Prison Overcrowding Issue and Consequences

  The increasing number of inmate population have pushed prisons towards their maximum capacity and in some cases much over leading to inmates double-bunking in single cells or living in open dormitories (Howard 1997). In 1995, a national inmate survey conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) stated that 26. 4% of inmates shared a cell and 12% of those inmates sharing a single cell felt threatened by their cell-mate (CSC 1995). People who enter prison are deeply affected by its social context.

Painful prison conditions have harmful consequences for inmates and to the free world once these inmates are released. Bad prisons are not only unpleasant or uncomfortable; they could be destructive to society as well (Haney 2002).

2. Prison Overcrowding Destructive Effects on Inmates

Competition and conflict between increasing numbers of inmates over limited resources such as washrooms, library books, television lounges and recreational materials leads to frustration, higher rates of illness, aggression, violence and higher suicide rates (Howard 1997).

Crowding debrieve inmates from space to maintain personal identity or turn off unwanted interactions which creates stress. Inmates cope with excess stress in different ways such as withdrawal, aggression or depression which greatly diminishing social relations and interactions (Howard 1997). Prison overcrowding and idleness have lead to increasing number of explosive situations leading prison administrators to press for new tools to control and contain inmates. Most efforts to improve quality of life of inmates were sacrificed during the rapid increase in population of inmates.

Feeley & Jonathan (1992) identified a management style in which correctional decision makers think of prisoners as dangerous individuals that need to be “herded,” rather than as individuals in need of personal attention. 3. Methods to Reduce Prison Overcrowding To reduce prison overcrowding, researchers have suggested making changes to the design and operation of corrections facilities and reducing the number of inmates.

3. 1 Prison Design

Prisons should be designed to resemble normal residence environment to reduce the effect of crowding.

Stressful levels of noise caused by walking; talking, yelling and televisions could be reduced by use of carpets instead of tiled floors to reduce metal-on-metal contacts. Television and radio sources could also be isolated to reduce their noise. A more social environment could be created by using cushioned chairs and wall decorations (Howard 1997). New design concepts provide inmates more privacy and the ability to escape to individual space. Studies suggested that the need is not for more room but for more privacy.

Inmates should be allowed to decorate and arrange their private rooms and have keys to access their private space. (Johnston 1991).

3. 2 Reducing Numbers of Inmates

In their efforts to solve prison overcrowding, officials and researchers in the U. S. agree to reduce the population of correctional facilities in addition to constructing more facilities. Reduction in population of inmates could be achieved by using alternatives such as community supervision and intermediate sanctions such as parole release and fines. Arrests from crimes such as domestic violence, drugs and drunk driving have caused overcrowding in prisons.

However, prison crowding can not be reduced by keeping offenders in the community since community-based corrections programs are more crowded than prisons. Most of convicted offenders are in community correction programs such as parole and probation. It is falsely assumes that correctional facilities hold more offenders than community corrections programs. The cost to supervise someone on parole or probation is much less than the cost to keep an offender in prison this is due to the level of supervision per offender (Howard 1997).

4. Conclusion

Prison overcrowding could not be solved only by transferring inmates from crowded prisons to far more crowded correctional programs. Proper funding must be allocated to community correctional programs to enable them higher levels of supervision. Increased levels of supervision would enable them to expand their eligibility requirements to handle offenders confined in prison while at the same time maintain public safely. New correctional facilities should be built to contain the increasing numbers of offenders.

New facilities should be designed to provide a social environment that resembles that of the free world to help simulate a healthy environment for inmates to develop their social skills. Prisons’ environment should aim to decrease inmate’s stress levels by providing quiet and private space.


  • Correctional Service of Canada. (1995). CSC National Inmate Survey
  • Feeley, M. & Simon, J. (1992). The New Penology: Notes on the Emerging Strategy of Corrections and Its Implications.
  • Johnston, J. C. (1991). A Psychological perspective on the new design concepts for William Head Institution (British Columbia). Forum on Corrections Research.
  • Howard, J. (1997). Prison Overcrowding. John Howard Society of Alberta.
  • Haney, C. (2002). Prison overcrowding: Harmful Consequences and Dysfunctional Reactions. University of California, Santa Cruz.
  • Steinhauer, J. (2007). California to Address Prison Overcrowding With Giant Building Program. The New York Times published April 27, 2007.