What Is a Correctional Facility?

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As of March 2023, almost two million people are incarcerated in different facilities in the United States.

The state, federal, local, and tribal systems hold these individuals in the following facilities: 1,566 state prisons, 98 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 181 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian country jails.

Data showed that most incarcerated people have been charged with misdemeanors or awaiting trial or sentencing. Roughly 200,000 inmates serve life sentences, while the rest serve time in state and federal prisons serving varying sentence lengths.

But what exactly is a correctional facility? How are the correctional facilities different from each other? Who owns and manages them? Can private organizations own correctional facilities?

This article defines and differentiates the types of correctional facilities, including their jurisdiction and purpose. This article also explores the characteristics that differentiate jails from state and federal prisons.

If you need to check the different facilities in the country, you can visit LookUpInmate.org. This site gives you access to inmate records from over 7,000 U.S. correctional facilities, including federal and state prisons, local jails, military prisons, and immigrant detention facilities.

You can find information on facility regulations, visiting hours, sending money to inmates, and contact details such as phone numbers and mailing addresses. You can also get updated on an inmate’s release date to determine when they will rejoin society.

Correctional Facilities

Many see prisons and jails as places of punishment and cells to house offenders, primarily violent criminals. However, people sometimes forget that one of the main reasons for incarceration is the correction and rehabilitation of citizens who have gone astray.

What Is the Meaning of Correction Facility?

According to the 34 U.S. Code § 10651, a correctional facility is a jail, prison, or any detention facility used for individuals under arrest, in detention, or convicted by the court or criminal justice agency.

Criminal justice agencies include state, local, and tribal courts, prison, jail, law enforcement, and agencies responsible for criminal justice administration. Administrative agencies include prosecution, community supervision, and pretrial services.

Correctional facilities provide a way for inmates to undergo reform through different programs that improve their self-esteem and self-worth.

These facilities focus on providing education for inmates and provide general education development (GED) and college degrees.

Correctional facilities also allow inmates access to religious services and work release programs as additional ways to induce changes in their behavior and outlook.

What’s Another Word for Correctional Facility?

Below are synonyms to the term “correctional facility,” as listed by different dictionaries and thesauruses. The list includes slang terms commonly used by people who want to refer to prisons discreetly.

  • Prison
  • Penitentiary
  • Jail
  • Correctional institution
  • Detention centers
  • Jailhouse
  • Penal institution

Slang terms include:

  • Cooler
  • Slammer

Difference Between Prison and Correctional Facility

Many assume that correctional facilities or correctional centers are entirely synonymous with prisons. However, a correctional facility is an umbrella term for institutions that aim to confine and rehabilitate convicted individuals. A prison is a type of correctional facility.

Prisons vs. Jails

The critical difference between prisons and jails is the sentence terms of their inmates.

Jails typically accommodate inmates with short-term sentences, most of which are misdemeanor cases. Jails also serve as detention areas for the recently arrested and those awaiting trial and sentencing.

On the other hand, prisons accommodate inmates who have violated state and federal laws and have lengthier sentences. Prisons are further categorized into state and federal facilities.

Another critical point that makes prisons different is the availability of a more comprehensive array of facilities for the benefit of prisoners. These initiatives include treatment programs for mental health, anger management, substance abuse rehabilitation, and educational programs.

State Prisons

State prisons managed by state agencies like the Department of Corrections hold accused individuals found guilty of murder, rape, or robbery. These prisons have different security facilities to monitor felons or individuals convicted of severe crimes.

Federal Prisons

Offenders convicted of a federal offense are incarcerated in federal prisons. The United States Federal government directly operates this type of correctional facility.

The agency responsible for the operations of all federal prisons in the country is the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Inmates housed in these prisons are usually convicted of the following offenses:

  • Sex offenses, including cases linked to child pornography
  • Drug trafficking or drug dealing
  • Identify theft
  • Money laundering
  • Immigration offenses
  • Racketeering

There are five different types of federal prisons, each with a specific purpose.

1. Minimum Security

The BOP defines a minimum security prison as the least restrictive federal prison in the United States.

Minimum security prisons are often called federal prison camps (FPCs). These facilities house nonviolent offenders with relatively clean records.

FPCs look more like school campuses than what people think prison is. Prisons with minimum security have little to no perimeter fencing, and prisoners are housed in dormitory-style units.

Minimum security prisons typically offer work programs, rehabilitation classes, and off-site work arrangements.

Two types of minimum-security federal prisons are:

  • Federal prison camps (FPC) are entirely independent minimum security prisons.
  • Satellite prison camps (SPC) are prison facility extensions designated as minimum-security.

2. Low Security

Inmates with 20 years left on their sentence but with a history of violence can be placed in low-security prisons.

Low-security prisons’ characteristics include perimeter fencing and a higher staff-to-inmate ratio than those with minimum security. Housing units in low-security prisons are dormitories or cubicles.

3. Medium Security

People incarcerated in medium-security prisons tend to have a history of violence and escape. Another term for this prison type is a federal correctional institution (FCI).

With this security level, inmates are housed in cell-based housing, with a more rigorous treatment program to minimize violent actions while in prison. Programs are also available to rehabilitate inmates for their possible release and reentry into society.

Because medium-security prisons are likely to house violent offenders, electronic detention systems and perimeter fencing with razor wires are standard features.

4. High Security

High-security prisons are also referred to as United States Penitentiaries (USPs). This prison type employs the highest security level for prisons in the country.

