What is a State Prison?

Erin J. Hill

A state prison is a facility operated by a state and used to house and rehabilitate criminals. There are both minimum and maximum security prisons which are divided based on the nature of the crimes committed by inmates at the institutions. Those who have committed a violent crime or killed someone are likely housed in a maximum security state prison where armed guards and heavy security measures are taken.

San Quentin State Prison in California.
San Quentin State Prison in California.

In most cases, the state prison is funded by state tax dollars. Money is used to feed and clothe inmates as well as to hire employees to keep the prison running. Inmates are generally held in locked cells during the day and may be given privileges such as TV use and phone calls in other areas of the building. The number of privileges allowed depends on the prison.

Prison walls are often armed with barbed wire and electricity.
Prison walls are often armed with barbed wire and electricity.

The main goals of a state prison are to keep criminals away from society so that they can do not further harm to innocent people and to rehabilitate them so that they can become productive members of society. Many state prisons are underfunded, however, and they are often not effective at offering rehabilitation services to inmates. In fact, a high percentage of prisoners will at some point return to prison in their lifetimes. Sometimes, though, prisons offer counseling services and educational opportunities for inmates in order to make handling issues easier once they are released.

Inmates in state prisons are held in locked cells for the majority of each day.
Inmates in state prisons are held in locked cells for the majority of each day.

Rehabilitation is the main goal in a state prison where non-violent inmates are housed, but in a maximum security prison, many inmates are locked up for years at a time. Some are even there for life. This means that the main goal of a maximum security prison is to provide a place for violent criminals to live separately from the rest of society. These prisons can often become violent places, and crime is often rampant.

A maximum security state prison has armed guards and heavy security measures.
A maximum security state prison has armed guards and heavy security measures.

There is much debate on the need for more funding for many state prison institutions. Some say that prisoners should not be given perks like Internet service and TV, while others argue that more funding would allow greater counseling and individualized services to inmates to help them resolve issues and become better people. This would allow them to function in society and become successful in their everyday lives. Both sides of the debate have valid points which should be considered.

Many times, a state prison resides away from the surrounding cities and is often isolated. Walls often surround prison buildings and are often armed with barbed wire, electricity, or both. The size and overall appearance of each prison varies depending on funds available and the number of inmates being held.

There is much debate on the need for more funding for many state prison institutions.
There is much debate on the need for more funding for many state prison institutions.

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Discussion Comments


@JimmyT - I absolutely agree. It is so much harder to regulate state prisons as opposed to federal prisons and that is why there are more lawsuits as well as internal investigations regarding state prisons as opposed to federal prisons.

I once visited the state prison in Joilet Illinois and I am so glad they closed that place down, because it was not a place that prisoners should even be sent to.

I know some people may not feel sympathy for prisoners, but people also have to realize that if the prisons are such horrible places, then how are the prisoners going to reform?

Terrible places will only harden them worse and that is why the state prisons across the country have such a bad reputation, as opposed to the federal prisons.

I really think that state prisons are not managed as well as federal prisons and many prisoners and inmates would agree. This is definitely something that may need to be looked into, since there are more prisoners in state prisons in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

@titans62 - It's true that prisons in general are not pleasant places, but I guarantee most inmates, just based on staying in a prison, would rather be in a federal prison just due to the rules and amount of funding the federal prisons can obtain.

I have been to both federal and state prisons as a vistor and I can say that right away one notices a difference as soon as they walk in. The buildings in federal prisons are usually of better quality and there is more regulation than in state prisons.

I once visited a state prison and this was not a pleasant experience as the guards were even nasty to visitors and the prisoners just seemed more miserable and agitated as opposed to those I observed in a federal prison, who seemed more accepting of their surroundings.

I really do feel like this becomes a case of resources and funding. WIth more funding and resources, comes more infrastructure and this is definitely something that federal prisons beat state prisons in.


@Izzy78 - Although that may be true to an extent I really feel like it is way too simple of an observation to make.

Yes there are plenty of people in federal prisons that have been convicted of non-violent crimes, but there are plenty of people involved in things like terrorism and organized crime conspiracy in federal prisons and not state ones.

I can understand that the funding aspect may come into play, but there are some really violent offenders in federal prisons across the country and like all prisons they separate their inmates off by the severity of their crimes.

For example, an inside trader is not going to be put in the same block as a serial killer and this is the same as in state prisons.

Prison population make up is quite interesting as the state prisons are seen as more stereotypical dungeon like places as opposed to federal prisons, which can been seen as more "cushy." I would not believe this stereotype for a second and one has to remember both are prisons and are not pleasant places.

I have always heard that state prisons were worse to be in as opposed to federal prisons and this was for a variety of reasons.

First off, federal prisons have more access to available funds from the federal government and if the state prison in question is located in a poor state with little money to give, then the overall infrastructure of the prison will not be as great.

Also, as far as violent criminals go the frequency of them being found in state prisons is much higher than in federal prisons simply due to the fact that to go to a federal prison one has to be convicted of either a federal crime, or carry their crime across state lines, which does not usually happen.

Because of this fact it means that there are going to be more murderers and people of that nature in state prisons as opposed to federal prisons and a higher number of less violent criminals in federal prisons like inside traders or income tax evaders.

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