SIC 9223

This classification covers government establishments primarily engaged in the confinement and correction of offenders sentenced by a legal court. Private establishments primarily engaged in the confinement and correction of offenders sentences by a court are classified in SIC 8744: Facilities Support Management Services. Halfway houses for ex-convicts and homes for delinquents are classified in SIC 8361: Residential Care.

NAICS Code(s)

922140 (Correctional Institutions)

Industry Snapshot

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the incarceration rate in federal and state prisons and local jails nearly doubled from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. According to a report issued by the DOJ in 2003, the number of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails exceeded the 2 million mark for the first time in June 2002, representing 1 in every 142 American citizens. Among these inmates, approximately 1.4 million were at the federal and state levels and nearly 665,500 were held in local jails. The male prison population ratio constituted 1,309 inmates per 100,000 Americans, whereas the female population accounted for 113 per 100,000. The number of inmates held in local jails, or in state and federal prisons, increased at an average annual rate of 3.8 percent from late 1995 to mid-2002. Despite a slowing growth rate, America's jails were filled to 93 percent capacity in mid-2002, up from 90 percent the year before but down from 97 percent in the late 1990s. By the late 1990s, federal and state prisons were operating at from 13 to 27 percent "above" capacity.

Americans are willing to pay for more correctional institutions, at a cost of between $25,000 and $30,000 per prisoner per year in recent years (not counting the burgeoning cost to the public for conviction appeals). With the exception of a slight increase in 2001, annual crime rates have steadily declined since peaking in 1991, although multiple reasons for the decline must be factored in. One has been an attempt to control of recidivism, or crimes repeatedly committed by the same criminal.

Organization and Structure

The correctional system in America, just like the government, is operated on four different levels: federal, state, county, and city. Each has jurisdiction over certain areas, but they also have some overlapping zones of responsibility. By the end of the twentieth century, there were approximately 3,300 jails in the country, by far the majority of them under the auspices of county governments.

Federal Prisons. The federal prison system, administered by the Bureau of Prisons, includes approximately 40 institutions designed to house men and women who have, for the most part, violated federal laws. Federal prisons are among the most heavily guarded in the nation and provide maximum security. Begun in 1891, the federal prison system was formed when Congress passed legislation to establish three federal penitentiaries at Leavenworth, Kansas; McNeil's Island, off the coast of Washington state; and Atlanta, Georgia. Each remain a part of the federal prison system today. These institutions were intended to house those convicted of serious felonies—murder, rape, kidnapping, treason, and the like. These were generally considered to be the most serious of crimes, and the criminals were considered to be the most violent and dangerous. The prisons built to house them were to provide the maximum amount of security against escapes, riots, or other disturbances. They were generally built away from cities and communities, often in rural areas, for few citizens want prisons located in their neighborhood.

But not all of the correctional institutions operated by the federal prison system are maximum-security facilities. Medium-security prisons exist in which prisoners may be afforded greater freedom of movement. Prisoners who have demonstrated good behavior may, in some cases, be transferred from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security facility or even a minimum-security facility. At these facilities, often referred to as "country clubs," inmates are not subject to constant surveillance and are often housed in open, campus-like structures. They may have lounges, libraries, outdoor recreational facilities, and sleeping rooms rather than traditional cells. Golf courses, tennis courts, and swimming pools are not unheard of at these institutions, which house nonviolent offenders. Those found guilty of such white-collar crimes as forgery, embezzlement, and tax evasion are often sent to minimum-security correctional institutions.

Least restrictive of all federal institutions are the prerelease centers in metropolitan areas across the country. These centers were established to function as halfway houses to hold prisoners nearly due to be released. Prisoners housed at prerelease centers may hold jobs in the community, visit family, and receive counseling to prepare them for life on the outside.

The Bureau of Prisons is responsible for more than 102 facilities nationwide. Federal detention centers in New York and Arizona house those individuals awaiting trial on federal charges. Additionally, separate detention centers have been established to detain those suspected of entering the country illegally.

State Prisons. As for prison systems run by the states, each state has its own uniquely run prison system adapted to meet its own needs and the demands of its citizens. For example, states with expanding urban populations have experienced different crime problems than those in rural states.

