Inside Prisons

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The United States has the largest population of prisoners worldwide, followed by China, the Russian Federation and Brazil, dwarfing that of most other nations ("Highest to Lowest”). When viewed from the perspective that the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, the figure takes on a more striking note ("The Prison Crisis"). According to the U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (Bureau), there were 2, 217, 947 prisoners in local jails, and state and federal prisons in 2014 ("United States of America”). This number does not reflect the number of adults on probation or on parole (Bonczar, Kaeble and Maruschak). The U. S. adult probation population was 3,864,100 in 2014, while the parole population was 856,900 during the same period. The Bureau reports indicate that there are 693 prisoners per 100,000 people in the U. S. population. In terms of prisoner housing, nationally, there are 3,283 local jail facilities, based on statistics provided in 2006; 1,190 state prisons; and 102 federal prisons based on statistics recorded in 2005. From the year 2000 through 2008, the prison population trend has increased each year, with a slight downward trend starting in 2009 and continuing through 2012. Women comprised just under 10 percent of the national prison population in 2013, and the U. S. ranks 18th on the world list of female prisoners, with China, Andorra, Laos and Monaco taking 1st through 4th place ("Highest to Lowest”). The total population of children inmates represented .3 percent ("United States of America”).

The Bureau of Federal Prisons (BOP), responsible for inmates who commit crimes in violation of federal law, has 194,559 inmates in custody ("About Our Agency"). The BOP has a 34% recidivism rate. A 2016 report issued by the U.S. Sentencing Commission reviewing over a three year period shows that only 34% of prisoners released in 2005 experienced a subsequent arrest or had their community supervision agreement revoked due to a relapse into criminal behavior. According to the data provided by the Bureau, this recidivism rate represents a decline of over 16% over a twenty year period, and is half the recidivism rate expressed by state Departments of Corrections. The BOP attributes this rate reduction to providing inmates a wide variety of programs that speak to their criminogenic needs including education, drug abuse remediation, employment preparatory programs, and other inmate-centric processes that encourage a positive transition back into society ("About Our Agency"). In addition, the BOP provides halfway house experiences to those prisoners who are winding down to their release date ("About Our Facilities"). A halfway house, otherwise known as a residential reentry center, helps inmates make a successful transition to the community. These centers are supervised, and provide a living framework for inmates and give them job counseling, placement, training on managing their money and other educational experiences that give many of the prisoners guidance that they never had before. The halfway house allows the inmates to begin to establish connections in the community, and helps them with the readjustment process.  

Male Prisoners

There were approximately 2, 011, 678 male prisoners in local jails, and state and federal prisons in 2014 ("United States of America”). Statistics show that there are approximately 10 times more male inmates incarcerated than is true for female prisoners. Also, male inmates are primarily responsible for the most violent crimes, whereas women are usually incarcerated for drug related or property crimes. The rate of imprisonment for White men is 465 per 100,000, for Black men is 2,724 per 100,000, and for Latino men is 1,091 per 100,000 ("Trends in U.S. Corrections”). The likelihood of imprisonment for a White male born in 2001 is 1 in 17 persons, for a Black male it is 1 in 3 persons, and for a Latino male it is 1 in 6 persons.

Women Prisoners

The number of women involved in crimes has increased substantially over the last twenty five years ("Incarcerated Women and Girls"). Law enforcement efforts have increased, drug sentences have expanded and there exists post-conviction barriers that specifically negatively impact women. Prisons have more women incarcerated than was the case in 1980. As well, almost two thirds of the women who are state prisoners have young children. Specifically, the female inmate population has increased from 26,378 to 215,332 between the years 2008 and 2014. The number of men in prison is significantly outpaced by that of women, however, the rate of increase for women inmates is higher than that for men by over fifty percent from 1980 to 2014. As of 2014, there were 1.2 million females held or under supervision of the criminal justice system ("Incarcerated Women and Girls"). The incarceration rate of Black women is 109 per 100,000 population, as compared to that of White women, which is 53 per 100,000. Hispanic women are imprisoned at a rate of 64 per 100,000. Since 2000, though, the incarceration rate for Black women has declined, as the rate for that of White women has been increasing. From the year 2000 to 2014, federal and state imprisonment rates have been on the decline for Black women at a rate of 47%, versus a 56% increase for White women ("Incarcerated Women and Girls"). 

Rehabilitation. Women prisoners have distinctly different needs than that of their male counterparts ("Needs of Female Prisoners”). Further, women prisoners embrace change and do so much quicker than men. Due to the historically lower population of women to men inmates, rehabilitation policy has not been thoroughly reflective of this difference. Many women have suffered abuse throughout their lives, both physical and sexual. Often not addressed, these traumas sometimes drive women into the crimes they most often commit, drug crimes and property theft crimes to support their drug habits. Addressing drug rehabilitation, development of job skills, and working on the psychological damage from physical and sexual abuse are important to the successful rehabilitation of female inmates ("Needs of Female Prisoners”). In addition, female prisoners benefit from learning conflict resolution skills. Many inmates have had limited or no healthy models for interactive relationships. Enhancement of conflict resolution management skills can help women get along within the prison environment and aid in the creation of better relationships outside prison walls. Many women in prison have children. Separation from their children often represents one of the biggest difficulties mothers face. Some mothers were not good mothers to begin with. Learning how to be a good mother and learning how to rebuild burned bridges helps mothers to refocus on what is important in life. Starting with asking their children for forgiveness is often a great place for mothers to start taking responsibility for their actions and the impact those actions had on their children ("Needs of Female Prisoners”).

