31.08.2019 in Sociology

Role of Prisons and their Effectiveness in the United States


Prisons are government set facilities used for purposes of keeping and correcting wrongdoers in society. In the recent past, the roles of prisons as well as their effectiveness have been a matter of debate. Whereas some people argue that prisons have failed to meet their intended purposes, others agree that prisons are effective in terms of the roles they play. Consequently, determining the roles of prisons and their effectiveness is a sure way of understanding whether prisons serve their purpose in society.

Outline of Topic Themes

The current paper is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the different types of correctional facilities. These are the federal prisons, maximum security, close security, minimum and medium safety, and finally the supermax. In this part, the individual roles of each facility are outlined. The second part of the paper elaborates on the overall functions of prisons in the United States. The roles include rehabilitation, punishment, and keeping offenders away from society. It is in this part that their effectiveness is elaborated. The final part of the paper investigates the best possible situations describing the effectiveness and the role of prisons in society.

Types of Correctional Facilities

Both the state government and the federal government facilitate the operations of prisons in the United States. The federal government represents prisons using a numbered scale from level one to level six. The most secure prison, in this case, is the level six prison, whereas the level one prison is the least secure. Prisons are incarceration centers where convicted people are kept until their term is over. Inmates stay in different lockup facilities, which have a different level of security, administration of inmates, and the type of housing, tactics, and weapons that correctional officers use. Imprisonment is one form of punishment in the United States. It explains one role of prisons in the United States, which is to punish wrongdoers. There are many roles of prisons in the US; however, a few of these roles stand out from the rest. By examining numerous roles of prisons, one is in a position to judge whether prisons are intended for rehabilitating, punishing, or keeping criminals away from the society. Consequently, based on these examinations, the effectiveness of prisons according to these roles can be determined.

Prisons are of different types. The various types of prisons can help to understand the different roles they play. The federal prisons lead the park. The purpose of this prison is to keep people convicted of violating federal laws. The other role is to keep individuals awaiting trial. During their stay in the federal prisons, inmates are rehabilitated to be good citizens who abide by the laws of the state. The role of the federal prison is to keep these people away from the community as they pose a danger to other persons. Another type of prison is the minimum and medium security prisons. Here, the prisoners are not considered to be a threat to other people in the society. Therefore, they are not under tight security since they even sleep in dormitories. The inmates enjoy privileges like having a communal shower, sinks, as well as toilets. The number of correctional officers in these facilities are also few as compared to other types of prisons.

The primary role is keeping the inmates away from the comfort of their families and friends. The other role is to provide cheap labor to community services like cleaning up the streets. These inmates are useful in providing such services without pay. Close security prison is another type of prison. As the name suggests, the prisoners in these facilities are under close supervision. In one cell, there can be a maximum of two prisoners at any given time. The cells are equipped with toilets and sinks. Inmates are allowed to be out of the cell only for assignments or other correctional programs. The role of such prisons is not only to punish the prisoners but to rehabilitate them through correctional programs. The inmates are also kept away from the community since they are considered to be dangerous to the population; hence they are kept under tight security. A maximum-security prison is another type of jail. Here, the security is even tighter as compared to the earlier mentioned prisons. Each inmate is kept in an individual cell. The prisoners spend all of their time inside the cells. In some institutions, the prisoners may be allowed out of the cells for about an hour per day. However, with this one-hour freedom, the inmate has still confined in an exterior cage or a cellblock. The role of such prisons is to punish the prisoners and keep them away from the society.

The final type of prison is the supermax prisons. They provide the topmost level of prison security. The facilities are intended for keeping the individuals considered to be the most dangerous in the society. These individuals include serial killers, murderers, and other inmates who have committed assaults as well as other serious violators of the law. The individuals of this category are mostly referred to as criminals. The conditions in these facilities are considered harsh by the human rights society. However, a prison is not somewhere you expect to have a comfortable life. The prisoners usually spend 23 hours in the cells with the remaining time spent under the close supervision of a correctional officer. The role of these prisons is to punish the inmates. It is hard to stay in a cell for so long. This is significant punishment for someone who was used to seeing friends and family. The other role is keeping these people away from the public since they are deemed extremely dangerous.

Roles of Prisons in the United States

Having analyzed the different types of prisons, it is apparent that the primary roles of prisons are to rehabilitate inmates so that they may come out of the correctional facilities as better people. The other role is to punish wrongdoers. Here, the prisoners are deprived of essential things in life. They are subjected to harsh conditions, which mostly leads to mental illness. The other role is keeping the prisoners away from the public. More often than not, these people are dangerous to the public as they are violent. Keeping them away from the public is a sure way of ensuring that safety will be guaranteed.

