Security Is Not Convenient

By Presley, Dwight | Corrections Today, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Security Is Not Convenient

Presley, Dwight, Corrections Today

Prison security is never convenient; however, it is imperative to how prison systems do business. Convenience is part of American popular culture. Americans carry cell phones so they can be available at a moment's notice. They send e-mail and text messages, sharing information at record speeds. Americans eat meals on the go and shop online so they can have the products and services they want quickly. Clearly, this same philosophy does not mesh with sound correctional practice. While modern technology has helped to enhance the way correctional facilities operate, it is still human beings who bare the brunt of the work. Counting inmates is still done the "old-fashioned" way--by counting the heads of living, breathing bodies. It is not convenient and is time consuming, but counting is an integral part of daily prison and jail operations. Pat searches are another example of an inconvenient practice; nevertheless, they are invaluable in collecting and controlling contraband. And, the public expects correctional systems to properly carry out these practices.


The management of prisons is under a constant state of surveillance by court systems, human rights groups and litigious inmates, and correctional employees are expected by the public to provide more protection than ever before. Prisons are expected to be error-free, violence-free and escape-free, and to avoid wasting taxpayer money. The costs of errors are too high. Escapes and violence increase the need for money and manpower, further burdening systems that are underfunded and understaffed. Shortcuts may be convenient at the time but can cause larger "inconveniences" that have dramatic effects on the public.


Gangs, mentally ill offenders, elderly offenders and female offenders must all be considered when providing appropriate security measures for prisons and detention centers. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, on Dec. 31, 2006:

* About 2.3 million offenders were held in federal or state prisons or in local jails--an increase of 2.9 percent from year-end 2005, which is less than the average annual growth of 3.4 percent since year-end 1995;

* More than 1.5 million sentenced inmates were under state or federal jurisdiction;

* There were an estimated 501 sentenced inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents--up from 411 at year-end 1995; and

* The number of women under the jurisdiction of state or federal prison authorities increased 4.5 percent from year-end 2005, reaching 112, 498, and the number of men rose 2.7 percent, totaling 1,458,363.

At year-end 2006, there were 3,042 black male sentenced inmates per 100,000 black males in the U.S., compared with 1,261 Hispanic male sentenced inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 487 white male sentenced inmates per 100,000 white males. In 2004, there were an estimated 633,700 state inmates serving time for violent offenses. State prisons also held an estimated 265,600 property offenders and 249,400 drug offenders. These growing offender populations require more human and technological resources in order to sustain a sense of security by prison staff and a perception of safety by the pubic.


The National Institute of Justice is continually working with correctional and other practitioners in the criminal justice field to design equipment and materials to improve the safety of both correctional staff and offenders.

Many cases of offender-on-staff and offender-on-offender assaults are caused by handcrafted instruments from state-issued items, such as toothbrushes, locks and cups, along with items found within the furnishing and structure of the facility itself. For example, in the maximum-security unit of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, offenders were discovered removing the louvers from vents and sharpening the ends to produce shanks. …

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