Purpose of Classification Systems
Classification systems are used throughout the US prison system. In common with similar approaches in other states, California’s Department of Corrections (CDC) uses such a system in the interest of increasing the efficiency of utilization of available incarceration facilities. For example, by assigning offenders to the most appropriate type of prison accommodation, the highest security accommodation (which is also more costly to operate) is reserved for the prisoners for whom that higher level of security is considered necessary. Issues such as the likelihood of misconduct in prison and the escape risk have to be taken into account, too ( Berk & de Leeuw 1999 p. 1).
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California’s Classification System
Inmates are classified in a Reception Center, and ultimately housed in the most appropriate type of prison. In California, going from minimum to maximum levels of security, the prison facilities are classified through four increasing levels of security (I through IV). Level IV also covers specialized units, including its highest level known as the Security Housing Unit (SHU). Note that facilities such as county jails, detention and reception centers (those facilities where newly-convicted offenders are held awaiting transfer to “ mainline” prisons), are generally fairly high security establishments (De Maille 2007).
Reception and Classification Process. This first process can take a maximum of 120 days. Following a review of all the new inmate’s case factors, he or she will be awarded a classification score, and – through an initial classification committee – will be assigned to an appropriate prison. Where possible, that location will take into account the inmate’s family. Following that assignment, there is an “ endorsement” process that can take up to a further 60 days. Then the offender has to wait for a place at that facility to become available and for transport to prison (“ Entering a California State Prison – What to Expect” 2014).
Classification Scores. The ranges of inmate scores appropriate to prison security levels are shown here: Level I: Scores of zero through 18; Level II: Scores of 19 through 35; Level III: Scores of 36 through 59; Level IV: Scores of 60 and above. These scores are calculated on the basis of a number of factors. These include the age of the offender, details of the crime committed (and if violence was involved), prior offenses and imprisonment, gang membership, and more. Subsequent to that initial score calculation, the the score is reviewed on an annual basis to determine if an offender meets specific criteria that would permit the original score to be lowered. Appropriate conduct within prison can qualify for a score reduction. Conversely, the score can be raised following necessary disciplinary action (“ Entering a California State Prison – What to Expect” 2014).
Prison Security Levels. Those facilities classified as Level I will generally house inmates in dormitories and have a low security fence. Level II prisons will still accommodate prisoners in dormitories, but will have a higher security perimeter, which may be monitored by armed guards. Level III establishments will house prisoners in cells, which may be adjacent to the outside wall and have a similar secure perimeter to Level II prisons. Level IV facilities will house inmates in cells that are not adjacent to the exterior walls or fences, and will have armed coverage within the prison as well as on the perimeter (“ Entering a California State Prison – What to Expect” 2014).
Classification Committees. These committees comprise three or more members of staff, chaired by a senior person. For a Unit classification committee UCC), which carries out the initial review and any subsequent changes or transfers, the chairperson is of the rank of Facility or Correctional Captain. In the case of an Institutional classification committee (ICC), the chairperson must be a Warden or Assistant Warden. This type of committee meets when an inmate is guilty of misconduct or other serious issues (“ Entering a California State Prison – What to Expect” 2014).
Berk, Richard a., & de Leeuw, Jan. (Jun. 1999). “ An Evaluation of California’s Inmate Classification System using a Generalized Regression Discontinuity Design.” University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Retrieved from: http://gifi. stat. ucla. edu/janspubs/1997/reports/berk_deleeuw_R_97. pdf
De Maille, Vince, J. (2007). “ Types of Prisons.” Incarceration 101 Program. Retrieved from: http://www. incarceration101. com/types-of-prisons. php
“ Entering a California State Prison – What to Expect.” (2014). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved from: http://cdcr. ca. gov/Ombuds/Entering_a_Prison_FAQs. html