Punishment and corrections in America are a crucial part of the United States’ criminal justice system. The United States has the largest inmate population in the world, with more than 2.5 million in prisons or jails. The roots of corrections in America can be traced back to the European system that was used in England, France, and Holland at the time when early colonists first arrived in this country.
The basic concept of common law included a set of rules designed to help solve problems in society, drawing upon decisions that had been made by judges in the past. As time passed, the colonists eventually developed their own system of criminal justice, and these practices helped to develop the system of corrections in America.
There were several punishment options that existed at this time, most of which relied heavily on public shaming. The intent for this approach was to teach a lesson to the offender, with the hopes that this education would be more likely to prevent recurring criminal activity. Some of the more common punishment practices included whipping, branding, cutting off ears, and placing people in the pillory, a wooden or metal framework erected on a post, with holes for securing heads and hands. For more severe crimes such as murder and rape, criminals were punished by execution, most typically through public hanging.
Imprisonment was less common in the early colonial years, but the jail system soon found its way into being a staple of corrections in America. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that prisons in America shifted their focus – rather than just existing to punish criminals, prisons would now set goals to rehabilitate offenders through both education and skilled labor. Corrections in America would also make it a point to dedicate efforts towards mentally and emotionally re-training criminals so that they will be able to re-enter society when their sentence is complete.
As the system of corrections in America has evolved, there have been several different subdivisions in this segment of the criminal justice system. Youth detention centers hold minors under the age of 17 or 18 (depending on the jurisdiction) who have been remanded into custody or are serving a sentence. Several psychiatric facilities share many traits with prisons, particularly when dealing with patients who have committed dangerous crimes. Similarly, may prisons house psychiatric units designed to house offenders diagnosed with a wide variety of mental disorders.