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Supermax Prisons: A Wise Investment or a Fad?

Overview of Supermax Prisons

Supermax prisons are a relatively new and expensive trend whose overall constitutionality is unclear. Are these institutions a fad or a wise investment?

For your second writing assignment, you will watch three videos.


The first, "Solitary," will give you a first hand account of life in solitary confinement in Red Onion State Prison in Virginia. Please do not skip this video.


The second, "Supermax: A Prison Within a Prison," ABC News anchor, Ted Koppel, introduces you to life in a supermax prison in Texas.


In the third, "Supermax: Prison Gangs and Racism Behind Bars," Ted Koppel talks about prisoners doomed to solitary confinement due to their gang affiliations. They discuss the dangers that drove them to join—and that keep them looking over their shoulders even in the so-called protective environment of a supermax prison.


Mr. Koppel spends a night in solitary confinement to observe firsthand the effects of supermax on inmates—and to document the type of ex-convict who will one day be returned to society: racially intolerant, unrehabilitated, and psychologically and emotionally broken. (These videos are dated, but still very useful).


Here are some questions to think about as you watch the two videos:

1. What is a supermax prison?

2. What is the purpose of a supermax prison? 

3. Who should be sent to a supermax prison? 

4. What effect do you think a supermax prison would have on the staff who work there? -

5. What's a "correctional cocktail"?

6. Would you want to work as a corrections officer in a supermax institution?


With what you now know about supermax prisons, answer the following questions:

1. Do you think supermax facilities are a fad or a wise investment? -It is worthwhile to pay the price for supermax confinement, no matter what it costs? Why or why not? 


2. What are the consequences of a supermax prison? -Is there evidence to suggest that supermax prisons get inmates to modify their behavior so that they feel they do not need to resort to violence? -Can we change offending behavior by locking people up in cages?


Please ground your discussion of these issues with the textbook, class lectures, and videos. I do not expect you to list an answer to each of the questions presented, but I expect you to draw connections between these videos and class material.


Grades will be based on the following criteria:

(a) Critical thinking;

(b) Integration of materials; and

(c) Grammar & mechanics. Please re-visit the writing assignment rubric on eLearning before turning in this assignment.


This writing assignment should be 3 full pages. Use Times New Roman 12 point font, double spacing, and 1-inch margins. Late assignments will not be accepted. Please do not ask for exceptions.

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