In the early days of our country, severe punishments were often meted out with little regard to the seriousness of the offense. There was no such thing as being sentenced to probation in the 18th century. The concept of probation, or giving a convicted criminal a chance to redeem himself without serving time in prison, was first introduced in 1841 by John Augustus. In August of that year, Augustus decided to try a radical approach with a man convicted of being drunk and disorderly.
The man swore to Augustus that he would change his ways if only he did not have to serve time in the House of Correction. Augustus believed the man and he posted bail. Augustus went on to help others in the same fashion and eventually became regarded “a private angel and guardian of men convicted of crime” (Friedman, 1993, 162). Massachusetts was the first state to formally recognize this option in criminal sentencing in 1878 with the remaining states following suit throughout the rest of the century and onto into the early part of the 1900’s.
It would take some fine-tuning to bring probation up to its current standards. Early probation officers enjoyed no formal training and many states were without prerequisites for passing this form of sentencing. In the early years, probation was often given in exchange for a guilty plea most often to married men, those who held jobs and exhibited no apparent vices. Judges used the sentence of probation prodigiously for several decades.
It was only in the 1980’s, when the public clamored for stiffer penalties, that probation lost favor. In 1986, only 28% of male felony defendants were awarded probation as compared to nearly half of those convicted in 1970 (Friedman, 1993, 409). Probation initially became popular as the thrust of the legal system shifted from focusing on the “what” (the crime) to the “who” (the criminal) and how to best reform the offender (Friedman, 1993, 168). More recently, the focus has become a bit more equally fixed on both preventing the crime and rehabilitation of the criminal.
Today, offenders on probation are closely monitored by correctional officers through surveillance in the community. Often, some sort of restitution is also involved with the goal of making the offender accountable and responsible in order to rejoin the community without potential further risk (Jones, 2). This option allows the offender to serve a sentence under “house arrest” and maintain a job rather than be integrated into the prison system, which is already strained to its limit. The level of supervision varies based on the crime committed. For those convicted of drug charges, a more constant monitoring system is used, often electronic. Another alternative is to use a “combination of prison time and work release/community service” (Jones, 3).
Probation is often used as a condition of plea bargaining for a lesser sentence in exchange for information or a guilty plea. Plea bargaining came about as a quick, and cheap way, to move defendants through the legal system and probation helps to keep minor criminals out of jail.
The concept of probation has evolved in many ways since its inception in the 1800’s but it still incorporates the integral idea of giving a convicted criminal a degree of trust.
Prison Life: Comparison and Contrast with Life in General Society
According to the dictionary, the definition of a prison is “A place for the confinement of persons in lawful detention, especially persons convicted of crimes; a place or condition of confinement or forcible restraint or a state of imprisonment or captivity.” Prisons first came about as a means of correctional punishment. In colonial times, punishment was often a way to shame the criminal in public; putting someone in prison did not have the same effect as putting him or her out in public view to submit to shame and scorn. When prison was used for sentencing, jail terms were generally short and in most cases less than 30 days. It was not until the 1800’s that prisons were built in more abundance and courts used them for sentencing on a regular basis.
Today prison systems vary widely according to level of security and the state in which they are located. The aim of each and every one is still the same, however, and that is to deprive a convicted criminal of freedom.
For a prisoner there is no freedom of choice. He is told when to wake up in the morning, when it is meal time, when to work, when to exercise, when to go to bed. There are no food choices or menus and the prisoner must either eat what is given him or go hungry. No comforts of home await him in his cell; the prisoner is lucky to be able to have a selection of books and perhaps a photo or two to keep him company. At night, lights are turned off at a particular time. Cell checks can be performed at any time of night or day.
There is no privacy for bathing or bodily functions. The prisoner is unable to have any items that are not approved by the system. He also has no choice regarding a cell mate unless undue violence forces a cell change. Most prisons do not allow televisions or even radios as forms of entertainment; even when they are allowed there is no satellite or cable attached and no choice of programming. The work program is enforced in many prisons with prisoners being allocated to do jobs that benefit the community or provide food or clothing for the system. Any “luxury” items must be earned and paid for with pitifully low wages.
