Correctional Institutions

SIC 9223

Industry report:

This classification covers government establishments primarily engaged in the confinement and correction of offenders sentenced by a legal court. Private establishments primarily engaged in the confinement and correction of offenders sentences by a court are classified in SIC 8744: Facilities Support Management Services. Halfway houses for ex-convicts and homes for delinquents are classified in SIC 8361: Residential Care.

Industry Snapshot

According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. prison population grew at a rate of 0.8 percent during 2008--the lowest rate since 2000--bringing the U.S. total number of sentenced prisoners at 2008 year end to just over 1.6 million. The growth rate of the prison population through the 2000s increased at an average annual rate of 1.8 percent, which compares positively to the 6.5 percent average yearly growth experienced during the 1990s. In addition, between 2000 and 2008, the number of incarcerated blacks--traditionally overrepresented in the prison population--declined by over 18,000 to reach a rate of 3,161 men and 149 women per 100,000 black U.S. residents. Yet others, such as the Centre for Research on Globalization, note that the United States has just 5 percent of the world's population but claims 25 percent of the world's imprisoned population--some one-half million more than China, whose population is five times larger than the United States.

King's College International Centre for Prison Studies' annual survey of world prison populations found in 2008 that the United States continued to have the highest prison population rate in the world at 756 prisoners per 100,000 national population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St. Kitts & Nevis (588), and Cuba (approximately 531). In other words, about 0.75 percent of the U.S. population is behind bars. In addition, 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that over 3 percent (1 in 31) of U.S. adults were part of the correctional system, including jail, prison, probation, or parole. States with the highest rates of incarceration included Georgia (1 in every 13 adults; 7.7 percent), Idaho (1 in 18; 5.6 percent), Texas (1 in 22; 4.5 percent), and Washington, D.C. (1 in 20; 5.0 percent).

Americans are willing to pay for more correctional institutions, at an average annual cost of $29,000 per year in the late 2000s, not counting the burgeoning cost to the public for conviction appeals. According to a 2009 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1998 and 2008, the violent crime rate fell by 41 percent and the property crime rate declined by 32 percent. Nonetheless, during the 25-year period between 1983 and 2008, the national incarceration rate and the supervision rate (i.e., parole and probation) rose by 274 percent. The growth rate in incarceration and supervision is primarily due to changes in sentencing policy such as the "three strikes" law, and mandatory sentence guidelines, where offenders are given longer prison sentences.

Organization and Structure

The correctional system in the United States, just like the government, is operated on four different levels: federal, state, county, and city. Each has jurisdiction over certain areas, but they also have some overlapping zones of responsibility. In the late 2000s, there were approximately 4,200 jails in the country, by far the majority of them under the auspices of county governments.

Federal Prisons.
The federal prison system, administered by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), is made up of 115 institutions, 28 community corrections offices, 6 regional offices, BOP headquarters, and 2 staff training centers. In the late 2000s, BOP held approximately 209,000 federal inmates in custody. About 82 percent were housed in BOP facilities; the remainder were housed in private prisons or other institutions, such as local jails. Although often associated with its maximum security facilities, such as the famous Alcatraz (closed since 1963), BOP has facilities that range across the board--minimum, low, medium, and high. In fact, just 11 percent of federal inmates are in high security facilities. Most are in medium (30 percent) or low (38 percent) security facilities.

Least restrictive of all federal institutions are the pre-release centers in metropolitan areas across the country. These centers were established to function as halfway houses to hold prisoners nearly due to be released. Prisoners housed at pre-release centers may hold jobs in the community, visit family, and receive counseling to prepare them for life on the outside.

State Prisons.
Each state has its own uniquely run prison system adapted to meet its own needs and the demands of its citizens. For example, states with expanding urban populations have experienced different crime problems than those in rural states.

City and County Jails.
City and county correctional facilities are known as jails, rather than prisons. There are literally thousands of local jails in cities and counties around the nation. These local jails include police precinct lockups where a person accused of a crime may spend a few hours, a few days, or several months. There is a technical distinction between prisons and jails. Prisons are for those people who have been convicted of a crime, typically a felony. Jails are generally reserved for those who have been accused of a crime and are awaiting trial or for those who are convicted of minor offenses, such as misdemeanors, where the period of incarceration is less than one year.

Background and Development

Punitive imprisonment has its roots as far back as ancient Rome, Egypt, China, and Babylon, and was firmly established in Europe during the Renaissance. However, in many early societies, offenders were punished with exile, banishment, and barbaric physical punishments. The jail, the workhouse, the reformatory, and the convict ship all antedate the prison as we know it.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Northern states led the way in prison development in the United States. In the 1820s, Northern cities, such as New York, attracted large numbers of homeless boys and girls. Many of the older ones turned to crime to support themselves, so in 1825 New York became the first U.S. city to open a House of Refuge for juvenile delinquents. Boston and Philadelphia quickly followed suit. Although the original House of Refuge was a city institution, it became the precursor to statewide juvenile institution systems.

