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The U.S. Correctional System’s Role and Functions

The US correctional system is a complex of special institutions that implement state policy in the field of the execution of punishments for crimes. Jails and community-based confinement facilities for offenders’ rehabilitation and resocialization are under the jurisdiction of municipalities and county governments. Each correctional institution is assigned a security level from one to four. Correctional institutions of local jurisdiction (restitution centers, prerelease, work release, study release centers) have a security level of one or two. More than 50% of offenders located there have permission to leave the protected area for a certain period (Ross, 2016). They may be employed or trained in a profession to make something useful for other people. This is one way to rehabilitate criminals, which allows them to become full members of society again quickly. Through work and socialization, they learn to function among other people.

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Fourth and third security level prisons and other correctional facilities are under state or federal jurisdiction. These organizations also have subdivisions with a softer regime corresponding to the second level. If prisoners get in prison for more than a year, the decision on their participation in rehabilitation programs is made at the center for reception, diagnosis, and classification of prisoners. Suppose the court sentences a convicted person to a term of imprisonment of less than one year. In that case, they are placed in the district investigation prison or one of the local correctional institutions (Klingele, 2019). These include the centers of compulsory treatment (court residential treatment centers, substance abuse treatment facilities), created for those in need of treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction. These centers operate educational and socialization programs. Prisoners also undergo vocational training, and they are provided with qualified assistance in finding employment after release.

Convicts in boot camps are involved in heavy community work, for example, road building. They are also required to complete an educational program and vocational training. Young, healthy men are sent to such camps if they express such a desire. However, it is possible only if they get to prison for the first time to a term of one to five years for crimes not related to violence. The length of stay in the camp is much shorter than in prison, but strict discipline and a spirit of teamwork contribute to re-education and rehabilitation.

Long-term imprisonment is a vital type of punishment, and the terms of detention of convicts in the United States are longer than in other developed countries. This is because representatives of law enforcement agencies, implementing criminal and penal policy, listen to public opinion. People tend to take harsh measures against criminals; however, the prison population’s constant growth has negative consequences. For example, funds allocated by the state for educational programs are used to create additional sleeping places, while numerous prisoners do not even have primary education.

In addition, in overpopulation conditions, more funds are spent on special means of ensuring control and security. Prison overcrowding forces inmates to queue up to get a job or start an educational course. It also negatively affects prisoners’ psychological state because they get tired of the constant pressure from the external environment; they do not have the personal space they need (Kreager & Kruttschnitt, 2018). Hence, this can be called one of the punishment methods, since long-term psychological discomfort affects people’s consciousness and makes them change.

However, a punishment that is too heavy and too long is a less effective rehabilitation method than helping criminals in socialization and education. By learning new things and being friendly with other people, criminals can become kinder and more conscientious. They begin to value communication and work and acquire the necessary moral qualities with the help of which they cross out the past and aim at a positive future. Severe punishments only aggravate the mental state of these people. They become angry, tired, and a sense of revenge awakens in them. In addition to the previous motives for the crimes, they have a desire to make other people feel as bad as they did in prison. Therefore, education and productive communication under skilled people’s supervision is a much more effective way of rehabilitating prisoners than severe punishment.

Thus, the modern US penitentiary system is guided by different methods of working with prisoners. On the one hand, long sentences and hard work are the most common ways to punish criminals. In this case, people live for many years in difficult conditions, having the opportunity to rethink their lives and feel their crimes’ severity. On the other hand, prison officials do a lot to rehabilitate and improve these people. Prisons provide employment, education, and socialization opportunities, which often help criminals find their place among honest citizens and live a fulfilling life. In many cases, the second approach is much more helpful than the first one. It does not make people feel angry or exhausted because of the surrounding atmosphere. On the contrary, they start gaining new ethical values and feel needed among other people. It allows them to become better people and start living a new life.

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Klingele, C. M. (2019). Measuring change: From rates of recidivism to markers of desistance. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 109(4), 769-817.

Kreager, D. A., & Kruttschnitt, C. (2018). Inmate society in the era of mass incarceration. Annual Review of Criminology, 1, 261-283.

Ross, J. I. (2016). Key issues in corrections. Policy Press.

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