From the birth of modern civilization in 3rd millennia BC, almost every major ancient civilization used concept of prisons as a mean to detain and remove personal freedoms of incarcerated people. In those early periods of history, prisons were often used as a temporary stopgap before sentencing to death or life of slavery, but as time went on and our civilization developed, prisons started morphing into correctional facilities that started implementing the concept of rehabilitation and reform of prisoners. In addition of holding convicted or suspected criminals, prisons were often used for holding political prisoners, enemies of the state and prisoners of war.
The earliest records of prisons come from the 1st millennia BC, located on the areas of mighty ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. During those times, prisons were almost always stationed in the underground dungeons where guilty or suspected criminals spent their life either awaiting death sentence, or a command to become slaves (often working as galley slaves). Exception from that rule comes from the home of modern democracy – Greece. There, prisoners were held in the poorly isolated buildings where they could often be visited by their friends and family. Primary source of their detention were not dungeons, high walls or bars, but simple wooden blocks that were attached to their feet. Ancient Roman Empire however continued to use harsher methods. Their prisons were built almost exclusively underground, with tight and claustrophobic passageways and cells. Prisoners themselves were held either in simple cells or chained to the walls, for life or for time. As slavery was accepted norm in those days, majority of prisoners that were not sentenced to death were sold as slaves or used by the Roman government as workforce. One of the most famous uses for the slaves in Roman Empire was as “gladiators“. In addition to fighting in the arena (sometimes after lifetime of training in the special gladiator training houses, or Luduses), many slaves were tasked as a support workforce that enabled smoother run of the popular gladiator business. The most famous Gladiator battleground, the mighty ColosseumArena in Rome had a slave army of 224 slaves that worked daily as a power source of the complicated network of 24 elevators that transported gladiators and their wild animal opponents from the underground dungeons to the arena floor.
The United States government established the prison system in 1891. The Three Prison Act established funding for Leavenworth, McNeil Island and UPS Atlanta. It appears the first Federal prison was Leavenworth in Kansas. It started housing prisoners in 1906; however, prior to it opening federal prisoners were held at Fort Leavenworth military prison. Prisoners were used to build the facility.
Before the U.S. government passed the Three Prison Act, federal prisoners were held in state prisons. Today the Federal Bureau of Prisons houses inmates convicted of federal crimes. As of today the total number of inmates held in BOP operated facilities is 183,820 in 122 institutions, 27 residential reentry management offices and 11 privately managed facilities.
- 1891 – Federal Prison System Established
- Congress passes the “Three Prisons Act,” which established the Federal Prison System (FPS). The first three prisons – USP Leavenworth,USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island – are operated with limited oversight by the Department of Justice.
A steadily increasing backlog of disciplinary cases for Department of Correction staff is driving dysfunction at Rikers Island, a court-appointed federal monitor claims.
Steve Martin, the monitor overseeing the reform of Rikers, reports that the backlog has resulted in a “lack of timely accountability” for uniformed staff who allegedly broke the rules.
“The overall disciplinary process is convoluted and inefficient and the system is overwhelmed,” Martin detailed in his report posted Thursday in Manhattan Federal Court.
Rikers Island island in the East River between Queens and the Bronx that is home to New York City’s main jail complex. Named after Abraham Rycken, who took possession of the island in 1664, the island was originally under 100 acres (40 ha) in size, but has since grown to more than 400 acres (160 ha). The first stages of expansion were accomplished largely by convict labor hauling in ashes for landfill. The island is politically part of the Bronx, although bridge access is from Queens. It is part of Queens Community Board 1 and uses an East Elmhurst, Queens, ZIP Code of 11370 for mail.
The island is home to one of the world’s largest correctional institutions and mental institutions, and has been described as New York’s most famous jail. The complex, operated by the New York City Department of Correction, has a budget of $860 million a year, a staff of 9,000 officers and 1,500 civilians managing 100,000 admissions per year and an average daily population of 10,000 inmates. The majority (85%) of detainees are pretrial defendants, either held on bail or remanded in custody. The rest of the population have been convicted and are serving short sentences. According to a 2015 study by the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs the city approximately $209,000 to detain one person for one year at Rikers Island.[page needed]
Rikers Island has a reputation for violence, both abuse and neglect of inmates, attracting increased media and judicial scrutiny that has resulted in numerous rulings against the New York City government, and numerous assaults by inmates on uniformed and civilian staff, resulting in often serious injuries. In May 2013, Rikers Island ranked as one of the ten worst correctional facilities in the United States, based on reporting in Mother Jones magazine. Violence on Rikers Island has been increasing in recent years. In 2015 there were 9,424 assaults, the highest number in five years.
In a 2017 report titled “Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A roadmap to closing Rikers Island”, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his intention to close the jail complex at Rikers Island within 10 years, if the city’s crime rates stay low and the population at Rikers were reduced from 10,000 to 5,000. In February 2018, a state oversight commission suggested that New York state might move to close the facility before that deadline. In October 2019, the New York City Council voted to close down the facility by 2026.
With the longevity of prisons in the US why is discipline unattainable?