The penal system refers to the method in which people are punished for violating the legal system. This can be synonymous with prison in many respects, as prison is the consequence for many criminal offenders.
The penal system comes from the Latin word "poenalis," which means pain or punish. In the United States, imprisonment is the highest punishment for convicted criminals aside from the death penalty. Prisons are constructed to house a large number of convicted criminals as a means of punishment for their crimes. Historically, the penal system was proposed as an alternative to capital punishment in the late 18th century.
The penal system runs as an almost autonomous system, where prisoners are kept and given basic rights. They are given housing within the prison, as well as the basic provisions for survival and health. Prisons are run and maintained by law enforcement, providing a safe atmosphere within the institution.
While the penal system was formed originally as an alternative to capital punishment, some convicted criminals may spend years in prison before their execution. However, prisoners serving a temporary sentence within the penal system are given the chance to rehabilitate while within the structure, allowing them the opportunity to make amends for their crimes and become a productive part of society again upon release.