Overcrowded Prisons in the US

Prison overcrowding has become a major problem in the US correctional facilities hindering the effectiveness of this section of the criminal justice system. Currently, most prisons accommodate more than twice or thrice of the capacity they ought to. The California state prison which is one of the major prisons in the US is a clear example of how the prison overcrowding problem has persisted. Many inmates are accommodated in the gyms as well as along the hallways, a factor that makes the correctional programs ineffective in the prisons.

The presently applied solutions include the adoption of better weaponry and corrective measures as well as the hiring of more staff which only works to worsen the problem. Most recreational areas have been converted to sleeping areas leaving the inmates with minimal space to release their tension. This is made worse by the fact that in most cases they are idle and hence vent their anger to one another as well as to the guards. It is clear that the problem of prison overcrowding needs to be addressed effectively and with the urgency that it deserves.

The most applicable approach to this problem will be increasing the effectiveness as well as the efficiency of the already existing prisons rather than the construction of more prisons. This paper will focus on the causes of prison overcrowding in USA before offering the most applicable solution. Increasing the efficiency of the entire criminal justice system would involve legal reforms which will see other punitive approaches adopted to replace the lengthy sentences that are associated with many crimes.

Many offenders of petty crimes have been sent to prison in a legislative process to invoke tougher measures on crime. On entry to the overcrowded prisons such inmates learn criminal behaviors and violence thus making them worse off than they were on entry. Increasing the effectiveness of the probations would also have a significant role to play in as far as resolving prison overcrowding is concerned. (Freeman). This is attributed to the fact that there is a direct relationship between the probationers and the prison overcrowding.

Ineffective probation processes sees as many as 17000 probationers being sent to prisons annually which costs the government approximately $1. 1billion. Making the probation effective would see the recidivism rates drop to a tune of 10-30%. This would save the government in terms of finances while making the society a safer place to live in. This effectiveness would be realized if more probation officers were hired and constant training done. A manageable ratio of probationer to the probation officers would ensure that they adhere to the set legal requirements and thus reduce their chances of being sent back to prisons.

(Iaria) The history of prison overcrowding dates back to two or three decades ago when the number of inmates started rising at increasing levels making it difficult for the prison staff to track the inmates by their names. This necessitated the application of numbers to refer to the inmates. Unfortunately, as the number of inmates continued to rise government funding did not match up thus destabilizing the entire system. (Haney 2). Prison overcrowding can be blamed for the increased rates of recidivism as with the ineffective correctional systems prisoners are not well rehabilitated to reenter the society.

As Jennifer in the article “California to address prison overcrowding with a giant building program” noted the recidivism rates in California were as high as 70% and they were attributed to prison overcrowding. This observation is backed by Haney who noted that two thirds of those in the Californian system had been incarcerated before. The high rates of recidivism are a threat to the entire society as they are a clear illustration of the high level of insecurity. There are direct as well as indirect consequences of prison overcrowding in the society. This problem affects the inmates, the prison staff as well as the society as a whole.

As Haney, noted the inmate’s behavior, their health as well as their morale are negatively affected by the high population in the prisons. Most of them suffer from health complications such as high blood pressure and depression due to the stressful conditions in the prisons. The identification of individual inmate’s needs is a difficult task in an overcrowded prison and this makes it hard to effectively resolve. Inmates also loose their personal identity while in the overcrowded prisons. The root problems of each inmate should be well established and resolved if the rehabilitative process is to be effective.

A clear illustration is an inmate suffering from mental problems that triggers their engagement in criminal behavior thus finding their way into prison. Without the realization that they need counseling as well as other mental related programs to reform such inmates may end up worse off than they got into the prisons. Failure to properly screen, monitor and manage such inmate need makes the entire rehabilitative process ineffective. (Haney 2). Effective application of rehabilitative programs is not possible with immense prison overcrowding. Limited space would see the effectiveness of some programs such as education jeopardized.

