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Correctional Psychology - Types of Correctional Facilities

Posted Mar 03 2009 3:57pm

When considering the concept of corrections, it is important to understand just how complex a correctional system can be. In the United States, for example, you have a federal system, 50 distinct state systems, and thousands of local systems. In addition, there is a separate system for military issues, and there are separate considerations for juveniles. Each state (plus the federal government) determines how it administers its own correctional system, in terms of the various laws, levels of punishment, who is arrested, and how people are incarcerated. Complicated indeed.

Broadly speaking, there are three primary types of correctional facilities: lockups, jails, and prisons. Within each category, there are subtypes (particularly in the prison category), but this breakdown is useful for a basic understanding.

Lockups are local, temporary holding facilities that are generally utilized at the very beginning of the criminal justice process. They are very common, and the typical stay is generally very short - maybe 48 hours tops. The location of lockups is usually a local police station, where an individual who only requires a temporary detention can be held. Approximately 30% of police stations have lockups, and they vary in size based on the size of the jurisdiction. Larger communities will generally use a jail if a lockup is not available.

Jails are locally operated detention facilities that will house individuals both before and after adjudication. Generally, if a person is sentenced to a shorter sentence, they may serve the remainder of their sentence at the jail. Jails tend to be a jack-of-all-trades type of facility, with various roles in terms of who is held there: probation/parole violators, individuals convicted of a misdemeanor, people awaiting trial, a temporary holding spot for individuals needing a transfer, etc. Jail staff generally see all types of individuals in terms of the legal process. From a mental health perspective, jails may sometimes be used when the police detain someone with a mental illness, while a determination is made for a more appropriate placement. Jails hold approximately 1/3 of the individuals counted as incarcerated in the U.S. , so they are quite busy, particularly since they are generally not holding individuals who will be there for a very long period of time.

Prison s are correctional facilities that hold individuals who have been convicted of felonies, and are required to serve a significant period of time as a sentence (generally at least one year). They tend to hold a lot of individuals, and they are operated on both the state and federal level. There are a wide variety of prisons, based on gender, security level, medical/mental health needs, etc.

Correctionally speaking, I think it is important to think about corrections as broadly as possible, so I would also like to mention the various step-down facilities, half-way houses, etc. that are used for re-introduction into the community. One may also consider court-ordered outpatient treatment (i.e. court-ordered anger management therapy) within the context of correctional mental health, even if the person may not have any custodial restrictions. Within all of these contexts, mental health assessment, treatment, management, classification, etc. will play a role. For the mental health clinician working in the system, different mental health issues will likely be more or less prevalent, depending on the type of facility. Foe example, individuals working at a lockup facility will see significantly more substance intoxication than at a prison. A jail will see a significant amount of substance withdrawal. A person working in a penitentiary will see a significant amount of Antisocial Personality Disorder, while a prison medical facility will see many older inmates with various medical and mental health issues related to aging. Knowing your population will allow a clinician to be prepared for the more likely clinicial issues that will present themselves.

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