City and County Jails. The city and county correctional facilities are known as jails, rather than prisons. There are literally thousands of local jails in cities and counties around the nation. These local jails include police precinct lockups where a person accused of a crime may spend a few hours, a few days, or several months. There is a technical distinction between prisons and jails. Prisons are for those people who have been convicted of a crime, typically a felony. Jails are generally reserved for those who have been accused of a crime and are awaiting trial or for those who are convicted of minor offenses, such as misdemeanors, where the period of incarceration is less than one year.

Background and Development

Punitive imprisonment has its roots as far back as ancient Rome, Egypt, China, and Babylon, and was firmly established in Europe during the Renaissance. But in many early societies, offenders were dealt with otherwise—exile, banishment, and barbaric physical punishments. The jail, the workhouse, the reformatory, and the convict ship all antedate the prison as we know it.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Northern states led the way in prison development in the United States. In the 1820s, Northern cities such as New York attracted large numbers of homeless boys and girls. Many of the older ones turned to crime to support themselves, so in 1825 New York became the first American city to open a House of Refuge for delinquent juveniles. Boston and Philadelphia quickly followed suit. Although the original House of Refuge was a city institution, it became the precursor to statewide juvenile institution systems.

After the Civil War, regional differences between the North and South became even more pronounced. In the South, the land was devastated and the economy was poor. Southern states had little time, money, energy, or inclination to devote resources to their prison system, so the earlier custom of prisoners paying for their own upkeep was revived. Prisoners in the South were expected to earn their way by being thrust into labor-intensive work farms.

Clapped into leg irons and linked together with heavy chains—hence the term "chain gang"—prisoners throughout the South repaid the states for their room and board by building public roads and chopping brush near highways. Twelve-hour workdays were common and discipline was often enforced with a whip and a gun. Some prisoners were hired out to private companies as contract labor. The business owner assumed responsibility for clothing, housing, and feeding the prisoners, in exchange for the hard labor of the inmates. Some contractors saved money by nearly starving the prisoners and drove the men to work extremely hard. Contract labor and chain gangs were eventually outlawed.

As the number of female felons began to grow, Congress appropriated funds to construct the first federal prison for women in 1925—the Federal Reformatory for Women in West Virginia. These early federal prisons would prove to be only the beginning for the federal prison system, and the 1920s saw a rapid increase in the male prison population, due in some measure to the introduction of the automobile and Prohibition. Auto theft became an increasingly common occurrence, and Congress made it a federal crime to transport a stolen car across state lines. Prohibition, which halted the legal manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, inspired bootleggers to commit many federal law violations. It was the crime wave during the Prohibition era in the 1920s that led to reorganization of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and creation of the Bureau of Prisons, which Congress established in 1930, to oversee the entire federal prison system.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, the ideological emphasis shifted away from the punishment methodology and toward rehabilitation of offenders. The assumptions of rehabilitation point to forces such as poverty, unstable family life, and limited mental capacity as producing maladjusted individuals who have difficulty conforming to society's rules. Rehabilitation proponents argue that given proper treatment and social services—educational, vocational, and psychiatric—the criminal can be remolded into a well-adjusted and productive member of society.

Since World War II, the pace at which treatment and rehabilitative services have been offered to prisoners has quickened. In the 1990s vocational and educational training, individual psychological counseling, group therapy, halfway houses, work release programs, and other behavior modification programs were all assimilated into the modern penal system. But the rehabilitative model has come under increased scrutiny. Some wonder whether it is working, with the ever-increasing numbers of violent offenders in U.S. society. Others wonder whether the causes of crime can ever really be diagnosed and treated. Critics point out that California, a state in which the rehabilitative model has been firmly entrenched, has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country.