Library and other facilities that would boost education are also minimal thus threatening the effectiveness of this program. Education is a very important aspect in the correctional facilities as it is supposed to raise the literacy levels of inmates making them easily assimilated into the society while offering them a decent means of earning a living. When this is not realized the recidivism rates are expected to go up as with no skills to reenter the highly competitive job market the inmates may have no choice but to opt for criminal activities as a means of survival.

Such indulgence will only work to strengthen the vicious circle of imprisonment. The high numbers of inmates also makes the rehabilitative programs ineffective in the sense that the chances of enrolment in some programs like the prison industries are few. The number of assignments meant for the inmates are also minimal compared to the inmates high numbers, a factor increasing idleness in the prisons. Violence and destructive behavior are subject to rise when inmates have much free time at their disposal. This has the effect of hardening some inmates and making them worse off then they were on entering into the prisons.

The idleness also has negative psychological consequences on the inmates increasing their chances of suffering from stress and depression. Prison overcrowding demoralizes the prison staff as it renders their efforts fruitless. It also causes burnout among the prison staff as they have an overwhelming number of inmates to monitor. Controlling an already agitated crowd in a confinement is not an easy task for the guards as well as the entire staff in the correctional facilities. Some prison staffs have a vocation of seeing the inmates well reformed and successfully assimilated back into the society.

This is however not realized as with the recidivism rates it is clear their efforts were not effective. The conditions in the overcrowded prisons are also demoralizing for the staff whose hard work is rendered fruitless. At times they may be forced to apply harsh approaches against the inmates in desperation and this only makes the problem worse. Overcrowded prisons are also a threat to the prison staff security given the psychological problems in these confinements. (Haney 10). Prison overcrowding triggers the indulgence in illegal and criminal activities in the prisons.

The large numbers increase anonymity which offers an effective ground for these activities. Some prison staff may collude with the inmates to engage in drug trafficking within the prisons. Prison overcrowding is also associated with the loss of life as some inmates may seek suicide as a solution to their frustrations as well as confusion in the prisons. (John Baker et al). Other harmful effects of overcrowding in prisons are that it is associated with poor hygiene and poor sanitation which triggers the spread of diseases. It also exerts pressure on the medical supplies.

Overcrowding in prisons sees the inmates go without some necessities of life like toilets and showers which they are forced to queue for. The entire society is directly affected by prison overcrowding when the peace and stability is compromised by the increased recidivism rates. Criminal activities create tension and fear in society and thus have a psychological effect. It also has an economical effect when the crime in question is theft or destruction of property. The society is also indirectly affected as it funds the prisons and funding an ineffective prison is a bad investment especially as the government has other programs to finance.

The government finances are largely from taxation from the citizens. Spending much money on an ineffective prison affects the amount of finances that are to be spent on other programs. The major issues blamed for overcrowding in prisons is the legal system which in an effort to adopt strict measures to crime, imposed longer sentences. The drug problem which is associated with crime is also to blame for the increased numbers of people being sent to prison. Other factors include the effectiveness of the law enforcement authorities as well as the procedures and techniques they adopt.

To resolve this problem it would be more appropriate to adopt changes in the legal system that sees people found guilty of petty crimes being punished through other punitive approaches like payment of fines or through the community corrections. This approach would involve various discussions by the legislators who changed it in the first place to embrace a harsh stand on crime. Regulating the inflow of criminals being sent to prison would help in increasing the effectiveness of the prisons thus reducing the recidivism rates that contributes by a large magnitude to the prison overcrowding problem.

This approach would aim at increasing the effectiveness of the correctional facilities as rehabilitative organs and would also involve the investment in better facilities as well as more staff. The financial cost would however be minimal compared to the construction of more prisons. This approach may also cost the society as there are instances where people on parole or on other punitive approaches have been reported to commit crime thus destabilizing the society’s peace and harmony. However this is better than the current predicament where sending people to prisons only works to make them worse as it subjects them to inhumane conditions.

