Not a week goes by that I don’t hear someone around me comment thathigh profile recently convicted person here> is going to prison and it will be like a “country club”. These types of comments grate on me every time I hear them. To be sure, some prisons are worse than others but all prisons are unpleasant. I think the majority of these comments stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what “prison” is and how it works. Here is a tiny window into what most inmates face.
Many if not most inmates are initially taken into custody and processed at the county jail. From there most are shipped to a reception center such as Statesville here in Illinois. Upon arrival, inmates are strip searched, issued institutional clothing, photographed, and fingerprinted. Inmates are given a brief orientation and provided an intake and orientation handbook. Thereafter, most are released into general population until transferred to their more permanent prison assignment.
Illinois has High, Medium, and Minimum security prisons. Inmates sentenced to 20 years or more are designated to a High security prison. Those sentenced to 8-19 years are designated to a medium security prison and those sentenced to 7 years or less are designated to a minimum security prison. http://www.idoc.state.il.us/subsections/faq/default.shtml In addition to High, Medium, and Minimum, the Federal Bureau of Prisons have administrative facilities and work camps that prisoners can be designated. The BOP has a significantly more complicated method of inmate designation including factors of past violence, gang affiliation, age, educational accomplishments, etc.
Inmates may or may not be eligible to have family visits, telephone calls, or even the right to use commissary for such things as soap or shampoo depending upon disciplinary record. Most institutions offer some sort of treatment, education or vocational training, however, inmates may or may not have the opportunity to take advantage of those services. Opportunity to participate in these services depend on vacancies in the programs, length of time left on sentence, security risks, etc.
In his article, “America’s 10 Cushiest Prisons”, Hawkins mentions factors such as access to Rabbi. http://www.forbes.com/2009/07/13/best-prisons-cushiest-madoff-personal-finance-lockups.html These types of statements are misleading in that all prisons and jails I am aware of have some access to spiritual guidance whether it be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or something else. It is worth discussion whether a “cushy” prison still accomplishes the goals of incarceration, whether “cushy” prisons are more or less effective than high security prisons and whether “cushy” prisons are more or less expensive than other standard prisons. In this age of budget crisis after budget crisis, our society spends an unsustainable amount of resources on incarceration. Illinois alone budgets $1.163 billion for 2012.
Additional information on all these topics can be found on the Illinois Department of Corrections website: http://www.idoc.state.il.us/subsections/dept_overview/dept_overview.shtml , Bureau of Justice Statistics http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/, and the Bureau of Prisons at www.bop.gov. Also “The Federal Prison Guidebook” by Alan Ellis & J. Michael Henderson is a wonderful resource.