Current Conditions

As of mid-2002, people in their twenties comprised more than 18 percent of inmates in federal or state prisons and local jails. Nearly 17 percent were in their 30s, and almost 11 percent were in their forties. Inmates aged 18 to 19 or over 55 represented the smallest populations, accounting for approximately 2 percent and 1 percent of inmates, respectively. Of all inmates, about 34 percent were white, 44 percent were black, and 19 percent were Hispanic. There were more than 165,800 incarcerated women, substantially outnumbered by approximately 1.8 million men. Notwithstanding, the growth rate for female inmates at state and federal prisons from 1995 to 2002 was higher (5.4 percent, compared to 3.6 percent for men).

In mid-2002, the nation's jails supervised 737,912 individuals, approximately 90 percent of whom were held in a jail facility. This overall total was an increase over 2000 and 2001, when jails supervised 687,033 and 702,044 people, respectively. Jails represent more of a transient inmate population than that found in prisons. Jail populations are typically comprised of many short-term offenders such as drunk drivers, domestic violence offenders, drug addicts, and weapons violators.

A controversial issue on the rise by the close of the century was the trend to "privatize" prisons, that is, to house excess prisoners in privately owned, for-profit facilities. Several states were even negotiating with neighboring states to take their excess prisoners. By mid-2002,6.1 percent of all inmates were held in privately operated facilities. This represented a decrease from the same period a year before, when this number totaled 8.8 percent. Of the 86,626 inmates held in private facilities in mid-2002, the majority (76.6 percent) were state prisoners, and the remainder were federal prisoners. Among the states, Texas and Oklahoma had the largest number of prisoners in private institutions, representing 12.4 percent and 7.8 percent of the total private inmate population, respectively. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the overall decline in privately incarcerated prisoners in 2002 was largely attributable to the state of Texas, where these types of prisoners dropped from 16,331 in late 2001 to 10,764 by the middle of 2002.

Another sensitive, and disturbing, issue was the increasingly violent nature of juvenile crimes. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, America reeled from news that young preteens were gunning down schoolmates, murdering their parents, and engaging in violent acts of animal abuse. Of particular controversy was the varied treatment of juvenile offenders within the criminal justice system, as different laws applied in each state. Whether to try violent juveniles as adults and place them in prison or to consider their ages as mitigating factors carried heated arguments on both sides and across all strata of the academic and professional communities. Because society has not been successful in "rehabilitating" violent offenders (recidivism remains frighteningly high), the way in which society addresses juvenile crime in the coming years will remain a high priority in Congress, in the courts, and in U.S. homes.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in September 2000 and cited in the DOJ's Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2001 , 49 percent of those surveyed felt that U.S. prisons were doing a good job at "maintaining high security to keep prisoners from escaping", whereas 18 percent rated prisons as doing an excellent job in this area. However, the poll revealed that Americans were less satisfied with prisons in other areas. For example, 48 percent of respondents indicated that prisons were doing a poor job of "rehabilitating inmates so they are less likely to commit crimes in the future." Another 34 percent rated prisons as doing a fair job in this regard. Finally, in terms of "maintaining a safe environment for inmates in prison," 37 percent gave prisons a fair rating, 26 percent gave them a poor rating, and 25 percent rated prisons as doing a good job.


According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03 Edition published by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, job opportunities for correctional officers are expected to be favorable through the year 2010, increasing faster than the average for all occupations. The average annual salary for federal correctional officers was $37,430 in 2000. Employment of correctional officers at privatized facilities was estimated at 19,000 in 2000.

Expansion and new construction of correctional facilities is expected to create even more new jobs. In addition, employment of correction officers is usually not affected by economic conditions or the overall level of government spending because security is vital at penal institutions. In approximately 36 out of 50 states, correction officers are represented by labor unions. It is the correctional officers who enforce the rules and regulations of the nation's prisons, negotiating a highly stressful work environment on a day-to-day basis. Other staffers at federal prisons include social workers, psychologists, vocational instructors, teachers, doctors, and nurses.

Further Reading

Federal Bureau of Prisons. "Federal Bureau of Prisons Quick Facts." March 2003. Available from .

Gerrick, Aaron. "Report Shows Record U.S. Prison Population," 1999. Available from .

U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2002. Washington, DC. April 2002. Available from .

——. "Prisoners in 1998." 1999. Available from .

——. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2001. Washington, DC. 2001 Available from .

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03 Edition. Available from .

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