Custody & Security in Correctional Facilities

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  • 0:04 Correctional Facilities
  • 2:35 Minimum Security Prisons
  • 3:48 Medium Security Prisons
  • 4:48 Maximum Security Prisons
  • 7:00 Supermax Prisons
  • 8:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

There are many different types of correctional facilities. Prisons and other facilities are operated at various levels of security, ranging from minimum to maximum. This lesson explains the custody and security in various types of correctional facilities.

Correctional Facilities

The United States is the land of the free, right? But did you know that there are more people behind bars in the U.S. than in any other country? Though the United States makes up approximately 5% of the world's population, it makes up approximately 25% of the world's incarcerated population.

When someone is incarcerated, it means that person is detained in a correctional facility. There are several different types of correctional facilities in the United States. A correctional facility is any institution or building used to detain people who are in the lawful custody of the government. People can be in the lawful custody of the government for many different reasons. The reason for a person's custody determines the type of correctional facility in which that person is detained.

Let's look at a few examples, starting with jails. Jails are temporary holding facilities operated on a local level, usually by the county government. Jails hold people who have been:

  • Recently arrested and are waiting to be charged with a crime
  • Charged with a crime and are awaiting trial
  • Convicted of a lower-level crime and are serving a sentence shorter than one year

Jails are different than prisons. Prisons are correctional facilities used for long-term confinement and usually run by the state. Prisons hold people who have been convicted of crimes and are serving sentences, typically longer than one year and up to life in prison.

Federal penitentiaries are correctional facilities used for long-term confinement and usually run by the federal government. Federal penitentiaries are federal prisons. They hold people who have been convicted of federal crimes and are serving sentences.

Note that correctional facilities also vary by security level. The federal government uses a number scale to label prisons on a scale from one to six, with level six representing the highest security level. Most state prison systems label their correctional facilities as minimum, medium or maximum security.

Minimum Security Prisons

Let's examine minimum security first. Both state and federal prison systems use minimum security prisons. These are correctional facilities operated with the fewest restrictions on the inmates. These prisons house mostly non-violent offenders who pose little, if any, risk to the public. Many minimum security inmates are first-time offenders and have been convicted of 'white collar' crimes, such as forgery or fraud.

Sometimes minimum security prisons don't look like prisons at all. Some look like camps, farms or college campuses. The outside usually has a simple fence and sometimes has no fence. Inmates often live in dormitories rather than cells and have access to shared bathrooms. Though the inmates are usually free to move about the prison grounds, they are monitored and must be present for regular check-ins.

The inmates are normally provided with access to a wide array of educational classes and work programs. Visitation hours are usually generous, though conducted in a secure and public area.

Medium Security Prisons

Now let's take a look at medium security. Both state and federal prison systems use medium security prisons. These are correctional facilities operated with more restrictions than minimum security facilities, but fewer restrictions than maximum security facilities. These inmates are typically lower-level offenders who pose little risk to the public. Many have committed minor assaults or thefts.

Like minimum security, many of these prisons use dormitories rather than cells. Unlike minimum security, medium security inmates aren't usually quite as free to move about the prison. These prisons still offer classes and work programs for the inmates, but the guards will monitor the inmates' whereabouts. Medium security prisons are normally enclosed by a razor wire fence in order to prevent escapes, and some use guard towers.

Maximum Security Prisons

Now, when you see a prison on TV or in a movie, that prison is usually maximum security. These are correctional facilities operated with the most restrictions on the inmates. Only about a quarter of all prison inmates are housed in maximum security. Both state and federal prison systems use maximum security prisons. Also note that most local jails are operated on a maximum security level.

Maximum security prisons usually hold inmates who are serving sentences longer than one year and who are repeat offenders or who have been convicted of serious crimes. Many maximum security inmates have been convicted of violent felonies, such as assault, robbery or murder. In states that allow the death penalty, the state's death row is located in a maximum security facility. Generally speaking, maximum security inmates are deemed to be a threat to public safety.

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