People incarcerated in these prisons have violent criminal records and are closely guarded and monitored by surveillance systems.

USPs have protected perimeter fences surrounded by razor-wire fences or walls. They have watch towers that ensure the facility is guarded around the clock.

An estimated 12.4% of all federal prisoners are housed in high-security prisons. Inmates in these prisons have records of violence inside prisons or have tried to escape. Hence, these facilities are in constant tension.

In states with the death penalty, inmates awaiting capital punishment or on death row are typically kept in solitary confinement in high-security prisons.

5. Administrative

Another type of prison is the administrative prison, designed to house incarcerated individuals with special considerations. Inmates usually housed in administrative prisons are chronically ill inmates with high-escape risk and extremely dangerous.

Meanwhile, the maximum security penitentiary or administrative maximum (ADX) is the country’s only “supermax” prison. It houses the nation’s most dangerous criminals. Inmates are kept under 24-hour surveillance and spend most of the day inside their cells.

You can visit LookUpInmate.org and check each type of federal institution listed here. You’ll have access to additional information about federal prisons’ policies, programs, and responsibilities.

Private Correctional Institutions

The U.S. prison system is divided into public and private. These two prison systems share the burden of housing for every incarcerated individual In the country.

The government has contracts with businesses willing to operate privatized prisons to reduce the strain on the limited prison capacity of many facilities in the country.

Private prisons obtain funding from government contracts that are primarily based on the inmate population and average length of time served.

Some people need clarification about the business model of private correctional institutions and how they’re qualified to manage prison facilities. Some also view private prisons as a money-making opportunity for corporations.

However, the government can’t quickly build facilities to house the growing prison population, so private prisons help.

Other benefits of using privately-operated prisons include the following:

  • Private prisons can help reduce the overcrowding of inmates.
  • Private prisons have more resources and can provide better services than the government.
  • Private prisons can offer innovative programs in fields like health care through effective health services.

Still, other people argue that private prisons are not heaven-sent solutions, citing the following issues:

  • Private prisons can exploit incarcerated people for corporate gain and profit.
  • Private prisons are expensive to operate, so expensive that prisoners tend to remain in government-operate prisons.

Juvenile Detention Centers

In the United States, offenders below 18 years old fall into the juvenile justice system.

Youth offenders not of legal age are placed in short-term confinement called juvenile detention centers. These centers detain these youth offenders before they go to juvenile court.

Juvenile justice aims to rehabilitate youth offenders and prepare them to reenter society. The government provides a more rehabilitative approach to handling juvenile cases than adult offenders.

Inside the Criminal Justice System

The U.S. criminal justice system is a complex web of agencies all working together to enforce the law, ensure public safety, and deliver justice to its citizens.

The U.S. criminal justice system has three major components, each with its specific role and jurisdiction:

  • Law enforcement: Each person in the criminal justice system is like a gear inside a complex machinery. Law enforcement’s responsibilities start when the public’s safety is jeopardized by people who’ve broken the law.Law enforcement has many agencies, but it’s divided into two major branches:

a. U.S. Federal Law Enforcement agencies: Examples of these agencies include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

b. Office of the Inspector Generals: You can see these offices as law enforcement working to protect the integrity of federal agencies. Inspector generals conduct evaluations, audits, and investigations for waste, fraud, and abuse within a particular department.

The police force is also part of law enforcement, divided into state and local agencies. The types of police force you’ll find in the United States are the following:

  • Local police: This includes local, municipal, tribal, county, and regional police.
    The local government is responsible for the local police. The local police are primarily responsible for upholding the laws of the jurisdiction, providing patrol, and investigating local crimes.
  • State police or highway patrol: These are police forces that carry out law enforcement activities between states. The state police assist local police departments in handling investigations and emergency cases that are out of the jurisdiction of the local police.
  • Deputy sheriffs: These are officers deputized by the state to enforce state laws in their respective counties. Sheriffs usually oversee a county jail.
  • Special jurisdiction police: These are police designated in specified jurisdictions like schools, airports, parks, and places where security is needed.
    Arrest made by the police starts the criminal process, which can lead to court hearings and eventual incarceration of convicted individuals.
  • Courts or adjudication: The courts determine the innocence or guilt of a person accused of a crime. The courts are also responsible for ruling on the severity of a sentence of a criminal once convicted.
    The adjudication system is divided into local and federal courts. Local state courts handle local criminal cases, while federal courts handle larger ones.
  • Corrections: People arrested by law enforcement agencies or sentenced by the courts enter correctional facilities. This part of the criminal justice system oversees the jails and prisons in the United States.
    Aside from being a place of punishment, correctional facilities take on the role of rehabilitating criminals who are kept behind bars.

If you need an inmate and facility locator to get contact information on the facility where your loved one is housed, visit LookUpInmate.org. With Look Up Inmate, you have access to an extensive database of more than 7,000 correction facilities in the United States.


1. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023
2. Definition: correctional facility from 34 USC § 10651(l)(1) | LII / Legal Information Institute. (n.d.).
3. Definition: criminal justice agency from 34 USC § 10705(6) | LII / Legal Information Institute. (n.d.).
4. Anger Management in the Prison: An Evaluation; Anger Management Program Outcomes
5. No End In Sight: America’s Enduring Reliance on Life Sentences
6. Types of Law Enforcement Agencies
7. Breaking Down the Different Types of Prisons in America

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