It is also wastage of the country’s resources as it fails to attain the intended purpose. Making the current correctional facilities more effective by reducing the numbers sent there would be better than the construction of more prisons. Construction of prisons would not be an effective approach to handling the prison overcrowding in USA despite its costing the government a fortune. As David in ‘encyclopedia of crime and punishment’, noted more prisons would not resolve prison overcrowding as the problem as this option has already been applied without success.

He observed that the current ‘‘inmate level is beyond the scope of what the construction of new prisons would address’’ (Levinson1240). Construction of more prisons would also be inappropriate as there are other important programs or projects that the government has to attend to such as health care and education. Much money would be needed in the construction of more prisons and since taxation is the major source of income for any government the tax payer’s money would be spent in this exercise.

Constructing more prisons may also not suffice as a solution to the prison overcrowding as more people would still find their way back into the prisons as long as the tough laws on drugs and crime would still prevail. (Van Ness 182). More prisons would also be dismissed by those would argue that it sees punishment as of more effectiveness than the rehabilitation of prisoners. It also raises concerns as there are fears that private corporations may support it for their own selfish intentions.

If the rehabilitation were to be capitalized or when the ‘business of incarceration’ dominates the prisons the rehabilitative objective may not be attained as they would be motivated by the profits associated with it. (Barak, 527- 532). As Baker and others in ‘a solution to prison overcrowding and recidivism: global positioning system location of parolees and probationers’ noted the US government spends over 20billion dollars annually to pay the criminal justice officials such as the police, correctional officers as well as legal counsel.

Construction of more prisons would involve more finances in additional to this and when the prisons are ineffective this would be a lot of money going to waste. (42) Prison overcrowding is a major problem in the US. It is attributed to the prevailing legal system that aims at imposing harsh means to crime with the aim of discouraging criminals. It is also associated with the increased efficiency of the law enforcement authorities as well as the increased rates of drug and substance abuse. It has negative consequences on the inmates, the prison staff as well as the entire society and should therefore be addressed effectively.

Rehabilitation of criminals ought to be the core purpose of the prisons and not punishment. Effectiveness of the prisons would be attained if the numbers flowing into the prisons is regulated to maintainable levels. Incorporating the community as a whole in the criminal justice system would also play an important role in resolving the prison overcrowding in the US. This can be through the community based corrections where the entire society would have a role to play in the establishment of long term solutions to prison overcrowding.

Constructing more prison as advocated for by many may not amicably resolve this problem in addition to costing the government a fortune. Works cited: Professor Craig Haney. Prison overcrowding: Harmful consequences and dysfunctional reactions. University of California. Santa Cruz. http://www. prisoncommission. org/statements/haney_craig. pdf Steinhauer Jennifer. California to Address Prison Overcrowding With Giant Building Program. 2007. http://www. nytimes. com/2007/04/27/us/27prisons. html? _r=1&ref=us&oref=slogin John Baker et al. A solution to prison overcrowding and recidivism. Global

positioning system location of paroles and probation. 2002. http://www. gemstone. umd. edu/Teams/documents/innovative. pdf. Haney, Craig. “Prison Overcrowding: Harmful Consequences and Dysfunctional Reactions. ” prisoncommission. org. 2 Nov 2008. Commission of Safety and Abuse in Americas Prisons. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://www. prisoncommission. org/statements/haney_ craig. pdf> Barak Gregg. Battleground: Criminal Justice. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. P 526-531 Levinson David. Encyclopedia of crime and punishment. Sage Publishers 2002. p 1240 Van Ness Daniel W. Crime and its victims: what we can do.

InterVarsity Press, 1986. p182 Iaria Vincent J. Probation can reduce prison overcrowding. October 13, 2006. Retrieved on 9th May 2009 from http://www. sdcounty. ca. gov/probation/newspaper_stories/Probation_Can_Reduce_Prison_Overcrowding. pdf. Baker J et al. A solution to prison overcrowding and recidivism: global positioning system location of parolees and probationers. Retrieved on 9th May 2009 from http://www. gemstone. umd. edu/teams/documents/innovative. pdf. Freeman Robert M. Correctional organization and management: public policy challenges, Behavior and structure. Elsevier Publishers, 1999