The Jail/prison issue requires a whole book and more vivid descriptions. The strip-search procedure, which inmates have to suffer every time they have a visit, is a procedure I experienced first hand while serving a 30 days sentence in Walhalla. I was jailed for fighting against the installation of surveillance cameras in Peekskill, NY see NY Times for some context. Here are my first recollection: "After spending six hours in a holding pen, I was brought to a small room. There a female guard ordered me to undress, to bend over, spread my cheeks open and cough". The idea is that inmates bring in drugs carrying them in their orifices. But it is more frequent for the drugs to be walked in by guards.
Inmates are not assessed emotionally. One of the girl who was in jail with me, hanged herself a couple of weeks after my release. We all knew she was depressed, she was crying all the time.
A huge number of people jailed, who should be in mental hospitals, end up in jail for several years. In Walhalla, there were women with mental disorders who were with me for my first sentence and I saw them again several years later when I spent an overnight in jail this time for fighting against the Iraq war.
The jail commissaries sold terrible products at inflated prices; since my release from Jail I have boycotted Colgate, the only tooth paste you could buy in Walhalla County Jail.
MCI was the only phone company and the inmates could only call collect leaving families with huge bills. Who awarded the contract to them? And why inmates could not use a calling card like they do in Israeli prison where I spent 9 days for fighting against the occupation of Palestine? (Not that the conditions in Neve Tirza were good). Inmates in the US come from the lower socioeconomic stratum and thus they can't afford the calls. Calls which are important to their families and children.
And then, we are not discussing the women jail population which is mostly drug addicts and prostitutes; no rehab centers for the poor and the pimps rarely end up in jail.
The idle life in jail does not prepare the inmates for their release. There are not enough classes to help them acquire skills which would help them get a job once they are released. But the few classes offered will probably be cut under Obama's budget freeze.
There are many other issues, overcrowding, sex... You can't keep humans, who are sexual animals, in cages and think there won't be any sexual activities. How can this be resolved?
Certainly, placing all delinquents together under one roof can't be a solution. Most people I met in jail were known to the guards and to other inmates; they were recidivists. This could only convince us that the system of incarceration does not work.