Prison Classification Systems

May 15, 2024

As part of our core mission, the Reentry Coalition of New Jersey commissions evidence-based research to explore issues that impede successful reentry into society and provide new ideas to promote public safety and reduce recidivism.

A prison classification system categorizes incarcerated individuals into groups by security needs, in order to assign them to the proper custody settings. Every individual who enters prison receives a “classification” (i.e. close, high, medium and low) which reflects the individual’s risk of violence they pose to other prisoners, staff and the outside community, as well as if they are considered an escape risk. Classifications are the basis for an individual’s programming, treatment needs, housing, work, visitation rights and other privileges.

The Coalition asked the Center for Effective Public Policy (CEPP) to review and summarize best practices around the prison classification system and its impact on an incarcerated individual’s release decisions.

Here are some key findings from their research:

  1. Classification systems must be customized to each facility and state regulations.

According to the CEPP, a one-size-fits-all system is not a reliable classification gauge – every prison must develop its own system, based on its incarcerated population and with regard to the appropriate state laws and regulations surrounding custodial populations.

 

  1. Investment in time, training, resources and staff is imperative to success.

A robust, flexible, data-driven classification system requires time, training, resources and a skilled multidisciplinary staff to ensure that an individual is not over- or under-classified.

 

  1. Gender can play a key role in classification.

CEPP recommends that a gender-specific classification system should be developed for women, considering that women pose a low escape risk and many need trauma-informed guidance and support.

 

  1. Classification systems should evolve.

A well-functioning classification system is key to a well-functioning corrections system. As such, classifications need to be reevaluated over time and assessed for changes in the population, as an individual’s classification can have significant impact on their parole and release eligibility, as well as the overall safety of the community they are being released to.

 

CLICK HERE to read the policy paper in full and learn more about prison classification systems.

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