Law in Contemporary Society


According to the Federal Bureau of Prison’s population report, more than 200,000 inmates are incarcerated in federal correction facilities, which consist of more than 114 institutions throughout the country. Federal inmates are imprisoned throughout the nation, oftentimes far away from the state wherein they were convicted of a crime. Removed from home and forced into a distant prison environment, they frequently lose family and community ties in addition to suffering the normal ills of incarceration. Relocating prisoners to distant prisons is not only an act of cruel and unusual punishment against prisoners; it is also an act of cruel and unusual punishment inflicted on their loved ones, especially poor families who reside in far away places. Instead of mainly focusing on the length of confinement time for various crimes, decision makers in the federal government should account for the hardships individual and geographic groups of prisoners face while incarcerated in private prisons. While this essay focuses on the federal government, the considerations expressed apply equally to states that relocate prisoners.

Relocation punishes prisoners and does not increase rehabilitation

Rehabilitation, incapacitation, retribution, and deterrence represent intersecting and antithetical views on why and to what degree criminals should be punished. America’s incarceration policy has been shaped by a conservative and utilitarian philosophy that assumes that more punishment raises the costs of criminal conduct to the individual offender. In simple terms, our policy has been driven by the belief that tough sentences will deter or incapacitate criminals.

While some may argue that significantly less visits from family is an incentive for prisoners to conform to societal norms in prison and outside of it, the deterrent effect is probably de minimus. If the prospect of incarceration does not deter criminal behavior, it is doubtful that criminals will be deterred by the chance their family members will not be able to visit them. While in prison, the benefit from face-to-face interactions provides an incentive to conform. The stark contrast between somewhat pleasant visitations and the hardship of prison life is an incentive to behave in order to gain freedom. Thus, increasing the geographical distance between prisoners and their families is a disincentive for rational prisoners to obey rules while in prison and may possibly be an incentive for criminals to stay out of prison.

Relocation punishes families

Telephone and mail are the only options for family contact because the large majority of families cannot afford airfare to distant prisons for weekly visits to distant prisons. Relocation robs family members of physical contact resulting in mental anguish for both prisoner and family. If a crime has been committed, the family should not be made to suffer unnecessarily. When prisoners are relocated far away from home, families are left with three options: (1) forego visitations; (2) travel far distances; (3) relocate near the prisons. Each option is very burdensome and inflicts added mental anguish on prisoners and their families. Low-income families do not have additional income for traveling or relocating. So, these families are left only with the first option – no face-to-face visits until a prisoner returns home.


Whatever the goal of punishment by confinement to prisons, prisoners have unique, unpredictable experiences. The reality of what each prisoner experiences - their daily pain and suffering inside prison - is not completely captured in government reports or academic studies. A true measure of punishment is not simply the quantity of time in prison.

At minimum, federal relocation guidelines and judges should focus on placing convicts near their family and communities. For example, a MD resident should receive primary consideration for placement in a prison within a 100 mile radius. If imprisonment close to home is not feasible, federal sentencing guidelines should take into account the added hardship prisoners suffer due to relocation by decreasing sentences.


Confining criminals may be counter-productive to the goal of increasing public safety because prisons often do not focus on rehabilitation or teach the life skills necessary for prisoners to become productive members of society. Making visitations prohibitively expensive and onerous does not further goals of the criminal justice system such as the rehabilitation of prisoners. Relocation to faraway states occurs frequently in the federal prison system, causing undue suffering for prisoners and their families. The federal government, as well as states, should look for ways to relocate prisoners closer to their homes or reduce the projected time prisoners are incarcerated.

-- JosephWilliams - 10 Jun 2008



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r6 - 13 Apr 2015 - 02:12:44 - EbenMoglen
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