The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons categorises prisons according to their level of security, and most state prison organisations use the same categories. The six commonly recognised security categories are known as minimum, low, medium, high, supermax and administrative. Each type of prison features security practices that are designed to best handle the types of inmates inside.
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Minimum Security Prisons
Minimum security prisons usually have a low staff-to-inmate ratio and little or no perimeter fencing. The inmates are free to move about within the prison without strict supervision and are often allowed to access the Internet. They use communal bathroom facilities and are allowed to store their possessions in lockers. Inmates usually participate in programs that are work-oriented and involve labouring on military bases or in other large institutions close to the prison.
Low Security Prisons
Low security prisons have a slightly higher staff-to-inmate ratio than minimum security facilities and typically utilise double-fenced perimeters with guards to watch them. They feature dormitory or cubicle housing that is locked and supervised at night. As with minimum security prisons, inmates use communal bathroom facilities. Their movements within the prison are only lightly monitored. Inmates often participate in work-oriented programs that allow them to be outside the prison.
Medium Security Prisons
Medium security prisons often feature double-fenced perimeters with electronic detection systems and guards that patrol the fences. The housing is comprised of single or double cells, often controlled remotely, and each cell has its own bathroom area. There is a high staff-to-inmate ratio. Inmates may be permitted out of their cells to access a common exercise yard or to participate in work programs or correctional programs. This is always done under close supervision.
High Security Prisons
High or maximum security prisons use walls and highly reinforced fences along the prison perimeters. These prisons use single-cell housing with remotely controlled sliding doors. Each cell has its own bathroom area. These prisons feature the highest staff-to-inmate ratio of any of the prison types. The inmates' movements within high security prisons are strictly monitored and some inmates may be confined to their cells for 23 hours a day.
Supermax Security Prisons
The Federal Bureau of Prisons only operates one supermax security prison, ADX Florence. This prison was designed to hold the most dangerous of criminals, such as serial killers or inmates known to have belonged to prison gangs. Inmates often spend 23 or more hours a day alone in their cells, and interaction amongst inmates and prison officers is severely limited. The prison cells have solid doors, no windows and a locked food portal. The prison itself can only be accessed through a tunnel.
Administrative prisons are used for unique purposes, such as the holding of offenders before trial or the handling and treatment of seriously ill inmates or highly violent inmates. Because of the variety of inmates that may inhabit an administrative prison, these prisons are capable of exercising all levels of security, as needed.
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