needed to monitor and control the population. As compared to the traditional landing-cellblock-hall designs, many newer prisons are designed in a decentralized "podular" layout with individual self-contained housing units, known as "pods" or "modules", arranged around centralized outdoor yards in a "campus". The pods contain tiers of cells laid out in an open pattern arranged around a central control station from which a single corrections officer can monitor all of the cells and the entire pod. Control of cell doors, communications and CCTV monitoring is conducted from the control station as well. Movement out of the pod to the exercise yard or work assignments can be restricted to individual pods at designated times, or else prisoners may be kept almost always within their pod or even their individual cells depending upon the level of security. Goods and services, such as meals, laundry, commisary, educational materials, religious services and medical care can increasingly be brought to individual pods or cells as well.

Conversely, despite these design innovations, overcrowding at many prisons, particularly in the US, has resulted in a contrary trend, as many prisons are forced to house large numbers of prisoners, often hundreds at a time, in gymnasiums or other large buildings that have been converted into massive open dormitories.

Lower-security prisons are often designed with less restrictive features, confining prisoners at night in smaller locked dormitories or even cottage or cabin-like housing while permitting them freer movement around the grounds to work or activities during the day.

See Panopticon for a historical prison design that has influenced modern designs.

Prisons and the criminal justice system

A convicted defendant will typically receive a "custodial sentence" if found guilty of committing a serious criminal offense such as physical assault, rape, murder, and acts involving circumstances of aggravation (eg. use of a weapon, violence, children), or has reoffended. In some countries, the law may require that courts hand down a mandatory and sometimes lengthy custodial sentence whenever a crime involves property, drugs or other prohibited substances, or where the defendant has previously been convicted (see mandatory sentencing). Some jurisdictions may hold a suspect in prison on remand for varying periods of time.

The nature of prisons and of prison systems varies from country to country, although many systems typically segregate prisoners by sex, and by category of risk. Prisons are often rated by the degree of security, ranging from minimum security (used mainly for nonviolent offenders such as those guilty of fraud) through to maximum security and super-maximum or supermax (often used for those who have committed violent crimes or crimes while imprisoned).

The issue of crime and punishment is a highly politicized issue. Prisons, prison systems, sentencing and imprisonment practices, and the use of capital punishment may all lead to controversy and debate. For example, the use of mandatory sentencing and the effectiveness of custodial sentences for minor property crimes is often debated, especially where the prison sentence required in such cases is more harsh than for the commission of violent crimes. Some of these issues are discussed further below.

Military and political prisons

Prisons form part of military systems, and are used variously to house prisoners of war, unlawful combatants, those whose freedom is deemed a national security risk by military or civilian authorities, and members of the military found guilty of a serious crime. See military prison.

Certain countries maintain or have in the past had a system of political prisons; arguably the gulags associated with Stalinism are best known. The definition of what is and is not a political crime and a political prison is, of course, highly controversial. Some psychiatric facilities have characteristics of prisons, especially when confining patients who have committed a crime and are considered dangerous.

Prison population statistics

As of 2006, it is estimated that at least nine million people are currently imprisoned worldwide. [2] It is believed that this number is likely to be much higher, in view of general under-reporting and a lack of data from various countries, especially authoritarian regimes. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the prison population in most countries has increased significantly [How to reference and link to summary or text].

In absolute terms, the United States currently has the largest inmate population in the world, with more than 2 million [3] in prison and jails even though violent crime and property crime have been declining since the 1990s according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. [4] In 2002, both Russia and China also had prison populations in excess of 1 million [2] [5].

As a percentage of total population, the United States also has the largest imprisoned population, with 738 people per 100,000 serving time, awaiting trial or otherwise detained [6]. New Zealand has the second highest prison population per capita amongst developed countries, with 169 prisoners per 100,000.

In 2003, the United Kingdom had 73,000 inmates in its facilities, with France and Germany having a similar number.

The high proportion of prisoners in developed countries may be explained by a range of factors, including better funded criminal justice systems, a more strict approach to law and order (eg. through the use of mandatory sentencing), and a larger gap between the rich and the poor. In non-developed countries, rates of incarceration may be a reflection of a tendency for some crimes to go unpunished, political corruption, or the use of other mechanisms which provide an alternative to incarceration as a means of dealing with crime (eg. through the use of reconciliation).

Prison population per 100,000 inhabitants
USA Russia UK Canada Germany Italy France Vietnam Sweden Denmark Japan Iceland
740 713 124 102 98 92 80 75 64 61 37 29

According to the last statistics by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (October 2005, "Prisoners in 2005), the "rate of incarceration in prison at yearend 2005 was 488 sentenced inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents". However, if one adds the jail population to that number, 252, one comes up with the more realistic figure of 740 inmates per 100,000 residents.

Mean: Estimate of 197 (196.63) Median: 92 Ran*e: 696

Juvenile Prisons

Prisons for juveniles (people under 18) are known as young offenders institutes and hold minors who have been convicted, many countries have their own age of criminal responsibility in which children are deemed legally responsible for their actions for a crime.

Corresponding with prisoners

Corresponding with prisoners is very helpful to them, but carries risks for both correspondents - improper mail to inmates can cost them privileges (normally, all mail to inmates is read by prison staff). Use of a pen-pal service reduces (but not eliminates) these risks - as of 2005, there were more than 36 such services for U.S. prisoners alone. A unique service called was established in 2004 as a means to enable family members or other supportive individuals to correspond with inmates through use of the Internet. The Missouri Department of Corrections has stated that, as of June 1, 2007, inmates will not be allowed to use prison pen-pal websites.("Acting upon the recommendation of an Offender Fraud Committee he formed in 2005, Missouri Department of Corrections Director Larry Crawford announced today the Department will ban offenders from soliciting pen pals on the internet. The ban takes effect June 1st.")

See also


  1. Vold, George B., Thomas J. Bernard, Jeffrey B. Snipes (2001). Theoretical Criminology, Oxford University Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 World Prison Population List. Home Office, UK.
  3. Harrison, Paige M., Allen J. Beck. Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  5. Entire World - Prison Population Totals. URL accessed on 2006-06-13.
  6. World Prison Population List (Seventh Edition). URL accessed on 2007-03-23.

Further reading

External links

Commons logo
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).