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The Nature Of The Modern American Prison System

1985 words - 8 pages

The nature of the modern American prison system is explored, especially with regard to the evolution of safety measures and the birth of prison privatization. Covered are Bentham's revolutionary Panopticon concept, as well as the driving forces behind prison labor practices and prisoner rights. Factors such as investor confidence, taxation, and public policy are all examined to determine how they influence the state of the prison system (both public and private). The rights of inmates in terms of overcrowding, medical care, and privacy are all considered and weighed against the greater good. Bentham's utilitarian approach to the prison system is extrapolated herein to determine whether or ...view middle of the document...

At his core it would seem that Bentham believed in the creating a system in which the greatest amount of good was done for the greatest number of people. This belief system was displayed in how he believed prisons ought to be run, namely through the Panopticon style of creating a prison. This particular style of prison emphasized the ability to see all prisoners at all times and was thought to discourage incidents that resulted in injury or death. Because there were no cameras in existence during this era, the prison was built in the shape of a wagon wheel to afford as many vantage points as possible for seeing inmates at any one time. Bentham's main tool of persuasion with any group or individual was the proper utilization of reason. The Panopticon, in particular, was justified by Bentham as being necessary for constantly monitoring all prisoners at all times. Preventing prisoners from harming themselves or one another was made a much easier task by allowing those working at the prison to remain vigilant at all times.
As has been noted by Allard, Wortley, and Stewart (2006), the use of CCTV cameras has become a common practice in prisons. The combination of CCTV cameras in conjunction with an evolved design of the Panopticon concept has resulted in what are believed to be safer prisons. The use of these cameras was prompted by the belief by many that privacy should not exist in the prison environment. This disregard for the privacy of prisoners has been justified in an effort to preserve the safety of prisoners. It is often further stressed that when someone is convicted of a crime, they have lost their 4th Amendment rights to privacy, as was noted by Giannelli and Gilligan (1976). Given the large number of different crimes that can be committed, it is possible that not all of these crimes should result in the loss of privacy; however, when considering the fact that dangerous, violent inmates and mixed in with non-violent inmates, the use of surveillance equipment becomes a very real matter of safety.
The safety of prisoners and staff alike played the largest part in furthering the design of prisons. Incorporating technology outside of surveillance has played an enormous part in keeping both prison personnel and prisoners safe. This technology includes non-lethal intervention tools (such as pepper spray, tazers, automated door locks, tear resistance fabric, and other developments). The architecture of prisons also experienced some radical changes, but the utilization of vigilance has remained a priority throughout the construction of prisons in America since the introduction of Bentham's concepts.
Political Changes in Society
The issues surrounding imprisonment and the 4th Amendment move beyond the prison itself. Many concerns are present in the way probation is enforced, as was noted by Brilliant (1989). The tough attitude against crime in the United States translated to strict periods of parole and probation after conviction, and the...

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