After the Civil War, regional differences between the North and South became even more pronounced. In the South, the land was devastated and the economy was poor. Southern states had little time, money, energy, or inclination to devote resources to their prison system, so the earlier custom of prisoners paying for their own upkeep was revived. Prisoners in the South were expected to earn their way by being thrust into labor-intensive work farms.

Clapped into leg irons and linked together with heavy chains, which gave rise to the term "chain gang", prisoners throughout the South repaid the states for their room and board by building public roads and chopping brush near highways. Twelve-hour workdays were common and discipline was often enforced with a whip and a gun. Some prisoners were hired out to private companies as contract labor. The business owner assumed responsibility for clothing, housing, and feeding the prisoners, in exchange for the hard labor of the inmates. Some contractors saved money by nearly starving the prisoners and drove the men to work extremely hard. Contract labor and chain gangs were eventually outlawed.

As the number of female felons began to grow, Congress appropriated funds to construct the first federal prison for women in 1925, which was the Federal Reformatory for Women in West Virginia. These early federal prisons proved to be only the beginning for the federal prison system, and the 1920s saw a rapid increase in the male prison population, due in some measure to the introduction of the automobile and Prohibition. Auto theft became an increasingly common occurrence, and Congress made it a federal crime to transport a stolen car across state lines. Prohibition, which halted the legal manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, inspired bootleggers to commit many federal law violations. It was the crime wave during the Prohibition era in the 1920s that led to reorganization of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and creation of the Bureau of Prisons, which Congress established in 1930, to oversee the entire federal prison system.

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the ideological emphasis shifted away from punishment methodology and toward rehabilitation of offenders. The assumptions of rehabilitation point to forces such as poverty, unstable family life, and limited mental capacity as producing maladjusted individuals who have difficulty conforming to society's rules. Rehabilitation proponents argue that given proper treatment and social services, including educational, vocational, and psychiatric care, the criminal can be remolded into a well-adjusted and productive member of society.

Since World War II, the pace at which treatment and rehabilitative services have been offered to prisoners has quickened. In the 1990s, vocational and educational training, individual psychological counseling, group therapy, halfway houses, work release programs, and other behavior modification programs were all assimilated into the modern penal system. Nevertheless, the rehabilitative model has come under increased scrutiny. Some wonder whether it is working, with the ever-increasing numbers of violent offenders in U.S. society. Others wonder whether the causes of crime can ever really be diagnosed and treated. Critics point out that California, a state in which the rehabilitative model has been firmly entrenched, has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in September 2000 and cited in the DOJ's Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 49 percent of those surveyed believed that U.S. prisons were doing a good job at "maintaining high security to keep prisoners from escaping", whereas 18 percent rated prisons as doing an excellent job in this area. However, the poll revealed that Americans were less satisfied with prisons in other areas. For example, 48 percent of respondents indicated that prisons were doing a poor job of "rehabilitating inmates so they are less likely to commit crimes in the future." Another 34 percent rated prisons as doing a fair job in this regard. Finally, in terms of "maintaining a safe environment for inmates in prison," 37 percent gave prisons a fair rating, 26 percent gave them a poor rating, and 25 percent rated prisons as doing a good job.

A controversial issue on the rise by the close of the century was the trend toward the "privatization" of prisons, which were privately-owned, for-profit facilities or existing prisons which had been taken over by private companies. When several states began negotiating with neighboring states to take their excess prisoners, many of these were housed in private facilities. By mid-2002, 6.2 percent of all inmates were held in privately operated facilities, which actually represented a decrease from the same period a year earlier, when the percentage peaked at 6.8 percent. Of the 98,791 inmates held in private facilities in mid-2004, the majority (75.2 percent) were state prisoners, and the remainder were federal prisoners. In the federal system, Texas and Oklahoma had the largest number of prisoners in private institutions, representing 10 percent and 22.9 percent respectively, of the total under both state and federal jurisdiction. However, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), in mid-2004, the largest increase among inmates in private institutions were those under federal jurisdiction.

Another sensitive and disturbing issue was the increasingly violent nature of juvenile crimes. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the United States reeled from news that young preteens were gunning down schoolmates, murdering their parents, and engaging in violent acts of animal abuse. Of particular controversy was the varied treatment of juvenile offenders within the criminal justice system, as different laws applied in each state. Whether to try violent juveniles as adults and place them in prison or to consider their ages as mitigating factors carried heated arguments on both sides and across all strata of the academic and professional communities. Because society was not successful in "rehabilitating" violent offenders (recidivism remains frighteningly high), the way in which society addresses juvenile crime in the coming years will remain a high priority in Congress, in the courts, and in U.S. homes.

