The Prison System Structure in the United States

The prison system in the US is a complex mechanism aimed at re-educating criminals and reintegrating them into society. Over the past decades, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the US Department of Justice have adopted many reforms to ensure successful reentry, including the transfer of prisoners to halfway houses in the final months of imprisonment, the issuance of IDs still in prison, and the education system that goes as far as university grants (Prison reform: Reducing recidivism, 2017). This paper aims to describe the structure of the prison system in the US.


According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 122 federal and 12 contract prisons. These institutions contain 154,071 prisoners and employ 37,344 correctional professionals (About our agency, 2021). The Bureau is especially proud of the reduction in the recidivism rate to 34%, which is an outstanding achievement compared to the penitentiary systems of other states and the statistics of the past years. Educational and reentry programs make the main input to reducing the level of relapses.

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Types of Institutions

There are five types of correctional facilities where offenders who have committed crimes of varying severity are kept. In minimum-security institutions or Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), inmates live in dormitories, there is a , and limited or no perimeter fencing. Such institutions are focused on work and education in the framework of various government and non-government programs. Further, low-security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) are usually surrounded by double fences (About our facilities, 2021). Inmates live in dormitory or cubicle housing, and their daily routine is built around work and program components; the staff-to-inmate ratio is higher here.

Medium security FCIs are more like the picture that people imagine when they say prison or correctional system. These facilities have double-fencing with electronic detection systems, a , more internal controls, and cell-type housing (About our facilities, 2021). However, there are also many work and treatment programs operating here. High-security institutions or United States Penitentiaries (USPs) have the most secured perimeters, with walls or reinforced fences, the , cell-type housing with multiple and single type cells, and close control of inmate movement. The Bureaus official website does not indicate the availability of educational programs for USPs, unlike the other four types of incarceration. There are also jails for criminals awaiting trial or sentencing (The US correctional system defined, 2021). Besides, convicted criminals are placed in solitary confinement if they exhibit incredibly aggressive behavior.

Another type of interaction between offenders and the US prison system is community supervision, which is used either as a confinement phase or as an alternative to incarceration. Some of the criminals fall under community supervision during the probation period, which is part of the punishment term, and presupposes strict execution of regulations, violation of which is considered a crime; others fulfill the same requirements after parole.

Prison Reform

According to documents from the US Department of Justice Archives, the latest prison reform aimed to reduce recidivism by strengthening the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Within this state program framework, dozens of new practices were introduced, which made it possible to radically change the situation (Prison reform: Reducing recidivism, 2017). These practices include identifying a prisoners individual crime needs from day one. Needs are determined by criminogenic factors such as criminal history, substance abuse, and educational attainment.

Educational programs include creating a school district in the federal penitentiary system,

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