Maximum security prisons, also known as “supermax,” are the toughest, highly guarded, most restricted, and highly controversial in the United States. These prisons are controversial mainly because of the treatment and the nearly twenty-three hour isolation each inmate faces on a daily basis. The first program selected for a critique of criminal justice as entertainment is called “Inside: Supermax” presented on the Court TV channel. Its purpose was to give an inside look into the daily life of the inmates in a maximum security facility.
The program opened with a few facts concerning maximum security facility being discussed, the Utah State Prison. The Utah State Prison measures 680 acres of land covered with large inmate housing and Correctional officer’s administrative buildings. The prison consists of four thousand male inmates and thirty female inmates, each serving time for reasons ranging from “forgery to capital murder.” “Inside: Supermax” continues with an explanation of what a supermax actually is in the Utah State Prison; the prison’s maximum security sections in the prison are called “Uinta One” and “Uinta Two,” these housing areas are made specially for the high risk inmates who are restricted because they frequently act out. The program then goes on to cover the daily life and routines of these high risk inmates; including the threat inmates pose to Corrections Officers working at the Utah State Prison. The program offers interviews from many inmates and Corrections Officers from the supermax housing for males and females and briefly covers the issues involved with the gang housing section of the maximum security prison (the gang housing in the Utah State Prison is known as medium security prison, with more relaxed rules and greater privileges to the inmates). Lastly, the program introduces the issue of inmates who have served time in maximum security prisons, known as supermax, and then face their current or future release back into society, and the struggles and fear they face adjusting their lives back into a less structured environment and trying to succeed in the real world.
In Court TV’s presentation of “Inside: Supermax,” the main focus seemed to be on the actual prison life of the vast number of inmates serving time in the Utah State Prison, as well as the corrections aspect of the prison itself. While first highlighting the prisoners as the heinous criminal offenders they are, giving information about the crimes committed by the inmates to have been placed in a supermax facility; the program also gives light to the lack of humanity faced by each one of the inmates who serves time in a prison full of pure sensory deprivation and isolation for twenty-three hours out of every day. But when the sympathy factor kicks in it is immediately met with the cruel and sometimes disgusting treatment faced by Corrections Officers working in the Utah State Prison. Sometimes officers face inmates who assault them by spitting or throwing fecal matter, but more seriously they can be faced with assault with a deadly weapon.
“Inside: Supermax,” portrayed the prison system, and especially, maximum security facilities in a harsh yet truthful light. It portrayed the seriousness of choosing the occupation of a corrections officer by the interviews it offered and by the vast examples of the types of abuse the officers take from the inmates. It also portrayed what a real life of crime actually leads to. The program emphasized the reality of where gang members and violent offenders are taken after a court conviction. The program even shows the remorse of the inmates while being interviewed, when they realized that they have ruined their lives and destroyed others. On the other hand, the show also interview some inmates that seem almost proud of themselves and their accomplishments. One inmate even goes into detail about his assault on another. In addition, “Inside: Supermax” finally gave viewers a true visual picture as to what prison life and prison discipline is actually like for the people serving time in these kinds of facilities. There are many theories on the causes of criminal behavior and no one theory can be completely correct when looking at an entire prison full of people. However, based on the information given during the program, “Inside: Supermax,” and the extensive interviews of some of the worst, most violent inmates the selection of theories which one may find logical is narrowed. The “Choice Theory,” “Social Theory,” and “Life Course Theory” all seem plausible reasons as to why many of the inmates in the Utah State Prison committed the crimes the did.
Lastly, at the end of the program, a question was presented by one of the inmates during an interview with him, in which he said, “How can a person survive in society after five years in a madhouse?” Referring to the release of a current inmate and his upcoming release back into the real world. Leaving behind a prison life that many inmates believe leaves them mentally scarred and on the verge of insanity. The inmates response was bleak. According to the U.S. Department of Justice- Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within three years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983.”1 In addition, according to Daniel P. Mears of the Florida State University, “…Because of research that suggests a range of negative unintended effects of supermax prisons (e.g., creation or aggravation of mental illness among supermax inmates), research is needed that examines the full range of potential unintended effects, positive and negative, that may be associated with supermax prisons…”2 Just another sad aspect of the supermax prison systems. The actually question of success in supermax prisons is still to new to foresee but to the inmates in these facilities, it’s not helping anyone.
1. U.S. Department of Justice- Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
2. Daniel P. Mears. Florida State University. March 2006.
1. “Inside: Supermax.” Court TV. 2006.
2. “Reentry trends in the U.S.” U.S. Department of Justice- Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 25 Oct. 2002. Date Accessed 30 Nov. 2006.
3. “Effectiveness of Supermax Prisons.” Florida State University. Mears, Daniel P. March 2006.
Date Accessed 30 Nov. 2006
5. Gaines, Larry K.and Roger LeRoy Miller. Criminal Justice in Action: The Core. 3rd Edition. Belmont: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2006