State vs Federal Prisons

There is nothing worse for anyone than having to spend some time in prison. However, if a person commits a crime or violates the law, it does not matter how dreadful staying in a jail is because either way, one will land there. The United States of America has correctional facilities of two types: the state and federal prisons (James, 2013). There are many people who believe that spending time in a federal prison is better than being in a state correctional institution, and this raises a question of what makes the differences between the federal and state prisons. In any way, incarceration is a denial of freedom, and there is no form of denial that can be good for a person, neither in a federal nor in a state prison (James, 2013). Therefore, the difference between the two correctional institutions is not based on the structure or amenities, but on the organization and management of these facilities.

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State and Federal Prisons

State prisons are controlled by the state government, and usually, they deal with the crimes that are violations of the state laws. Each state in the United States can create and adopt its own laws and legislation (Coutsoukis, & Information Technology Association, 2006). That is why some states can legalize marijuana while others will not. When someone breaks the state law, he or she is taken to a state prison for correction. On the other hand, there are also certain laws that apply to everyone in the United States regardless of the state. A good example of such a law is murder (Garrett, & Carlson, 2008). These laws, which apply to all states, are referred to as the federal laws, and the violation of these laws gets one locked into a federal prison. Basically, the aim of both correctional facilities is the same, but the crime committed determines where one will serve his or her sentence.

The Bureau of Prisons keeps records of all prisoners. When people commit crimes, they are classified according to the degree of the criminal act. Although there are instances when individuals, who have committed state felonies, stay in the federal prisons, these correctional facilities are meant only for those individuals, who have been found guilty or who are waiting for trial on a charge of federal crimes, which are breaking the laws of the United States (Garrett, & Carlson, 2008). All other individuals found guilty of crimes, which are not necessarily part of the United States laws, are held in the county or city jails.

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Different levels of the facilities exist in both federal and state prisons. In the state prisons, there are three levels: minimum, medium, and maximum-security prisons; the level depends on the severity of the crime committed by a person. In the federal prisons, there are five levels ranging from minimum security prisons to high security prisons. The severity of the crimes committed is also a major determinant of the level of the facility, in which the offender can serve his or her sentence. It is worth noting that these facilities also divide and separate their offenders depending on the crimes. In the state prison system, offenders are separated depending on their crime, just like in the federal prison system; nevertheless, in this case, they can serve time in the same facility, but they do not mix. In the federal prison system, the prisoners can serve their sentence separated in different facilities. This means that federal offenders can serve time outside their state while state prisoners cannot (Garrett, & Carlson, 2008). Additionally, in both federal and state prison systems, there are separate facilities for males and females.

Not much is different in the administration of both the federal and state prisons. As it has been already indicated, both are correctional facilities; therefore, they have similar administrative structure. The senior-most authority in prison is the warden, who is assisted by deputies for each department within the prison administration. There are four main administrative departments in the prison. These departments include management, custody, correctional programs, and industry. To cut on the costs that state and federal prisons receive from the government, the industry department runs agriculture and other productive activities within the prison facilities. Consequently, the resources produced in prison are consumed by the inmates. However, today, the administrative structure in the prisons may change due to several amendments made to the Constitution, which protect the prisoners more than ever before (Garrett, & Carlson, 2008). Additionally, there are several technological advancements, and, since the main aim of the correctional facilities is to change an individual and not to punish him or her, the prison administration may be expanded in the future.

The final administration of the correctional facilities in many state prisons rests with the governors of each state. The governor appoints director of prisons, but he still has to seek advice and consent of the state Senate for the person he or she chooses. This director is handed full authority over the prisons since his/ her powers make him or her a chief administrative officer (Michigan Department of Corrections, 2012). The deputies, just as it has always been in the traditional federal prisons, are heads of the departments within the correctional institution.

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In both the federal and state prisons, there is the Field Operations’ Office, which is responsible for investigations, gathering of information, and implementation of programs, such as the felony probations for adults and parole supervision (Michigan Department of Corrections, 2012). This Office is important because it makes follow-ups on offenders, who have already served time in correctional facilities; it determines whether such individuals have been successfully rehabilitated or they need to be imprisoned again (Campers, 2012). It is important to note that the state correctional department does not allow people, who are on probation or on parole, to leave the state without permission, and that is what connects the Field Operations’ Office to the state prisons (Michigan Department of Corrections, 2012). It is noteworthy to understand that the deputy director in this Office also reports to the director of prisons. Some other important responsibilities of this office include parole supervision, offender reentry, and electronic monitoring among others. Parole management is conducted by the Parole Board, which is appointed by the director of the state prisons, and one of those appointed is the designated chairperson. The main functions of the chairperson include supervision and management of the Parole Board. This Board reviews the conduct of offenders in the state prisons, who have already served a larger part of their sentence, to determine if these people fit to be assimilated back into society.

Lastly, there is the Operations Support Administration that is headed by a deputy director, who also reports to the director. The functions of this officer are giving tactical, technical, and any other forms of support to the central staff and providing different departments with internal organizational support (Michigan Department of Corrections, 2012). This means that finance, management, legal affairs, health, and many other issues fall under the jurisdiction of this department. It is worth keeping in mind that it does not matter what is the level of the correctional facility or even whether it is a state or federal prison, the hierarchy of leadership follows the same path in each facility. However, when it comes to the federal prisons, the governors do not have a say in the management and administration of this system, and everything is left to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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The U.S. Marshal Service works hand in hand with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in keeping records of prisoners, and today, there is the inmate locator system, which is used to trace the movement of inmates in the federal correctional facilities (Michigan Department of Corrections, 2012). Sometimes, prisoners who are in federal prisons may be moved from one correctional institution to the other, either because of their own safety issues or if the inmate is near parole so that he or she is taken to a prison that is near to his or her state. Just like in state prisons, prisoners in federal prisons can also be paroled. A committee, just like the Parole Service Board in the state prisons, is responsible for reviewing the behavior of the inmate before and after incarceration to determine if this individual is ready to reenter society as a free individual.


People make many assumptions concerning issues, with which they are not familiar. This way, the difference and similarities of the state prisons and federal prisons are not spared. Most of the information that people give about this two systems is based on assumptions, and only few individuals have made enough efforts to study the issue. As it is seen in this essay, it would be wrong to look at the differences and similarities of the state and federal prisons based on their architecture or how well guarded they are. As a rule, all prisons are built so that inmates cannot escape and nobody can say that one is better than the other one in terms of serving time there because both abridge an individual’s freedom (Campers, 2012). The best way to review the differences and similarities should be based on the analysis of the structure of administration and management. This paper was meant to compare the state and federal prisons, and it has successfully attained this aim by analyzing the structure of administration. It has been seen that state prisons are run by the state while federal prisons are run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This is the main factor, which should be considered when one analyses the two systems because the management is different and the offender goes to one of the two institutions depending on the crime committed.

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