Prison Question #2 (#1 is in Great Debates)

What are conditions like in Minimum- and Maximum-security penitentiaries? Are inmates housed in cells with bars, or are their living conditions comparable to that of a college dorm (g)? Also, is violence among inmates a problem in minimum and medium security joints?

Depends also whether you’re talking Fed or State or “private”…

I work in the New York state prison system, so most of what follows reflects that.

Maximum scurity prisons invariably have cells. Older prisons tend to have them arranged in “tiers” which are the long straight hallways you see in movies. Most newer prisons are build in the open system, where the cells are arranged on the inside of a square with the guard’s station in the middle. This gives a better view of the cells. You can see this type of unit on the TV series Oz. All cells have a toilet and sink.

Medium security prisons occasionally have cells but more generally have “cubes”. Cubes is short for cubicles and they do resemble the partitions you see in an business office (although generally shorter). A room full of cubes is called a dorm, but has no resemblance to a college dorm. Most dorms have an attached day room where the prisoners can play cards, watch TV, etc. They also have showers, bathrooms, and phone booths.

Violence is a problem in all prisons but much less so in a medium. In general, most fights in a medium are resolved with fists with weapons being rare. In a maximum, the use of weapons is much more common and fights are therefore much more serious.

Minimum security prisons are fairly rare. The housing in these tends to be either dorms or rooms. Many minimum security prisoners are participating in work release programs and have jobs in the community. The fact that minimum security is limited in availability and so highly desired means that the prisoners who live in them don’t fight or cause other trouble which would result in a transfer back to a medium or max.