Reducing Prison Overcrowding & Consequences of Overcrowding

It is automatically assumed that imprisonment alone is “destructive to the psychological and emotional well-being” of detainees. (Bonta and Gendreau, 247) Prison overcrowding only adds to the unpleasant experience of incarceration. (Box and Hale, 210) Criminologists take the position that prisoners typically take the harmful consequences of imprisonment and prison overcrowding with them into the general population upon release from prison. (Haney, 3) A number of studies have produced empirical evidence that overcrowding in prisons increases the risk of harmful imprisonment.

(Paulus, Cox, McCain and Chandler, 90) Researchers have concluded that the stress of living in confined, crowded spaces increases the risk of high blood pressure which in turn leads to both physical and psychological illnesses. (Paulus, McCain and Cox, 115) Aside from psychological and physical detriments, overcrowding can also give way to disciplinary difficulties. For instance Megargee (295) maintains that in circumstances where crowding is “chronic rather than temporary” the result is a restraint on the individual’s “personal space” and an increase in “disciplinary violations.

” (295) Ultimately social interaction with “high levels of uncertainty, goal interference, and cognitive load” increases in overcrowded conditions. (Cox, Paulus and McCain, 1159) It therefore follows that prisoners in an overcrowded prison are forced into cognitive constraints that are characterized by social difficulties, prisoner changes and unstable personal relations. Complicating matters, prison overcrowding also contributes to a reduction or depletion of resources that are allotted for the prison population.

In other words, prisoner’s daily activities are tempered by the number of prisoners, the staff available to supervise them and can compromise individual goals and aspirations. Overcrowded prisons expose prisoners to a barrage of strangers in confined spaces and provide little or no privacy and basic needs are neglected as a result. (Clements, 217) The growing influx of prisoners also compromises the institution’s ability to screen, manage and monitor prisoners with special needs and prisoners that present specific behavioral difficulties.

This is particularly problematic in instances where prisoners with mental deficiencies are introduced into the prison system and are unidentified. The result is, their specific conditions will not only worsen, but it will have negative consequences for the other prisoners. (Dicataldo, Greer and Profit, 574) Education is likewise negatively affected by prison overcrowding. Overcrowding compromises the correctional facilities’ ability to address or meet the most basic academic/educational shortcomings of detainees.

In a national survey conducted for the year 1992 it was discovered that 7 out of every 10 prisoners suffered from illiteracy. (National Center for Education Statistics, 1994) Yet another study covering the middle 1990s demonstrated that over 20 percent of the prisoners in a California prison attained only a 3rd grade reading level and 30 percent were found to be merely “marginally literate. ” (Sutherland, 1997) Overcrowding in prisons has given way to non-productive incarceration to the extent that prisoners are often placed on long waiting lists for available prison jobs.

By the start of the 1990s, conditions were so impacted by overcrowding that only 7 percent of US prisons were engaged in prison work programs that could pave the way for post-imprisonment employment or work skills. (McGuire and Patore, 634) By the year 2004, conditions were essentially the same with no promise of improvement any time soon. (Solomon, Johnson, Travis and McBride, 16) The overall consequences of lack of educational and work programs brought on as a result of prison overcrowding is unchecked idleness among the prison population.

Cumulatively this state of idleness gives way to both harmful psychological and behavioral consequences. There are two important negative consequences. First there is the increased risk of violence behind the prison walls and the poor preparedness/rehabilitation necessary for successful reentry into the general population. (Pontell and Welsh, 18) Idleness in personal interactions amongst an overcrowded population substantially increases the risk of conflict which inevitably leads to physical and verbal assaults. Likewise, overcrowding reduces the capacity of prison officials to monitor and contain outbreaks of violence and conflicts.

(Pontell and Welsh, 18) The fact is, it is unlikely that the prison officials have the facilities to separate conflicting prisoners or transfer them to other facilities. This obviously undermines the safety and security of both correctional officers and other inmates. Ultimately, overcrowding results in prisoners having few activities with no method or means for releasing incarceration tensions, increased conflicts, inadequate staff for identifying problems, and limited resolution options. (Pontell and Welsh, 18)

Overcrowding causes difficulties for individual prison facilities so that prison authorities are reluctant to accept incoming prisoners and in some cases they may refuse the introduction of new prisoners. In any event, the current rate at which prisoners clog the system itself is harmful to the state and condition of the facilities. The larger the prison population in any given prison, the greater demand on the prison’s services. Likewise, the greater the demand on prison facilities and services the greater the level of “deterioration of jail facilities” and it is more likely that prisons cannot provide for “basic human needs.

” (Welsh, 604-605) A number of studies also confirm that prison overcrowding has a propensity to increase the risk of recidivism. The common belief is that overcrowding compromises the prison’s ability to rehabilitate and prepare prisoners for effective release. (Farrington and Nuttall, 230) Moreover, the manner in which prison authorities are forced to deal with behavioral difficulties as a result of overcrowding compromises the prisoner’s long-term well being such that it follows the prisoner and leads to more criminal infractions later on.

(Feeley and Simon, 449) The fact is, a study conducted by the US Department of Justice found that over 67 percent of prisoners released into the general population are subsequently rearrested for criminal conduct within at least three years. (US Department of Justice: Bureau of Statistics) Aside from the cost of having to deal with the release of poorly adjusted convicts with a propensity to reoffend, taxpayers also underwrite the cost of prison overcrowding.

(Rehab: The Answer to Prison Overcrowding? 2008) Tax payers contribute approximately US$19,000 annually for each prisoner in prison. (Rehab: The Answer to Prison Overcrowding? 2008) It therefore follows that the greater the prison population the greater the cost to the taxpayers. This cost to taxpayers will likely increase as more and more prison programs focus on recidivism as opposed to merely rehabilitation in response to overcrowded prisons. (Rehab: The Answer to Prison Overcrowding? 2008)