An amazing prison rehabilitation program, one that should be modeled nationwide, is the Lifelong Information for Entrepreneurs, or LIFE (Prichep). The program teaches women how to start their own businesses. This is so important because often inmates return to society when jobs are particularly scarce, and having a conviction always makes things more difficult, which can cause them to return to a life of crime. Giving them the skills to start a business when they are released, gives them confidence, gives them a goal, establishes a plan and ensures that they have the skills to chose a different life. The recidivism rate for those in attendance to this program is as low as 3%, significantly lower than other rehabilitation models. Graduates of the program often say the skills they learned were competencies they never knew anything about before. Not limited to specific business skills, but the inmates learned communication skills, listening skills, negotiation skills, and professionalism. The program is clearly one that should be extended to all prisons nationwide.

Terrorist Prisoners

Terrorist inmates are a part of the prison system, as well (Fairfield and Wallace). The Republicans have prevented the shutdown of Guantanamo Bay, located in Cuba, citing that they do not want terrorist within U. S. shores, yet there are 433 prisoners incarcerated for terrorism, versus the 89 inmates who reside in Guantanamo. Supermax, or the U. S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility is the maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, not too far from Denver, hosts a number of well known terrorist inmates, including Zacarias Moussaoui, a 9/11 participant, Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, from the Boston Marathon, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber. The Bureau of Federal Prisons also houses terrorist prisoners in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois (former residence of mafia mobster John Gotti). These federal facilities have Communications Management Units, which are special self-contained units within the prison that closely monitor the actions of the inmates, and severely restricts or eliminates their communication, such as through visitation, mail, or telephone (Fairfield and Wallace).

Since 2007, there has been a significant increase in the number of terrorist convicts in U. S. prisons (Fairfield and Wallace). In 2007, there were approximately 275 prisoners, including both domestic and international terrorists. Conversely, in 2015, there were approximately 425 convicted terrorist prisoners. White supremacist and eco-terrorist numbers are dwindling, whereas non-American terrorist numbers are on the rise.

The Most Famous or Infamous Prisons

Angola – Angola, Louisiana. Described as one of the most violent prisons in the United States, Angola, is a Louisiana State Penitentiary facility and is the largest maximum-security prison in America (Goldberg). There are approximately 6,300 men incarcerated at Angola, and eighty percent of the inmates are Black. At one time 1,346 assaults were recorded at the penitentiary. but, in 2014 there were 343. Considering that the majority of the inmates are housed for vicious crimes, the decrease in assaults is noteworthy. Warden Burl Cain is responsible for this turnaround. He has maverick ideas about rehabilitation and he employs them. Cain invited the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to offer an ordination program to the inmates. As a result of the program, there are now hundreds of minister inmates who are preaching to their fellow prisoners to turn their lives to Christ. A stunning turn of events to say the least, certainly this is a model for consideration by those responsible for overhauling prison rehabilitation policy.

Sing Sing - Ossining, New York. Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum-security prison (Robbins). The facility has a history of administrative abuses against prisoner wrapped in crumbling buildings and a grueling environment. Son of Sam serial killer, David Berkowitz was once an inmate at Sing Sing prison. Things have improved since, although the prison’s reputation is significantly marred by its past.

Alcatraz – San Francisco Bay, California. Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island. It was feared by those who were held there and was known for being tough on the prisoners. The prison had numerous famous inmates within its walls including Al Capone, George Machine Gun Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, and the Birdman of Alcatraz - Robert Stroud. In 1962, Frank Morris, John and his brother, Clarence Anglin escaped from the facility. They were never found and some believe they died crossing the Bay, yet many others believe that they were successful. The facility was closed in 1963 due to the prison’s disintegrating infrastructure and the extent of the Morris-Anglin successful escape.

Works Cited

"About Our Agency." Federal Bureau of Prisons. n. d. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

"About Our Facilities." Federal Bureau of Prisons. n. d. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

Bonczar, Thomas P., Kaeble, Danielle  and  Maruschak, Laura. "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2014." Bureau of Justice Statistics. 15 November 2015. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

Fairfield, Hannah and Wallace, Tim. "The Terrorists in U.S. Prisons." The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 7 April 2016. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

Goldberg, Jeffrey. "The End of the Line: Rehabilitation and Reform in Angola Penitentiary ." The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 9 September 2015. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

"Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Total." World Prison Brief. Institute for Criminal Policy Research. n. d. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

"Incarcerated Women and Girls." The Sentencing Project. The Sentencing Project Research and Advocacy Reform. November 2015. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

"Needs of Female Prisoners." Prison Fellowship. n. d. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

Prichep, Deena. "Female Prison Inmates Trained To Start Businesses."NPR. 7 June 2011. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

Robbins, Dan. "Flashback: The History Of Ossining's Sing Sing Prison." Westchester Magazine. n. d. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

"The Prison Crisis." ACLU. American Civil Liberties Union. n. d. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

"Trends in U.S. Corrections." The Sentencing Project. The Sentencing Project Research and Advocacy Reform. December 2015. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.

"United States of America World Prison Brief." World Prison Brief. Institute for Criminal Policy Research. n. d. Web. 9 July 2016. <>.