Differences between maximum security prisons and other prisons

Maximum security prisons house the most violent and dangerous inmates in the penitentiary system. The maximum security prisons were developed after a wave of prison violence in the seventies and eighties as a way to isolate and manage inmates classified as “the worst of the worst”. Although all of the prisons in a prison, serve as punishment for prisoners and are designed to maintain control and security, maximum security prisons are known to be much more restrictive than prisons with less security.

Types of prisons

Generally, there are four types of prisons. The minimum security prisons house approximately one fifth of the country’s inmates, who are generally locked up for non-violent crimes such as forgery or tax evasion. Medium security prisons maintain almost half of the country’s inmates and those who have committed crimes such as theft. The maximum security prisons house the most dangerous criminals who are serving longer sentences, generally for crimes of murder, kidnapping and sexual violence. Maximum security prisons house those who have a reputation for violence or escape in less secure prisons and require the maximum security available.

Life conditions

All inmates have little or no privacy and are constantly monitored by the guards. In maximum security prisons, prisoners remain in their cells for 23 hours a day and are allowed to go out only for showers and exercise, which are usually done in a small enclosed area. The prisoners eat their meals in their cells, while the less secure prisoners can dine with other inmates in the prison cafeteria. The lower security prisons allow inmates to attend school and therapy groups and work programs, and to spend time in the prison yard. In maximum security prisons, inmates are chained at any time they are outside their cells.

Contact with others

Unlike other prisons, maximum security prisons minimize any contact between inmates and isolate them for security and control purposes. These prisons also limit the amount of direct contact that prisoners have with the guards, making use of the automated cell doors, using windows in the cells and speakers to communicate with them. The maximum security prison cells do not have windows, thus limiting the view of the outside world or any contact with it. Inmates are never allowed any kind of visits or contacts with family and friends.

Number of facilities and inmates

Although many prisons have secure housing units, or “prisons inside the prison,” there are only 31 maximum security facilities in the entire country that only house maximum security inmates. The only federal maximum security prison is the ADX, located in Colorado. A 2009 US Department of Justice report concluded that there are more than 1.6 million inmates housed in state and federal prisons in this country. Of that number, the number of prisoners in maximum security facilities during an average given year is approximately 25,000.