David L. Alexander
October 8, 2012
In considering the jails, as well as state and federal prisons, and in modern America, one must understand the historical contexts in which the three institutions were conceptualized and put into practice. Then a discussion of the reasons behind the drastic recent growth off these three ancient institutions must be had. Finally, a review of the security classifications which enable these facilities to carry out the business of incarceration and rehabilitation in a secure and safe manner should be conducted to round out our consideration of these ancient institutions. The role of jails and prisons is a complicated one, made more complicated by an increase in demands upon these facilities, both in terms of higher populations, and an increase in rehabilitative functions expected from them, as well as political pressures and general changes of policies over the years. By understanding the reason jails and prisons came into such wide use and the historical changes to those institutions, it can be more fully examined whether these institutions, have been successful in the missions they have been tasked with. These modern jails, in America, trace their predecessors back to England, where the very first jail, or gaol, as it was called in 1166, was built by King Henry II. Originally these buildings were designed to house offenders awaiting trial, but changes came about quickly. For example, vagrancy became a common problem in the 1300’s through the 1600’s and vagrants and other poor were often housed in jails. Another change in England saw authorities commonly use ships for jails. Docked, overcrowded, and filled with vermin and disease, they were floating horrors of their time for offenders kept in them. A Sheriff of Bedfordshire named John Howard was appalled at conditions of jails in England and wrote a book, and even sponsored legislation, to improve conditions in such facilities in that island nation. When the colonists fled England, however, they brought the concept with them to the New World and into the future (Seiter, R. 2011. pp 72 – 73). That future has brought jails to where they are today. Little has changed in jails over the years, most are still administered by a sheriff. Their missions are varied, but similar in scope to when they were in England. Simply, their missions are incarceration of: “individuals pending arraignment and awaiting trial, conviction, or sentencing, probation, parole, and bail bond violators and absconders, juveniles, pending transfer to juvenile authorities, mentally ill people, pending their movement to appropriate mental health facilities, individuals held for the military, for protective custody, for contempt, and for the courts as witnesses, inmates pending transfer to federal, state, or other criminal justice authorities, inmates held for federal, state, or other authorities because of crowding of their facilities, offenders assigned to community-based programs, such as day reporting, home detention, or electronic monitoring, and inmates sentenced to short terms (generally less than one year),” (Seiter, R. 2011. Corrections: An introduction (3rd ed) pp 73). Jails vary from small town jails, with a few cells, to the more recent regional jails, which may house inmates over several counties, which alone might have the resources to administer their own jail (Seiter, R. 2011. pp 74). The main difference between the jails of yesteryear and the modern American jails of today would have to be primarily the professionalism of the facilities, as funded by (mostly) local legislatures to the professionalism of the men and women who work in them, especially those hired with that initiative and desire for leadership, which makes the organization better, no matter what type of organization it is. Hart, J. (2008) stated, “We all have the employees that...