Prison overcrowding is a major concern in corrections today, simply put; it means there are too many prisoners, and not enough beds in our facilities. Some of the problems caused by the issue include “accounts of inmates sleeping on floors, inmate misbehavior made possible by staff shortages, early release of inmates to relieve crowding, and packed jails refusing to continue to hold inmates awaiting transfer”(Durham. 1994. 31).
Author Pollock, states, in her book, titled ‘Prisons: Today and Tomorrow’, quoting from Harrison and Karberg (2004), that “ In 2002 state prisons were operating between 1 and 17 percent above capacity, and the federal prisons were 33 percent above their rated capacity”(Pollock. 2005. 44). What has been the cause of the increases we are seeing today? Are there any options available to alleviate the issue? A number of factors have been fueling the prison population increases that we have witnessed over the past two decades.
Evidence supports the belief that legislative changes made, that now require “Mandatory prison sentences for drug offenses contributed to increases in prison inmate numbers across the United States, as the number of drug offenders sentenced to prison more than tripled between 1986 and 1991″(Barak. 2007. 665). Also, quoting from Irwin and Austin (1997), Author Freeman states that “The conservative revolution has created an ‘unparalled explosion of the prison population”(Freeman. 1999. 87).
This ‘get tough on crime’ attitude has also seen the introduction of longer prison sentences, as well as the three strikes laws some states have enacted, that require mandatory sentencing for a third offense. Author Barak also cites as causes for the increases “Attacks on rehabilitative efforts, an ever increasing media focus on the elevated fear of crime” (Barak. 2007. 534), as well as economic downturns.
If one at all doubts the seriousness of this problem look at conditions in the state of Texas that occurred in 1985, “Some units were operating at 200 per cent capacity, with as many as five inmates to a two-person cell, and others sleeping in the hallways and outside in tents”( Barak. 2007. 535). These numbers have done nothing but climb across the United States. Overcrowding increases the risks to correctional officers, as well as inmates. Aside from increased overtime hours demanded of correctional officers, which can lead to fatigue issues, and in turn affect job performance and safety.
Freeman, in his book ‘ Correctional Organization and Management’ adds that another concern is ” The inability to adequately supervise the large numbers of inmates led staff to believe that inmates were able to violate prison rules with little risk of detection” (Freeman. 1999. 87). So what are the options available to corrections officials to combat this growing problem? For many “The blending of capitalism and punishment, for profit incarceration, has become a controversial criminal justice practice”(Barak. 2007. 534), but the privatization of corrections may be the only option to solving the dilemma, and it is not a new idea at all.
Durham states that” The history of private involvement in corrections in America extends back to the early colonial period”(Durham. 1994. 269), with documentation dating back to 1634 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Durham Also noted “In 1666 a private citizen entered into an agreement with the colony of Maryland to build a prison in exchange for 1,000 pounds of tobacco, and a lifetime appointment as keeper of the facility”(Ibid. 270). Private corporations now run facilities” At every level-local jails; state and federal prisons; and in many forms, juvenile detention facilities, halfway houses, and boot camps”(Barak. 2007. 534), are a few examples.
A survey commissioned by The National Institute of Corrections has shown that through privatization the burdens on correction facilities can be alleviated dramatically “More than thirty types of services were provided by private companies, including health care, education, drug treatment, vocational training, counseling and construction”(Durham. 1994. 268-269). We can see through privatization of corrections that not only can overcrowding be dealt with, but better services and opportunities for rehabilitation become available for the inmates, thus possibly lowering recidivism rates as well.
References: Barak Greg, Inc Net Library,(2007) Battleground: Criminal Justice, Edition: illustrated, Published by Greenwood Publishing Group. Durham, Alexis M, (1994) Crisis and Reform: Current Issues in American Punishment, Edition: illustrated, Published by Jones & Bartlett Publishers Freeman, Robert M, (1999), Correctional Organization and Management: Public Policy Challenges, Behavior, and Structure. Edition: illustrated, Published by Elsevier. Pollock, Jocelyn (2005) Prisons: today and tomorrow, Edition: 2, illustrated, Published by Jones & Bartlett Publishers.