Though there are a variety of means that the criminal justice system in the U.S. penalizes convicted criminals for crimes committed, incarceration is one of the most common. The United States, in particular, favors sentencing prison time; having “the highest reported incarceration rate in the world”, sentencing approximately “750 inmates per 100,000 persons”. Below, we discuss the U.S. prison system, how it is organized, and what factors characterize the sentencing of incarceration in the criminal justice system.
There are many means of punishment in the U.S. criminal justice system for crimes committed by individuals. Depending on the jurisdiction in which the crime is processed, the criminal’s background, the nature of the crime, the crime classification, the specifics of the particular case, how the defendant pleads, as well as how much negligence is perceived by the court handling the case; will determine if a particular convicted criminal will-in fact-serve an inmate term, and how much time they will spend incarcerated.
The prison structure in this country is set up in parallel order to the U.S. legal structure that characterizes it. While federal statutes on what kinds of crimes and criminals should receive incarceration terms as a part of their sentence are the ruling priority, states can perceive these classifications of crime as well as their punishments, according to their own set of legal values. So, a defendant in one state may face the maximum incarceration time for a particular type of crime, whereas in another state he/she might only have to serve the minimum. With the exception of felony crimes-since most all felonies are sentenced with some sort of prison time-all other crimes can be considered for jail time. Misdemeanors are defined as being less severe in nature than felonies, with incarceration terms of less than one year. This said, a state jurisdiction or the jurisdictional court handling the criminal case within it-could determine that someone convicted of a petty theft crime serve 11 months in prison, despite any other extenuating circumstances, such as it being the defendant’s first offense or minor damage having occurred as a result of the crime. It all depends on the state in which the criminal case is processed, and how each approaches the federal regulation in place, whether or not prison time will ensue.
As regards the length of a particular sentence, again we refer back to the original structure put in place by the U.S. criminal justice structure, as well as how the states classify crime and punishment. While some states mandate that all incarceration sentences be given out as determinate, still others call for mandatory indeterminate sentences. Determinate sentences offer “a fixed-term sentenced pronounced by a judge”. In states that require an indeterminate sentencing for incarceration penalty, conversely, it is a bit more complicated. Since the sentence is not fixed according to a certain number of months or years, it is allocated according to a minimum and maximum-with the actual length of the term for a particular defendant being determined by the prison officials in which they serve their time.
In the United States prison structure, there are federal and state prisons, county jails, and municipal jails. Anyone just learning about the national incarceration structure might wonder how it gets decided which criminals go to which correctional facilities, since there are so many according to different jurisdictions. As certain classifications of crimes are processed in different jurisdictional courts-i.e. felony and serious crimes processed at state and county courts whereas infractions are processed at municipal courts-so it is true of crime classifications in relation to jurisdictional prisons. So, most often you will find a criminal convicted of a federal crime, serving time at a federal high security facility; a criminal convicted of a felonious crime and processed in a county or state court, serving time at either a county jail or state prison; and a criminal convicted of a minor crime or infraction serving time at a local municipal jail.
Within this basic structure of facility jurisdiction is also a classification of security: each prison has a different level of security with which to detain their inmates. The more serious of crime, the more apt the criminal is to be incarcerated in a higher security facility. The variables that are affected by security include a wide array of features to include: the inmate to security guard ratio, towers, barriers, external and internal security, and surveillance and detection equipment. In accordance to these variables, prisons are minimum security, low security, medium security, high security, and administrative security level facilities. With the exception of administrative security centers, low to high security correctional facilities share a graduation of security measures that is self explanatory. Administrative security locations, however, are specialized prisons for specific types of inmates, i.e. a facility just for “escape-prone” inmates or inmates “with serious or chronic medical problems”.
Another thing to consider when examining incarceration in this country is that there is more than just the standard jail or prison that many equate with incarceration. There are also alternative and specialized means of serving time for crimes committed. First, the distinction between jails and prisons should be defined. Prisons are run by the federal and state governments, while jails are run by the respective municipalities. Now, alternative prisons and jails are being used more and more, in both the private and public sectors, changing the face of incarceration in this country as we know it. Among the most popular of alternative incarceration centers are: juvenile detention centers, mental health detention facilities, and boot camp correctional centers. Each means of incarceration has been researched to be able to most positively approach the rehabilitation of the criminals sent there-offering specific care and punishment for specific criminals with specific needs.