The Federal Bureau of Prisons oversees 114 correctional institutions throughout the United States. Most of them are classified as Minimum to Medium security, Levels I-IV. These facilities house everyday criminals, and only contain a very small number of high-profile, high risk inmates. There are 22 prisons, however, that are dedicated to keeping the most dangerous humans in the country off the streets. These are Super-Maximum Security prisons, or Supermax.
They are classified as Levels V-VI, and they offer little more than what is needed to survive; nourishment and shelter. Most offer no chance of rehabilitation, and for some, it’s just the last stop before capital punishment. The evolution of the Supermax prison can be seen the clearest through three facilities: United States Penitentiary (USP) Alcatraz, USP Marion, and Administrative Maximum USP Florence. The first real need for a Supermax prison arose in the 1920’s, during the Great Depression and Prohibition.
Crime was rampant, and gangsters like Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly ran the streets. The Ashurst-Sumners Act, which prohibited the interstate transportation and sale of goods manufactured in prisons, had officially ended free-market prison industry. Prison administrators, left with inmates that had nothing to do, latched on to the concept that only through a harsh prison sentence could an inmate pay their debt to society. Prisons transformed from factories to fortresses, with maximum security and minimum freedom.
But many could not handle the influx of criminals that rose with the crime rate, along with agitated inmates that incited riots just to pass the otherwise uneventful time. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, newly established in 1930, decided that a message needed to be sent to the American public that the uncontrolled crime surge would not go unchallenged any longer. Twenty years ago, super-maximum-security prisons were rare in America. As of 1996, over two-thirds of states had “supermax” facilities that collectively housed more than 20,000 inmates.
Based on the present study, however, as of 2004, 44 states had supermax prisons. Designed to hold the most violent and disruptive inmates in single-cell confinement for 23 hours per day, often for an indefinite period of time, these facilities have been lightning rods for controversy. Economic considerations are one reason, supermaxes typically cost two or three times more to build and operate than traditional maximum security prisons. A perhaps bigger reason lies in the criticism by some that supermax confinement is unconstitutional and inhumane.
While proponents and opponents of supermax prisons debate such issues, a fundamental set of questions has gone largely unexamined: What exactly are the goals of supermax prisons? How, if at all, are these goals achieved? And what are their unintended impacts? , For 20 years the population in prisons in the united states have grown 700%, although seeing that our population has increased only 20% and the crime rate has decreased. with a population of more than 2 million, the united states incarcerate more people per capital than any other country that publishes tatistics on prisons, even Russia. California alone has built 20 more prisons since 1980, with other states and the Federal government following suit. Why are so many people in prison? In an atmosphere of fear, economic difficulties, and persistent racial divisions, prisons have become a popular “solution” to social ills. “Tough on crime” posturing by politicians has lowered the bar on what gets people into prison and how long they stay there, and has included vast expansions of prison space and law enforcement capacity. High security institutions, also known as United…