Punishment for a role of the prisons is meted out proportionally to the offense that the prisoner has committed. Punishment has its theoretical merits. The prisoner is always kept on notice and has a right to accept the punishment, repent his /her wrongdoing, and finally refrain from doing the same to other people. In as much as criminologists try to highlight the real problems deviance and recidivism, it is worth noting that the brutality of wardens on prisoners is something to be investigated with great interest. Some analysts have come up with the traumatizing effects of treatment that most prisoners experience during their term of imprisonment. Human rights society that advocate for acceptable ways of inflicting suffering to inmates has a point in this whole affair as well. However, what they need to emphasize is the issue of justice being served. For instance, when one is subjected to suffering in the correctional facilities, it is a way of seeking revenge to the victim. Inmates should feel what the victims were feeling when they were committing the crime. Theories of punishment often fall short of explaining other social and economic factors, which play an important role in the process of imprisonment. Some of those who argue for equality are, therefore, quite abstract. The fact about discrimination should not hinder the process of punishment. The policies on punishment serve right the interest of both parties, the victim, and the offender. By letting criminals go scot-free, we are putting the brunt of punishment on the socially displaced and the dispossessed.

Theories of punishment do not give us the necessary tools to understand the economic underpinnings of our federal and state systems as they only focus on the faults committed by the individuals. On the other hand, the theory of rehabilitation is the best promise as it argues for mercy to the offender rather than revenge. A critique of the punishment theory is that in as much as people are being locked up and punished in prison, as soon as they come out, they always find themselves committing the same crimes hence going back to prison. This point clearly indicates that the role of prison to impose punishment on inmates is not sufficient. Were it effective, criminals who go through the correctional facilities would not find themselves back there immediately after being set free. The government has a lot to do if it wishes to make the fact that correctional facilities issue punishment as a form of making the convicts better truthful. The effectiveness of punishment is not felt. This is a worrying trend as the prisoners use state resources without paying for them and end up gaining nothing.

Rehabilitation as a role of the prisons is one fact that has helped many. The conditions of the prisons in the country are scary, but people survive because of the rehabilitation programs that exist in the institutions. From the torture that prisoners undergo in the facilities to missing their loved ones, most of them suffer from mental illness. However, there are remedies for such cases as there are psychologists in these institutions who are willing and ready to offer assistance if necessary. Inmates who are affected mentally are taken through a series of counseling sessions to bring them get back to normal. The counseling helps them join the society as even better people. Another rehabilitation program includes training inmates in various technical skills. By gaining the technical skills, the prisoners are sure to have something to do with getting out of prison. In most instances, prisoners are detached to the matters of the society so much that when they are released, they resort to committing crimes again for survival. However, with these programs in place, inmates leave the correctional facilities with new skills that help them cope with the way of life. The effectiveness of this role of prisons is essential.

The purpose of rehabilitation is effective as it helps correct the prisoners. It not only corrects them but also gives them a new life that is meaningful and assists the society economically. Former inmates have praised the rehabilitation saying that it helped them not to get engaged in the activities that would have made them worse while still in prison. In fact, the positive results of rehabilitation have led to the proposal to make all correctional facilities replace punishment with rehabilitation. However, it is expensive to guide and counsel prisoners as well as give them an extra skill in life, but the ultimate benefits are desirable and should be adopted. Life is not about how we see it today; rather it is about how we prepare for tomorrow as we enjoy the benefits of today that were achieved previously.

The role of prisons in keeping away criminals from the society is an interesting one. No one can deny that fact. It is true that confining wrongdoers in correctional facilities keep them away from the public. However, this is temporary. The criminals will be away for only a while. When their sentence comes to an end, they get back to the society that locked them back, and chances are always high that they will commit far worse crimes than they committed before. It is, therefore, necessary that when criminals are arrested and imprisoned, they should be rehabilitated as well as punished for them to feel what the victims felt. The rehabilitation will help them get an alternative in life and, therefore, stop their heinous deeds. Indeed, by keeping criminals away, the society becomes a better place. That is why there are criminals who are deemed dangerous and under no circumstance should they be allowed to live in the community. In such cases, these people are better off imprisoned for as long as possible to keep the community safe. Keeping offenders away from the streets is an effective method of ensuring the safety of the public.

The Best Way of Making Prisons Effective

There are many roles of prisons. Some of these roles are effective. The rehabilitation role plus the role of keeping offenders away from society is an example of the effective functions of the prisons. Merely punishing offenders will not help much in changing them as well as making the society a better place. Nevertheless, the best method to keep the role of prisons effective is through the combination of its functions. Correctional facilities need to combine the functions together to create an effective system. For instance, prisoners should face punishment as a way of making them feel what the victims have felt. They must also be taken through rehabilitation process even in the face of punishment so that they become better individuals in the society. With these efforts, we can then boost of having a morally upright society.


The roles of prisons and their effectiveness have shown that in as much as prisons have been instrumental in serving the society, a little more effort is needed in ensuring that they become fully effective. The government should take drastic measures to reform the prisons so that the prisons, which are branded as punishment zones become facilities that offer rehabilitation to the prisoners as well.

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