What Is Military Prison Like Compared to Civilian Prison?

When someone is sentenced to prison, their experience behind bars depends on a number of factors. To begin with, prison experiences vary greatly among different countries because every sovereign nation has their own method for handling people found guilty of committing a crime.

When we focus on prison inmates in the United States, someone incarcerated in a federal prison has a different experience compared to someone in a state prison. Custody level is also a factor, since someone who is in a supermax facility will have a completely different prison experience compared to someone in a minimum security prison.

Things are different in men’s prisons compared to women’s prisons, and facilities in California aren’t the same as facilities in Texas, Iowa, or New York. 

But what about a military prison compared to a civilian prison? What are the differences between the two? Keep reading to find out what military prison is like compared to civilian prison. 

In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • The guards in military prison took on the same job as the inmates
  • Military prisons are extremely clean
  • Rehabilitation instead of punishment
  • No fighting in military prisons?
  • Daily life in military prison is very regimented

The guards in military prison took on the same job as the inmates

One difference between civilian and military prisons is the dynamic among the guards and inmates. In military prison, the guards usually come from the local military police/security forces unit. Which means they are uniformed personnel who joined the military just like the inmates who are under their control. That creates an extremely different dynamic compared to civilian prisons.

Guards in state and federal prisons are usually one of two types. Some will just simply do their job and collect their paycheck. They’ll hang out in their office, control center, or guard shack — wherever they are assigned — drink coffee and talk with their co-workers through each shift and go home at the end of the day.

Then, there are the guards who live to provoke inmates and assert their authority. Basically, they go to work every day looking to make inmates’ lives as miserable as possible. 

Either way, there is never a feeling or sense of equality between the guards and inmates. The prisoners are always viewed as “less than.” That’s not necessarily the case in military prisons.

Military prisons are extremely clean

People who’ve been incarcerated in a military prison have described it as basic training to the extreme and that means that everyone is responsible for keeping their areas clean and maintained. 

According to We Are the Mighty, if a military prisoner’s area is even slightly unkempt or unsanitary, the “strict code of military discipline will come down in a hurry.” Because of this, military prisons are incredibly clean and well-kept.

On the flip side, federal and state civilian prisons are usually broken and rundown. The words “extremely clean” are rarely used to describe anything inside their walls. 

Inmates do what they can to keep their rooms and cells picked up, but they don’t have access to cleaning products, and they usually do the bare minimum. Many areas are so far gone that trying to do more often feels like an exercise in futility. 

Rehabilitation instead of punishment

Military prisons offer a number of options for inmates to rehabilitate themselves before their release. Instead of focusing on punishment, the focus is on correction and rehabilitation. 

Most inmates in a military prison will receive a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge, so they will need to find a new career and source of income. The military prison system offers training in different skilled trades like carpentry, culinary arts, auto repair, hospitality services, and more so the inmates can find employment when they are released. 

In my experience, preventing recidivism isn’t as apparent in civilian prisons. Many facilities do offer some kind of vocational classes or job training, but the programming is usually based on the labor needs of the prison. The education offered is limited to what is funded by the federal government. In other words, the programming offered at the prison serves the facility and not the inmates. 

The focus of military prisoners is on the long-term and how they can better their lives. As opposed to civilian inmates, who are usually trying to get through each day.

No fighting in military prisons?

Former inmates of military prisons say that fights are extremely uncommon in those facilities. When they do happen, they are apparently broken up immediately. Because inmates in military prisons are trained personnel, they are held to a much higher standard. Breaking the law doesn’t change that.

Prison gangs aren’t a thing in a military facility, and no one wants to lose their access to privileges because of a fight. The camaraderie actually continues — which goes back to that different dynamic between guards and inmates. The common theme is that they are all “in it together.”

On the civilian side, fights happen quite often and gangs are common. The population density is much higher in a civilian prison, and when something bad happens among the inmates, a facility will go on lockdown. 

Daily life in military prison is very regimented

The life of a civilian prison inmate is regimented. But it’s nothing like what a military prison inmate experiences. Again, it’s basic training to the extreme, so the inmates get up early, keep things extremely clean (both themselves and their surroundings), and they go to their jobs (wood shop, kitchen detail, dorm cleaning, chapel cleaning, grounds maintenance, etc).

In the evening and on weekends, the military prison inmates will get some down time at recreation. 

Military prison inmates also get the benefit of much better food compared to a civilian prison, and the medical care is also superior.

A military prison might sound like a better experience than being in a civilian prison, but ultimately, being behind bars is the worst, no matter what facility you are in. 

Are you surprised there is such a big difference between military and civilian prisons? Let us know in the comments below.


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