Corrections is the punishment phase of the CJ system; it’s what happens to a person after she is convicted of a crime.

Types of corrections

  • Corrections is usually divided into two broad types. Institutional corrections involves incarcerating a person. Community corrections involves approaches other than incarceration.
  • As a method of punishment, institutional corrections is relatively new. Historically, community approaches or capital punishment (death) have been the primary methods of punishing people.
  • Although corrections may serve many purposes including rehabilitation, the primary goals of modern US corrections are punishment and incapacitation (temporarily keeping someone from offending again).
  • Corrections may be administered by federal, state, or local governments or by private agencies.

Jails and prisons

  • Jails and prisons are the primary types of institutional corrections.
  • Jails are usually run by local sheriffs or police departments. They house two primary groups of prisoners: 1. pretrial detainees who are waiting for their trials and were denied bail or couldn’t make bail; and 2. people who have been convicted of misdemeanors and minor felonies and who received sentences of less than a year. Jails may also (usually temporarily) house other populations, such as undocumented people, mentally ill people waiting for temporary commitment proceedings, and juvenile offenders.
  • Prisons are usually run by the state, the federal government, or private companies. They house people who have been convicted of felonies and are serving sentences longer than a year.
  • Prisons come in a wide variety of levels of security, ranging from honor farms and minimum security facilities, all the way to supermaximum security (“supermax”) facilities. Inmates are generally assigned to a security level based on the severity of their crime, the length of their sentence, and the risks they pose.
  • Even within a single facility, there may be variations in security levels. There may also be special punishment cells (“the hole”) for inmates who violate prison rules or who endanger others.
  • Women constitute about 7% of prisoners nationwide and generally have been convicted of nonviolent crimes. Therefore, there are fewer women’s prisons, and the ones that exist tend to have lower security levels.
  • Prison guards—also called correctional officers—are, on average, less well-educated than police officers. However, there has been a recent movement toward professionalizing prison guards, including requiring more education.
  • Prison life is rife with problems, including sexual assault, violence, gangs, and illegal substances.
  • Mental illness is a serious issue in prisons. It’s estimated that as many as 25% of inmates may be suffering from serious mental illnesses.
  • Very few jurisdictions allow conjugal visits between inmates and their spouses.


  • Probation is a form of community corrections and is the most frequent criminal sanction in the US.
  • Probation is an alternative to incarceration. Instead of going to prison or jail, the offender remains free as long as he obeys the conditions of his probation. These will vary, but often include not reoffending, as well as abstaining from drugs and alcohol, getting and keeping a job, and avoiding criminal companions.
  • Probationers are supervised by a probation officer. The extent and manner with which they meet or check in with their probation officer vary. They may meet in person. The probationer may also be electronically monitored via cell phones or ankle bracelets.
  • Probationers are subject to unannounced visits (and searches) by their probation officer. They are also usually forbidden from leaving the geographical area.
  • Because of various policy changes, in some states—such as California—probation officers are increasingly expected to operate very similarly to police officers.
  • Probation officers are often employed by the county.


  • Parole allows early release of incarcerated prisoners.
  • Parole serves several functions: it reduces prison overcrowding, encourages rehabilitation, and rewards inmates who follow prison rules.
  • Parolees are under the supervision of a parole officer and must obey the conditions of their parole, which are often quite similar to probation conditions.
  • Like probationers, parolees are subject to unannounced visits and searches and are forbidden from leaving the area.
  • Because parolees are usually more serious offenders than probationers, parole officers have many police-like duties.
  • Parole officers are often employed by the state.

Other community corrections

  • A variety of other community-based intermediate sanctions are also available. These include work release programs, halfway houses and residential community centers, mediation, house arrest, restitution (paying the victim), fine (paying the government), forfeitures (giving property to the government), and community service.

Capital punishment (the death penalty)

  • The US remains one of the few industrialized nations to use capital punishment.
  • Currently, 32 states and the federal government allow capital punishment. However, those non-abolitionist states vary as to how often the punishment is used. In California, for example, over 700 people are currently on death row—but only 13 people have actually been executed since 1976.
  • The average prisoner spends well over a decade on death row before being executed, due to the numerous lengthy appeals in capital cases.
  • States vary as to execution methods. Wikipedia has a map.
  • Essentially, only two crimes in the US today will result in the death penalty: murder and treason.
  • The US Supreme Court has prohibited the execution of offenders who were under 18 when they committed the crime, who are significantly mentally retarded, or who are so mentally ill that they don’t realize that they are being executed or why.
  • Since 1936, there have been no public executions in the US. However, witnesses are present. This may include the victim’s family members.