Prison over Crowding

Overcrowding in prisons is one of the biggest challenges facing the American criminal justice system today - Prison over Crowding introduction. The total population of prisons and jails in the United States neared the 2. 1 million mark in June 2003, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported incarceration rates of state and federal prisoners continued to rise. At midyear 2003, the number of sentenced inmates was 480 per 100,000 U. S. residents, up from 476 per 100,000 on December 31, 2002. There were 238 jail inmates for every 100,000 on June 30, 2003.

Overall, one out of every 140 U. S residents was incarcerated in prison or in jail. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s state and local governments got tougher on crime by passing legislation calling for mandatory sentences for repeat offenders, such as California’s “three strikes you’re out” law and New York and other cities adopted the “Broken Windows” strategy that called for the arrest and prosecution of all crimes large and small. Because of these polices the number of violent crimes has dropped.

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Unfortunately, one unintended consequence of America’s new tough stance on crime is that our prison system has become dangerously overcrowded, forcing prison officials to release violent criminals after serving only a fraction of their sentences. The current system used to relieve overcrowding has created a “revolving door” criminal justice system. The recidivism rate among those released early from state and county prisons is extremely high. In fact, a Department of Justice study found that 67. 5 percent of criminals released from prison were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years (USDOJ, 2013).

A Large portion of the overcrowded conditions in the prison system is a result of the” war on drugs”. This war alone costs taxpayers a large amount of money each year because new prisons are needed to be constructed to house the ever-growing population of drug offenders. These prisoner’s do not need to be locked away, instead they need drug treatment, which they could receive within the community. While they are in prison, these offenders often receive little or no treatment for their addiction. Once they are released, they majority of these offenders return to their former communities and their old way of life.

This in turn leads to recidivism thus further contributing to the problem of overcrowding. Overcrowded prisons create a multitude of problems. Overcrowding in prisons is a major source of administrative problems and affects staff and inmate’s heath, behavior, and morale. Prison systems that experience rapid growth are more difficult to manage, and have less security and control; this increases levels of conflicts, violence, and prison rapes. There are fewer resources available for inmates, that include educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs.

The limitation of these resources adds to the stress and hostility felt by inmates. Another problem is that of misclassification. Due to the limited number of beds, prisoners are often classified according to available space rather than the appropriate security level. This not only slows down their progress through the system, but it puts further stress on the already overwhelmed system of available programs that would prove beneficial to the inmate. The problem of misclassification due to overcrowding also places the inmate in a vicious cycle where failure is inevitable.

The cycle begins with putting the prisoner in the wrong classification, followed by a negative reaction caused by the stress and lack of progress through the system and a lack of available services. These negative reactions usually take the form of inappropriate behavior, which leads to sanctions, and the label of failure to adjust, this delays parole the prisoner remains for a longer period of time contributing to overcrowding. Another problem that contributes to overcrowding is the incarceration of offenders who are mentally ill.

Since mental hospitals were closed in the 1990’s, the burden of caring for this population has been put on prisons and jails. The problem is these inmates require special services they do not receive while they are in the system. As a result, these inmates usually end up in segregation because they cannot cope with the people and stress of being in prison so they act out and can become violent. The effect of the “war on drugs” contributes to more problems in prison then overcrowding. The most obvious is the drug addicts do not get the treatment and rehabilitation they need.

It also cause extra expenses for the prisons to employ physicians for women inmates that are drug addicts that are pregnant when incarcerated, also for medical treatment of inmates that are HIV positive. While building or expanding prison capacity can reduce overcrowding, the decision to build is out of control of those who work in the prison system. For those people, there are steps that can be taken to improve conditions in overcrowded prisons. The most important step would be to classify and house prisoners according to their level of risk.

Reduce inmate idleness by increasing opportunities to stay busy, offer work activities to help the sanitation of the prison by training prisoners of preventive health care, basic sanitation, food preparation, sanitation of the bathrooms and kitchen facilities. Also, offer physical activities, cultural and religious activities, active inmates are less likely to feel stressed and hostel. Increase involvement of volunteers, community, and religious groups to provide meaningful programs for prisoners. Train staff members in basic relationship skills, effective communication, anger management, and respect.

This will improve both staff and inmate morale. Increase alternatives by scheduling meetings with judges, politicians, community leaders, lawyers, and other relevant groups to discuss the use of community-based punishments rather than prison for non-violent offenders. Long term solutions would be to shift the approach of “the war on drugs” to offer rehabilitation instead of prison terms, use probation and community service for non-violent criminals as an alternative to prison, using electronic monitoring for low-level offenders, make the death penalty legal in all states for prisoners that are serving life sentences.

While there are no easy solutions to this problem, there is work underway by legislators and the public to this ever-growing problem, to develop alternatives to incarceration. References: * U. S Department of Justice/ Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bjs/crimoff. htm#recidivism. * University of Phoenix Library, Justice administration, upper saddle NJ: prentice hall. (6th ed) * Schmalleger, Frank (2011). Criminal Justice Today, Eleventh Edition (pp. 468-470). Upper Saddle River, NY

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