There are a number of factors that influence the offender selection system, including type and nature of crime, prior arrests and convictions, and mental status of the offender. How well any given system functions can determine how well the correctional system functions over-all. Not surprisingly, priority is given to offenders determined to pose the greatest risk to society, and for whom special measures are required in terms of type of incarceration. Offenders with a history of violent crimes, and for whom rehabilitative opportunities have proven ineffective, are classified as high-risk and treated accordingly. First-time offenders, particularly if the crime did not involve violence, are at the opposite end of the spectrum for how they are classified and treated. Infractions within the correctional system are factored into how an inmate is classified, as is known association with prison gangs – a major problem in prisons.
The correctional system in the United States includes a hierarchy of facilities, ranging from minimum security to maximum. In the federal system, the so-called “supermax” facility in Fremont County, Colorado, constitutes a level above maximum security, and is used for the highest-risk prisoners, including convicted terrorists and senior organized crime figures, who are given lengthy sentences and are considered a high-risk of escape or a high risk of continuing to operate a criminal enterprise despite being incarcerated. This latter category of prisoner is particularly difficult for correctional systems, as preventing such prisoners from communicating with colleagues either serving alongside them inside a prison or on the outside involves intrusive measures that can bump against restrictions on “cruel and unusual punishment,” for example, prolonged periods of solitary confinement.
Another factor that is sometimes incorporated into a classification system is a particular prisoner’s threat to other prisoners – another very difficult task given the nature of prisons and those who inhabit them. Known sexual predators who prey on weaker inmates, for example, are classified as such, but, once again, isolating such inmates is difficult given the overcrowding affecting many correctional facilities and limited options available to prison administrators.
There are a number of factors that influence the offender selection system, but there is very little in a practical sense that can be done with such information. The criminal justice system is under tremendous strain and prisons are overburdened and understaffed. Beyond basic determinations of the level of prison – minimum, medium, or maximum – in which a particular offender is to be incarcerated, physical and legal constraints on how the most problematic offenders, at least within the state prison system, can be handled leaves little room for maneuver.