In comparison, life in general society is full of choices. As a free citizen, people in this country are allowed to choose where they live, where they work, what they eat and what they do. There are no proscribed times in which they are forced to do anything and if they are unhappy at their job, they are allowed to quit and find work elsewhere.
The times in which free citizens awaken in the morning and go to bed at night are at their own discretion; if someone wishes to never turn out the light and stay up all night, he may do so. He has the ability to go out and purchase items at will, as needed or desired. The private citizen can choose to live as he wants whether that be in clean or messy surroundings, in a house filled with knick knacks and furniture or a more austere setting. Entertainment options abound. In short, nothing short of illegal activity is prohibited for a free citizen.
Whether in prison or out in general society, there are still rules made by our national and state governments to be abided by and morals which govern our actions. In prison it is more closely monitored while in general society citizens do not warrant such close supervision. As well, people in either situation must earn what they have. Loss of freedom is the biggest difference between living in prison or living outside.
Contrast and Comparison of Georgia and Florida State Prisons
In the Georgia state prison system, the dormitories shown are used for housing groups of prisoners who require minimal security. Rows of bunk beds are stacked two high and furnished with a thin blanket and pillow. A box beneath the bunk is the only place for personal items. The lighting is industrial and the flooring is utilitarian and easy to keep clean. It is surprising that there is a wide expanse of windows. Other than the addition of appliances and counters, the prison kitchen looks much the same as the dormitory. It looks to be well stocked, much as a large commercial kitchen might be furnished. The health intake area is set up like a school room with rows of small wooden desks headed by a larger desk manned by a prison employee.
The state of Georgia’s correctional system offers a boot camp, a diversion center, probation detention, and transitional centers in addition to the state prisons. The state runs several farms, which provide all the food for the prisoners incarcerated at the low cost of $1.51 per prisoner per day.
The Florida state prisons use a traditional cell configuration built in two stories overlooking a central corridor as well as the dormitory concept. According to the website, most of the Florida correctional facilities use dorm housing. The bunks in these dorms are not stacked but are situated individually in rows. A row of small, high windows lines one wall while fluorescent lighting illuminates the area.
Cells house either one or two men and have two cots that pull down from the wall with a thin blanket and pillow on each. There is one small window in the exterior wall and a narrow door. A sink and open toilet are the only other furnishings. Death row cells are even more sparse and small with a total size of 6’ x 9’ x 9.5’. They have no window and a barred entrance. Death row cells are configured for only one person.
The majority of inmates in the Florida state correctional system are enrolled in either a substance abuse program, a vocational education or adult education program. They also participate in Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises or Prison Industry Enhancement work programs. Inmates also grow some of their own food and both prison systems seem to be doing a good job of keeping food costs down through farming their own vegetables.
The two prison systems are similar in their housing set ups. Cells and dormitories are sparse and barren. Both systems require prisoners to be involved in production of the food used within the facilities and offer work programs. Both Florida and Georgia’s state systems offer probation and transitionary facilities.
The Florida state correctional system has more programs available and more options for rehabilitation of prisoners. The Georgia system seems to offer more minimal security facilities although they did not have a virtual tour of anything other than dormitories posted on their website and they most certainly house death row inmates. Georgia’s website is set up more for the convenience of family members of those incarcerated while the Florida website focuses more on the hard facts of prison life as a deterrence measure.
While both states offer model facilities for incarceration of criminals, neither system looks particularly inviting or homey.
Friedman, Lawrence M (1993). Crime and Punishment in American History. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Jones, Calvin. “Alternatives to Standard Methods of Incarceration”. Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Retrieved November 8, 2007 from the FDOLE Web site:
“Virtual Prison Tour. Georgia Department of Corrections. Retrieved November 8, 2007 from the GDOC Web site: http://www.dcor.state.ga.us/AboutGDC/VRTour.html.