Prison Life in the United States

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Prison Life in the United States

The prison population for men and women has been rising in the last few decades. There have been studies to show how the prisoners live in their surroundings as well as how they are as prisoners. Living in prison is becoming more of an occurrence for men and women. The experiences for men and women vary differently in prisons in the United States. The life in prison for men, prison life for women and transitioning from prison life back to community life make up integral parts of the prison ‘circle of life’ in a sense.

The male inmate’s world is not for someone faint of heart. Men make up 93% of the prison population. Prison is a whole new world for the people entering it. The values and behavioral patterns that are set by the other inmates are for when the new prisoners arrive in order for them to endure their new position which is the prison subculture. Prisonization is the actual process of the new process of the prisoners accepting the lifestyles and values of prison. The new values and behavioral patterns the prisoners Along with convict values, roles, and attitudes the prisoners developed their own slang, prison argot. The time spent locked up in prison for men can be different varying by each inmate. Inmates express their individuality through their prison lifestyle. Some of the typical prison lifestyles include the violent, aggressive men, the opportunists, the colonizers, and the gang-bangers. The many different lifestyles of the prisoners make prison society strict and unforgiving (Schmalleger, 2013). A major aspect concerning male imprisonment is homosexuality and sexual victimization. Usually the prisoner is either the victim or the aggressor. Prison rape has been a problem that led to PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act). A summary of observations of sexual violence given by Humboldt State University sociologist, Lee H. Bowker, show that most sexual aggressors do not consider themselves homosexuals, sexual release is not the primary motivation, many aggressors must continue in gang rapes to avoid becoming victims, and the aggressors have themselves suffered damage to their masculinity in the past (Schmalleger, 2013).

The life in prison for women is vastly different from men’s experiences. Women’s numbers in prison are much lower than men’s, but women are getting incarcerated at a faster rate than men.* Today, women make up 7% of the prison population. Among the 7% of the overall prison population, 25% of the women joining the prison population recently gave birth or are still pregnant.* Most women prisoners are sent to women prisons, but in smaller states there are special wings in some prisons for women that include men. The first women’s prisons developed new methods of discipline. Some new forms included decorous walking, with hands clasped behind the back and they were also sent to their ‘rooms’ with no supper (Rafter, 1985). A difference for women in prison is that they create fake families. The fake families can include a mother, father, son, and daughter. The lifestyles of women in prison usually center around three. The three lifestyles are the square, the cool, and the life. The squares had few criminal early experiences with criminal lifestyles. The cool were more likely to be offenders and tend to keep to themselves. The life types are familiar with lives of crime (Schmalleger, 2013). There are women with certain characteristics that increase the chance of incarceration more frequently than other women. African American and to a lesser extent, Hispanic women have higher imprisonment rates. Between 1990 and 1998, there was an increase in admissions of drug offenders and it accounted for 25% of the total growth rate among African American prisoners, 18% among Hispanics, and only 12% among whites. By the end of 1990s, African American and Hispanic women were most likely to be incarcerated for drug crimes, whereas white women were most likely to be for property and violent crimes (Kruttschnitt & Gartner, 2003).

Finally, for someone who has spent time in a cell and has a chance to be reintroduced back into society, the transition is not simple. In some cases, people that are sent to prison are eventually able to be let out of prison to return to society. In 2002, 600,000 individuals left state and federal prisons, 4 times as many as made similar journey’s five years ago (Visher & Travis, 2003). Prisoner reentry and reintegration experiences depend on individual characteristics, family and peer relationships, community contexts, and state policies. The individuals not only have been shaped by their prison experiences, but their past experiences before prison affect their reentry to society. Their work skills and job histories, mental and physical health, attitudes, beliefs, and personality traits all tie into how they will make the transition into society again. The ex-cons who do not have a supportive family or group behind them, there is a high chance that they will return to prison for reoffending. Recidivism is an important concept/part of the reentry to society. Whether a former prisoner desists from crime or commits a new crime will determine how long he or she remains on the streets. Some reasons why former prisoners commit new crimes or that they do not commit new crimes are based on four transition stages of every prisoner’s life experiences: life prior to prison, life in prison, the moment of release and immediately after prison release, and life during the months and years following prison release. The Bureau of Justice Statistics examined criminal recidivism of nearly 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994. Overall, 67.5% of the prisoners were arrested for a new offense within 3 years. Of those prisoners arrested, 51.8% went back to prison either serving time for the new offense, or for a technical violation of their release. Men were more likely to return to prison (53%) than women (39.4%) were. African Americans (54.2%) were more likely to go back than whites (49.9%), non-Hispanics (57.3%), and more likely to return to prison than Hispanics (51.9%). The younger prisoners and the prisoners with longer prior histories of criminal behavior were more likely to return to prison as well (Visher & Travis, 2003). All the influences on the former prisoner will determine whether the reentry into society was a success or a failure.

Prisons across the United States have a consistent subculture among the inhabitants. The men and women in the prisons go through different experiences in the institutions in which they are placed. The transition to prison life may be difficult to grasp, but the reentry to society as a former prisoner can be a much greater task to tackle once the harsh, violent, and strict life in prison sinks its teeth into them.


Schmalleger, F. (2013) . Criminal Justice: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Gartner , R. , & Kruttschnitt , C. (2003) Women’s Imprisonment, volume number 30. Retrieved from

Travis , J. , & Visher , C . A . (2003) Transitions from Prison to Community: Understanding Individual Pathways, volume number 29. Retrieved from

Rafter , N . (1985) Gender, Prisons, and Prison History, volume 9, number 3. Retrieved from