In addition to the legislative response of politicians and policymakers to a punitive public, there are several other factors that may contribute to prison overcrowding. Drug use is instrumental in a quarter to a third of all new jail and prison admissions and is the leading cause of parole and conditional release violation. As such, drugs are both directly and indirectly (harsher sentences for drug offenses) linked to prison overcrowding. Demographic changes contribute to prison overcrowding, as exemplified by the crime explosion of the mid-1960s when the baby boomers were in the age range most conducive to crime (late teens to mid-20s). Over time, prisons age and become less efficient; some may even be closed. This places an increased burden on existing facilities and adds to the growing overcrowding problem. With advances in technology, law enforcement may become more efficient, which could potentially increase the jail and prison populations and contribute to prison overcrowding.
The overriding cause of prison overcrowding is fairly obvious: The number of inmates exceeds the spatial and social capacity of correctional institutions and prison systems to house these inmates. On the other hand, the underlying cause of this surplus of inmates is less apparent. Several sets of factors appear to have contributed to the growth of jail and prison populations in the United States and other parts of the world. One important factor, at least in the United States, is a punitive public. Many people in the United States want to see those who violate society’s rules punished for their actions. Politicians frequently comply with the public’s demand for greater punishment because they do not want to appear weak on crime. Accordingly, they introduce legislation that provides for mandatory, determinate, or longer sentences; reduces good-conduct time credit; and restricts or eliminates early-release programs such as parole.
Many people believe that overcrowding is the most dangerous and significant problem facing correctional institutions today. Discuss the causes of prison overcrowding. Explain the health and safety issues to not only the inmates and prison staff, but also to the general public as a whole. Provide a comprehensive plan which provides multiple solutions to this issue. Beyond increasing governmental spending on correctional facilities, what steps can be taken to reduce prison overcrowding and protect the public in the long and short term? How will legislative bodies and criminal courts need to be involved in a comprehensive prison population reduction plan? You may supplement your research with interviews of people connected to the prison industry, government and/or politics.
Many people believe that overcrowding is the most dangerous and significant problem facing correctional institutions today. Discuss the causes of prison overcrowding. Explain the health and safety issues to not only the inmates and prison staff, but also to the general public as a whole. Provide a comprehensive plan which provides multiple solutions to this issue. Beyond increasing governmental spending on correctional facilities, what steps can be taken to reduce prison overcrowding and protect the public in the long and short term? How will legislative bodies and criminal courts need to be involved in a comprehensive prison population reduction plan?
Since the 1970’s and the early 1980s, the number of people in prisons started to rise at unprecedented rates. The number of prisoners grew and it was difficult for prison staff to track the names and locations of the inmates. Supervising and overseeing the inmates became a hard task for them. Today, the numbers have excessively risen and prison overcrowding is a major issue. Funding the prisons does not match the number of inmates and this result to miserable conditions in prisons. Prisons should have conducive environment to avoid inflicting unnecessary pain and harm that would have negative effects when inmates are released to the free world. When the numbers outweigh the resources available, the prison system becomes unstable. Facilities are not enough for all inmates.
Dysfunctional effects of overcrowding
Overcrowding causes chronic pains to inmates. Their behavior, health and morale are negatively affected. It is observed that the have blood pressure due to the stressful conditions they live in. the illness levels are higher as such inmates undergo physical and psychological impairment. In general, inmates face the greatest problems due to this issue. The number of social interactions rises and they live in uncertainty and confusion. The system is unable to address the special needs of inmates. Those with mental health needs cannot be well screened, monitored or managed as there is no capacity to address their special needs. Problematic prisoners are also not well catered for as it is difficult to address them. The number of unidentified and untreated inmates deteriorates with overcrowding and this reduces the efficiency of prison systems. (Kuppers et al 1999)
Educational needs of inmates are inappropriately addressed. The number of inmates is uncontrollable and the illiteracy levels rise. Access to jobs by inmates is slow and some do not get jobs at all. This could be attributed to their illiteracy levels as well as lack of assignments, which can give them skills, and experience. The number of inmates is too high to be absorbed in the few prison industry programs. Allocation of tasks is also affected. Such idleness has negative psychological and behavioral effects. It exposes them to violence and destructive behavior, which adds no value in making them better persons on re-entry into the society.
