Prisons or jails are institutions authorized by the government to imprison and isolate from society those individuals who have disobeyed the law. Prisoners are locked up and deprived of their liberty for months, years and, in some cases, for life.

Although all prisons have the same objective, they can be classified in different ways.

The prison system varies from country to country

The prison system differs from country to country, and in some cases can be complex. The army has its own judicial system and minors are not treated in the same way as adults. Although the concept of “prison” is very abstract, its characteristics depend largely on the legal, political and social context of each region, and there can be great differences between the way countries determine the functioning of these institutions.

In the United States, for example, there are numerous jurisdictions (federal or state) and different consequences for prisoners than in Spain, as is the case with the death penalty. On the other hand, in Spain, prisons are differentiated according to the different types of life regimes of the prisoners. The objective with which the state legitimizes their use is the search for order and security for the vast majority of inhabitants.

How Incarceration Affects Prisoners

Prisoners are deprived of their liberty. Their situation and the behavioural deprivation to which they are subjected mean that their stay in prison has different physical and psychological consequences at various levels:

  • Biological : the deprivation of freedom can lead to an increase in the instinct to attack because of the inability to flee. It also causes problems of sexual or sensory deprivation (vision, hearing, …). On the other hand, at certain ages a state of clear isolation can cause serious developmental disorders, although this does not occur in the prisons of democratic states.
  • Psychological : The psychological effects are a reality for inmates with problems of self-esteem, drug use, anxiety, learned helplessness, dependency, etc. Moreover, if used for many days in a row, the isolation cells imply a deficit of sensory stimulation that in other contexts has been seen to be extremely harmful and that can generate the breeding ground for psychiatric disorders to emerge . Some of these findings were made decades ago through Harry Harlow’s experimentation with monkeys.
  • Social : family problems, social and work isolation, social learning problems, skills to relate to others and stigmatization. Especially this last element is decisive when it comes to learning new habits upon release from prison; a strongly stigmatised person will hardly find a job and will be marginalised on an informal level.

Research shows that this type of detrimental effect on prisoners is associated with time of conviction . In other words, the longer the time in prison, the worse the consequences.

Types of prisons

Now, what types of prisons are there? what are the different kinds of prisons? Below you can see the different kinds of prisons that there are:

According to the prison regime

The prison regime is the process through which the prisoner passes when serving his or her sentence. There are three grades: first grade or closed regime, second grade or ordinary regime, third grade or open regime .

1. First degree prison

The first degree modules or prisons are for the most dangerous and unsuitable subjects . They are regulated in art. 90.1 LOGP (Ley Orgánica General Penitenciaria) and there are two classes:

  • Closed centres or modules: for prisoners who are unsuitable for the common regimes.
  • Special Departments: for those who provoke altercations. For example: insulation modules.

2. Second degree prison

In the ordinary regime there are the second degree prisoners , the unclassified prisoners and the detainees and prisoners. In this type of prison there are mandatory activities (hygiene and personal hygiene, cleanliness and order in the cell). The day begins at 7:30 a.m. and the lights go out at 00:00 a.m.

3. Third degree prison

The open regime is for penalised persons, classified in the third degree, who can continue their treatment in semi-freedom . This is necessary so that the individual can achieve normal coexistence but with the necessary rigid controls.

This type of regime can be carried out in three different prison structures:

  • The Social Integration Centres : independent centres for third grade prisoners.
  • The Open Sections : departments that are part of a multipurpose prison, specially designated
  • Dependent Units : residences that are located within a community and are managed by public or private institutions.

American prisons

In the United States there are different types of prisons

Local prisons

This type of prison is for a short-term stay . They are of the local type and are for large numbers of people. They are usually for people who have just entered the criminal justice system.

Federal and state prisons

In the United States, it is possible to find federal prisons, whose jurisdiction is under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and state prisons, for more serious crimes and offences .

1. Federal penal institutions

These are prisons for those criminals who have committed serious crimes (embezzlement, fraud…) but who are not classified as dangerous . They are minimum security prisons.

2. Federal medium security prisons

These are medium security institutions, which usually contain security perimeters and armed guards . They are the infrastructures that are most used to incarcerate prisoners.

3. High security prisons

Intended for violent criminals . Offenders are dangerous people, so they need more control than prisoners in previous prisons. They are designed to establish several layers of security and isolation between the outside and the more protected areas of these architectural complexes, so that the central parts are practically watertight.

4. State prisons

State prisons are for those convicted of very serious offences and state crimes . There are different types: for women, for men, maximum security, etc. The security of these complexes is exceptional, and a great investment is made in it given the seriousness of the crimes of those who remain there.

5. Death row

Death row is the name given to the cells intended for prisoners who have committed very serious crimes and who, in addition, are serving the death penalty and are awaiting execution .

Other prisons

There are other types of prisons, for example, for minors, or psychiatric prisons.

1. The dungeon

The dungeon is a cell that is located in the same police station or barracks . It is used to briefly incarcerate subjects who have been arrested, especially for a subsequent trial. A person in custody may spend up to 72 hours here .

2. Juvenile Correctional Facility

People who have been arrested and are not yet of legal age must serve their sentences in special centres, not in adult prisons.

3. Psychiatric prison

The psychiatric prison is usually a penitentiary hospital where the subjects serving their sentences are mentally ill.

4. Military prison

These are the centres where soldiers, officers and non-commissioned officers of the army are sent to serve their sentences for breaching the military criminal code. This differentiation is evidence of the special importance that the State attaches to the security forces that ensure the maintenance of power.