Reducing Prison Overcrowding

Prison crowding is often identified in terms of prison crowding and its negative consequences for prisoners’ health and conduct as well as the consequences for “postrelease recidivism”. (Gaes, 95) Prison crowding is often calculated by reference to “floor space per prisoner” and the number of prisoners actually occupying each cell or unit. Gaes, 95) In other words prison overcrowding occurs when the actual prison population does not correspond with “institutional population relative to stated capacity. ”(Gaes, 95) a) History and Evolution of Prison Population Overcrowding in the US

Concerns about and attention to crowded prison conditions began taking center stage in the US in the early part of the 1980s. (Kelly and Ekland-Olson, 601) By the middle of the 1980s “all but eleven” US states reported having at least one overcrowded prison. (Kelly and Ekland-Olson, 601) Prison overcrowding became such a problem in the US that by 1995 27 percent of state prisons were “under court order for overcrowding. ” (Delgado, 31) A court order for overcrowding refers to “an order restricting the number of people who can be imprisoned.

” (Delgado, 31) It is commonly believed that at least 67 percent of the growing prison population is attributed to time increases in custodial sentences. (Delgado, 31) Persons sentenced to life imprisonment in federal facilities, saw an increase from 1986 and 1997 from 36 to 314. (Delgado, 31) Overall, the largest increases in prison population typically correspond with state populations. For instance, California, a densely populated state, saw a “700 percent increase in its prison population” over the last twenty years.

(Delgado, 31) In 1989, a 1,000 bed prison was opened in Pelican Bay California with a capacity to house 50,000 prisoners. However, by year end 1989, the prison housed 87,000 prisoners and 250 were “being added” weekly. (Delgado, 31) Other examples of prison overcrowding in larger US states are found in Illinois and Alabama. The jail in Cook County, Illinois has a “court-ordered capacity of 9, 798” but by May 2001 it held 11, 803 prisoners. (Marciniak, 10) The result is, many prisoners are forced to sleep in the floor.

(Marciniak, 10) In Morgan County Jail in Alabama, 256 prisoners are occupying a jail designed to hold just 96 prisoners. (Marciniak, 10) This trend prevails across the US. (Marciniak, 10) The fact is, since 1980 approximately one thousand new prison facilities have been constructed in the US and by all accounts the vast majority is “dangerously overcrowded. ” (Marciniak, 10) The prison population has grown over the past twenty years in the US, so much so that although the US contains just under 5 percent of the global population, 25 percent of its population are prisoners. (Marciniak, 10)