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A prison is a place in which people are confined and deprived of a range of liberties. Prisons conventionally are institutions authorised by governments and forming part of a country's criminal justice system, or as facilities for holding prisoners of war. A prison system is the organisational arrangement of the provision and operation of prisons.

There are a variety of other names for prisons, such as a prison-house, penitentiary or jail (in British English, sometimes spelled gaol). There are, too, many colloquial terms for prisons - such as clink, hoosegow, lockup, lockdown and slammer—and imprisonment—doing time, bird, porridge.

Table of contents
1 Prisons in the Criminal Justice System
2 Military Prisons
3 Political Prisons
4 World Prison Populations
5 Prisons in the United States of America
6 Prisons in the United Kingdom
7 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links

Prisons in the Criminal Justice System

In the domain of criminal justice, prisons are used to incarcerate convicted criminals, but also to house those charged with or likely to be charged with offences. Custodial sentencess are sanctions authorised by law for a range of offences. A court may order the incarceration of an individual found guilty of such offences. Individuals may also be committed to prison by a court before a trial, verdict or sentence, generally because the court determines that there is a risk to society or a risk of absconding prior to a trial. The nature of prisons and of prison systems varies from country to country. Common though by no means universal attributes are segregation by sex, and by category of risk.

The availability of incarceration as a sanction is designed to mitigate against the likelihood of individuals committing offences: thus prisons are in part about the punishment of individuals who transgress statutory boundaries. Prisons also can serve to protect by removing from society individuals likely to pose a risk to others. Prisons also can have a rehabilitative role in seeking to change the nature of individuals so as to reduce the probability that they will reoffend upon release.

Crime and punishment is a wide, very controversial and deeply politicised area, and so too are discussions of prisons, prison systems, the concepts and practices of imprisonment; and the sanction of custody set against other non-custodial sanctions and against the capital sanction, a death sentence. Some of these issues are discussed in the by country descriptions, below.

Military Prisons

Prisons form part of military systems, and are used variously to house prisoners of war, enemy combatants, and those whose freedom is deemed a risk by military authorities. The Geneva Convention provides an international protocol defining minimum requirements and safeguards for prisoners of war. Again, particularly after the US led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, military prisons and prison systems are highly controversial.

Political Prisons

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, and critics can be found to rebut the suggestion that any of the following are political prisons:

World Prison Populations

Over nine million people are imprisoned worldwide.

By country, the United States prison population is the world's largest in absolute terms, at more than 2 million. It is second largest in relative numbers with 701 people per 100,000 incarcerated; only in Rwanda, where as of 2002, over 100,000 people were held on suspicion of participation in the 1994 genocide, is the relative figure larger.

Both Russia and China also had prison populations of 1 million or more in 2002. No data is available for North Korea [1], [1]

Prisons in the United States of America

The large prison population in the US is thought to result primarily from high crime rates, long sentences, and a rigidly fought "War on Drugs". Some observers have gone so far as to accuse the United States of deliberately developing the legal system and the prison industry as a means of social control beyond that normally associated with criminal justice.

In recent years, there has been much debate in the US over the privatization of prisons. The argument for privatization stresses cost reduction, whereas the arguments against it focus on standards of care, and the question of whether a market economy for prisons might not also lead to a market demand for prisoners (that is, a strong lobby for ever-tougher sentencing to satisfy the need for cheap labor). While privatized prisons have only a short history, inmates in state- and federal-run prisons also undertake active employment in prison for low pay.

Observers generally regard prison conditions in the United States as problematic, with prisoner violence and rape wide-spread, and medical care for inmates inadequate. An August 2003 Harper's article by Wil S. Hylton estimated that "somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of American prisoners are, at this very moment, infected with hepatitis C". Prisons may outsource medical care to private companies such as Correctional Medical Services, which, according to Hylton's research, try to minimize the amount of care given to prisoners in order to maximize profits.

Gang violence has recently become a major problem, since many gang members retain their affiliations when incarcerated for various crimes.

Many facets of prison society have made their way into mainstream culture, such as the practice of secretly brewing pruno, the custom of dominant prisoners retaining personal bitches, and the dangers of "dropping the soap". These representations of prison life, however inaccurate, are frequently referenced in popular culture.

Private companies which provide services to prisons combine in the American Correctional Association. Their lobbying arm, ALEC, advocates legislation favorable to the industry.

See also: Premier Custodial Group, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC)

Prisons in the United Kingdom

For information on prisons and related subjects in the United Kingdom, see articles on Her Majesty's Prison Service, on the United Kingdom prison population and the List of United Kingdom prisons.


See also

Further reading

External links