There were 3,006 juvenile offenders incarcerated in state prisons in mid-2003 according a DOJ Bureau of Statistics Bulletin report, which showed annual decreases in this number since 1995, when there were over 5,300 juveniles incarcerated in state prisons. The DOJ reported that there were 2,477 juveniles in state jails in mid-2004 and 7,083 in local jails. Just as the number of juveniles in state prisons decreased, there has been a "greying" of the prison population in the United States. In 2004, "one of every 23 inmates in prison today is 55 or older," according to a Sentencing Project report. This represented an 85 percent increase in this population since 1985. The report cited that the main reason for the increase in older inmates was the trend toward handing down longer prison sentences. In 2004, 127,000 inmates were serving life sentences in the nation's prisons according to the report.

In mid-2004, the prison population in the federal system had increased at double the rate of the state prison population, part of a trend which saw the federal prison population grow at a much higher pace than the state prison population since 1995. The average inmate age in 2006 was 38. People in their twenties comprised about 35 percent of total inmates in federal or state prisons and local jails in mid-2004. Nearly 32 percent were in their 30s, and almost 26 percent were in their forties. Inmates aged 18 to 19 or over 55 represented the smallest populations, with both age groups accounting for approximately 7 percent. 2.2 million people were incarcerated in 2005, according to 2006 statistics. Reports in 2007 showed that 7 percent of the prison population in the country was held in private facilities, a total of about 107,500 people.

Of all inmates in 2005, about 40 percent were black and 20 percent were Hispanic. More than 202,000 incarcerated women in prisons and local jails were substantially outnumbered by approximately 2 million men. Notwithstanding, the growth rate for female incarceration was double the rate of men throughout the period from 1983 to 2003. Drug-related convictions were cited as the primary reason for this increase in female incarceration.

In 2005, the nation's local jails supervised or detained 819,434 individuals, approximately 90 percent of whom were held in a jail facility. This overall total was an increase over 2004, 2003, and 2002, when jails supervised 784,538, 762,672 and 737,912 people, respectively. Jails represent more of a transient inmate population than that found in prisons. Jail populations are typically composed of many short-term offenders such as drunk drivers, domestic violence offenders, drug addicts, and weapons violators.

Current Conditions

As the prison population continued to edge upward throughout much of the 2000s, the property crime rate declined by over 6 percent in 2008, and the violent crime rate remained statistically unchanged in the same year. The diverging directions of crime rate and incarceration rates raised many questions among researchers, legislators, and advocacy groups. Why did the prison population continue to grow while the crime, at least, slowed its pace and, at best, declined?

The obvious answer was that longer, stricter sentences (i.e., requiring inmates to serve more of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole) was leading to overcrowded and expensive prison populations. By the late 2000s, the states were spending approximately $50 billion on correctional services, and the BOP was spending an additional $5 billion. Between 1988 and 2008, state spending on prisons (adjusted for inflation) jumped by 127 percent, compared to a 21 percent increase in state spending on education. In fact, in 2008, Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut, and Delaware all spent more on corrections than on education.

As the prison population skyrocketed, some states, including New York and Texas, began a rapid building program, adding a significant number of state prisons. Privately run prisons also became increasingly popular. Some states continued to struggle with overcrowding. In the late 2000s, for example, California was under a federal court order to shed some 40,000 inmates as its prisons were so overcrowded that they were ruled unconstitutional.

The downturn in the economy in the late 2000s also led many states to rethink their sentencing terms for prisoners, as state budgets shrank. For example, in Texas, 2009 parole rates, among the lowest in the country just five years prior at 15 percent, had doubled to 30 percent. In Mississippi, inmates serving time for drug offenses had been required to complete at least 85 percent of their sentencing; in 2009, that amount had been reduced to just 25 percent. A national system of drug courts allows first-time offender to avoid prison time, which saves significant money, considering a year in prison costs taxpayers $29,000, but working with an offender through probation (or parole) costs an average of $1,250 ($2,750) annually.

Workforce

Correctional officers in local jails process approximately 13 million people every year. They have one of the highest nonfatal on-the-job injury rates of any industry. In 2008, more than 518,000 people were employed in correctional institutions. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for correctional officers are expected to be favorable through the year 2018, increasing faster than the average for all occupations. In May 2008, the median annual pay for correctional officers and jailers was $38,380 in 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,660 and $51,000. The average salary for federal correctional officers was $53,459 in March 2009.

Expansion and new construction of correctional facilities is expected to create even more new jobs. In addition, employment of correction officers is usually not affected by economic conditions or the overall level of government spending because security is vital at penal institutions. In approximately 36 out of 50 states, correction officers are represented by labor unions. It is the correctional officers who enforce the rules and regulations of the nation's prisons, negotiating a highly stressful work environment on a day-to-day basis. Other staffers at federal prisons include social workers, psychologists, vocational instructors, teachers, doctors, and nurses.

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