Front-end strategies are designed to manage prison overcrowding by reducing the number of new inmates entering the prison system. One of the most obvious front-end strategies is to prevent crime before it occurs. Even when crime does occur, incarceration may not always be the best option. Diversion programs that call on the individual to perform community service and the use of special drug and mental health courts can relieve overcrowding by diverting individuals who commit nuisance and petty crimes away from the prison system and into programs tailored to their individual needs. House arrest, intensive probation supervision, and drug surveillance in lieu of incarceration are additional ways to manage first-time offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes without resorting to incarceration and adding to the already burgeoning correctional rolls.
Potential solutions to the problem of prison overcrowding can be divided into three general categories: administrative responses, front-end strategies, and back-end strategies. The most common administrative response is to build more prisons, although this is an expensive proposition that may fail to produce its desired effect. Prison construction will have little impact on prison overcrowding if the problem resides with the jail and its inability to manage pretrial and short-sentence inmates. Other administrative responses that could potentially offer a solution to the overcrowding problem include converting existing prison and nonprison facilities into inmate housing units, double and triple bunking, transferring inmates to private or contract facilities, and achieving greater multiagency communication and cooperation.
Aggression and disciplinary problems may be the principal outcome measures used in research on prison overcrowding, but they are not the only possible consequences of overcrowding. Additional consequences of prison overcrowding include reduced recreation time for prisoners, decreased access to health and mental health care, poor staff morale, increased facility maintenance costs, diminished institution security, and fewer opportunities for inmates to learn trades and attend school. These consequences, as well as the possibility of a rise in future aggression, illustrate the importance of finding a solution to the problem of overcrowding. A solution may not be immediately forthcoming, but by paying close attention to the systemic nature of prison overcrowding a solution, or combination of solutions, may well be found.
There are several possible explanations for these inconclusive and sometimes anomalous findings. First, because younger individuals often have trouble avoiding getting disciplinary reports in prison, it is possible that changes in the age structure of the prison or the practice of housing older and younger prisoners in separate facilities could influence the results of overcrowding research. Second, most of these studies overlook the positive or ameliorative effects that may reduce the negative impact of prison overcrowding. When researchers examine the effect of educational, occupational, and psychological programming on prison-based aggression, they frequently find that these positive pursuits can have a calming effect. Both these factors, age and positive influences, suggest that a systems approach should guide research on prison overcrowding.
Back-end strategies help reduce prison overcrowding by releasing individuals from prison months or even years before their statutory release dates. Releasing inmates to halfway houses 6 to 12 months before their scheduled release can help ease prison overcrowding while maintaining some modicum of supervision over the inmate. If an individual does well in the halfway house, then the next logical step would be home confinement with monitoring provided by an electronic bracelet or similar surveillance device. Early release through parole is another back-end strategy capable of alleviating prison overcrowding. Allowing incarcerated offenders to earn good-time credit every month for good behavior, which would then move the offender’s release date up, is another example of how prison overcrowding can be reduced with a back-end strategy.
The most frequently mentioned consequence of prison overcrowding is aggression. Early research on overcrowding in rodents indicated that mice and rats raised in a crowded environment were more violent, stressed, and diseased than mice and rats raised in an uncrowded environment. Studies conducted on prison overcrowding, however, have yielded mixed results. In some studies, prison overcrowding has been found to correspond to an increase in future disciplinary problems, particularly aggression. In other studies, prison overcrowding has failed to correlate with aggressive and nonaggressive disciplinary problems. In still other studies, prison overcrowding is associated with a noticeable decline in future aggressive and nonaggressive disciplinary problems.