Britain’s system of justice relies heavily on imprisonment as a form of punishment. Until the late 18th century conditions in prisons such as Newgate were dirty and violent. In the 19th century conditions improved, thanks to the work of reformers like Elizabeth Fry. New prisons were built, in which most prisoners had their own cell facing into a large central area. Many of these prisons, such as Pentonville and Strangeways, are still used today, although Strangeways has been rebuilt after most of the building was destroyed in riots in the 1990s.
  The type of prison in which criminals serve their sentence depends on their category. Category A prisoners are considered dangerous and are held in high-security closed prisons, such as Wormwood Scrubs. Prisoners may be kept in solitary confinement if they are likely to harm others. Category B and C prisoners are also held in closed prisons. Category D prisoners are trusted not to escape and are sent to low-security open prisons. Prisoners on remand (= waiting for their trial) are held in remand centres, but problems of overcrowding have resulted in many of them being kept in prisons or police stations. Young people aged 15–20 are normally sent to young offender institutions, sometimes called detention centres or youth custody centres. These have replaced the old Borstals. However, if space is not available young people are sometimes sent to adult prisons. A prison is run by a governor who is responsible to the Home Office, and the prisoners are guarded by warders.
  There is not enough space available in prisons for the number of people being given custodial sentences. In the 1990s there were riots at several prisons because of poor conditions. Cells intended for one person often contain two or three. Despite this, some people think life in Britain’s prisons is not hard enough. Some prisons are described as ‘universities of crime’, where prisoners gain new skills in breaking the law and have access to drugs.
  There are many British slang expressions connected with prison. To do time is to serve a prison sentence and to have been inside means to have been in prison. Prison itself is the nick, the slammer or choky, warders are screws, and the prisoners are lags.
  In the US the federal and state governments have prisons, sometimes called penitentiaries or correctional facilities. Counties and cities have jails. Federal prisons are classified as minimum, low, medium or high security. All inmates (= prisoners), who can work must do so. People are sent to a prison if their sentence is for several years. If the sentence is a year or less they are sent to jail. Some prisoners on work release are allowed to leave jail during the day to go to a job. Prisoners often spend the last few months of their sentence in a halfway house where they are helped to prepare for life outside prison.
  The number of people in prisons and jails in the US is higher as a proportion of the population than in any other country. Problems include overcrowding, the use of drugs and the fact is seen as evidence that African Americans are treated unfairly by the justice system and are more likely than white Americans to be sent to prison.
  In the US people who are awaiting trial often do not go to prison but instead make bail (= pay money to the court) as a guarantee that they will return for the trial. People sent to prison as punishment rarely serve their full sentence but after some time are released on parole, which means they must report regularly to a government official. It is possible that two people who have committed the same crime may receive different punishments. To stop this happening some states have introduced mandatory sentencing, which means that the punishment for a crime is fixed by law, not decided by a judge.

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Universalium. 2010.

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