The Criminal Justice System of North America

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The criminal justice system of North America is popular across the world. This system includes a well-pronounced prison system that is often the subject of much debate. According to statistics, the rate of incarceration in the United States has been on the rise over the last decade. This means that prisons have become vital to the correction system. Whenever this system is examined, the inner workings of the American prisons are often ignored. Lorna Rhodes’ book is a detailed account of the situation inside maximum-security prisons. Rhodes focuses the reader’s attention on a Washington maximum-security prison. The book is titled “Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison”. It focuses on philosophies that might help explain how these prisons affect the psychiatric health of different individuals.

The facility of Rhodes’ interest was a special housing unit-a control unit inside the Washington maximum security. These “supermax” units represent the society’s view of how to go about deterring and incapacitating those people who are considered “dangerous”. Most people expect to find the most hardcore criminals in these units. The reasoning behind these “supermax” units is that the people contained here are too dangerous to be mixed with the rest of the population. These units also serve as smaller prisons for other prisons. The claim that these units serve to incapacitate the most dangerous people in the society is only accurate to some extent.

According to this book, most of the issues that extreme confinement purports to control are the same issues that it seems to develop. Extreme confinement and the fruits it bears are defined by the social hurdles of those confined. In addition, the ones enforcing confinement, and the likelihood of a social being adapting to such conditions contribute to the outcome. In Rhodes’ words, this set up seems to “secrete the very thing it most tries to eliminate” (Rhodes, 2004). Her research shows that the harsher the confinement the more the problems it generates. This stance is likely to be opposed by proponents of extreme incarceration. Most of them feel that the people contained in these systems ought to be “put away” or weeded from the society. The only problem is that these people can be re-introduced to the general population at a certain point. This means the society has to contend with products of the “supermaxes”. In Rhodes’ view, this is when the effects of this system become apparent.

In today’s world, movies and popular culture are on the forefront depicting the people contained in these units as “extreme misfits”. Therefore, in most people’s minds these units house rapists, murderers, and serial killers. Rhodes demystifies this by claiming that some of the people contained in these units are actually general criminals. The only reason they end up in these units is because the units also serve as prisons for less-secure prisons. This implies that some of the people in maximum-security facilities are not by definition “the worst of the worst”. One might end up in such a facility just because he/she tried to secure his/her freedom from a less secure prison. Trying to escape from prison is not strange by any standards but it is one of the reasons that ordinary convicts find themselves in a “supermax”. Following this argument, one can argue that the system is indeed flawed. This is because not all those housed in these units are typical “outlaws”.

In the course of her book, Rhodes raises an interesting behavior that is typical of those in control units. The author notes that because most inmates are reduced to either obeying or disobeying prisoners, they turn to unusual ways when expressing their feelings. The book notes that in one prison, the only way in which an inmate can express dissatisfaction is by throwing feces at a prison staff (Rhodes, 2004). The author then continues to question whether this behavior is a sign of insanity. This is considering that this behavior only points towards either insanity or extreme desperation. She goes further by questioning whether a person left with no personal choice can result to such an action as an attempt to regain control of his/her actions. However, the main concern is whether anyone who has been subjected to such inhumane conditions can ever go back to living a normal life in a community setting. The truth is that there is a likelihood of such a person suffering deep emotional and psychological scars.

“Total Confinement” is a book that addresses life in a maximum-security prison in intricate details. The author details the flaws of the confinement system but concludes the book on a positive tone. She gives an example of recent prison policies that incorporate prisoner education and personal relationships between prisoners and prison staff. The book encompasses strong theoretical, practical, and political assertions. All these make Rhodes’ work very rich in scholarly content. This book is quite different from other books on the same subject matter. This is because the author chose to focus on an “inside” issue as opposed to focusing on a general issue.


Rhodes, L. (2004). Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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NursingBird. 2022. "The Criminal Justice System of North America." April 28, 2022.

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NursingBird. "The Criminal Justice System of North America." April 28, 2022.