Casey Irwin, a 37-year-old single mother, is an ex-convict who has been in and out of prison on several occasions. After release from her first sentence, Irwin was let with no education or resources to find a reliable job to support herself and her children. With no money and little other options, Irwin turned to selling drugs to provided a stable income for herself and her family. This caused her to return to prison multiple times after being caught. Irwin’s story is one of thousands who have been caught in an aggressive cycle of recidivism. Recidivism (along with other factors such as mandatory minimums and the War on Drugs) results in prisons taking in more prisoners than they can accommodate for. Federal prisons are experiencing 40 percent beyond their capacity and in state prisons, an overwhelming 60 percent beyond the capacity[footnoteRef:3]. This massive problem prisons are facing cause severe harms/implications on inmates within their future outside of prison. Prison overcrowding negatively impacts released inmates through social withdraw, adapting back into society, mental illness, and job placement. When twisted justice stops prisoners from starting over.
Dependent on Prison Structure
Institutionalization has caused prisoners to become reliant on a strict structure of living, making it difficult to adjust to their newfound autonomy. Within the prison system, overcrowded prisons force prisoners to conform to having very little freedom and personal space away from other prisoners building a reliance on this structure. From this, prisoners start to build a reliance on this structure to organize their day and to make decisions for them, losing their sense of self-reliance. Therefore, released inmates no longer have the capability to “self-impose personal limits to guide their actions” and realize how to function on their own accord. When an overwhelming number of prisoners is crowded within one facility, it becomes low priority to help develop their own type of self-discipline. Within prisons, inmates are constantly under surveillance, and their actions always monitored so when one exhibits aggressive or destructive behavior, guards are quick to punish for such wrongdoings. Eventually, prisoners become accustomed and adapt to this strict principle of behavior. This is, in part, due to “institutionalization”. Institutionalization is the process where inmates experience damaging effects of loss of apathy and independence “from spending a long time in an institution”. Due to this institutionalization of inmates, it causes this reliance on the prison system and their way of punishing and eliminating a prisoner’s ability to function on their own. This lack of focus to reverse the effects of institutionalization is “hampering attempts to improve the care delivered to inmates,”. When overcrowding causes reliance/dependence on the prison system, it affects one behavior once released back into society.
Conditions within overcrowded prisons causes prisoners to develop more aggressive and violent characteristics and personalities that affect themselves and others after release. Within prisons, the proximity to other inmates causes tension and hostility, which guards disregard as low priority to control. Living in such a violent atmosphere with guards disregarding such behavior as low-priority. A study conducted by Dr. Clair Lawrence[footnoteRef:5] and associate Kathryn Andrews looked into how stress and conditions from prison overcrowding can trigger or “activate negative or aggressive thoughts and memories,”. A study conducted of 79 prison inmates, adult males 21-35 years old, following through their time in overcrowded prisons to their release. The findings discovered “crowding is seen as a potent factor… between prison crowding and violent behavior” and alters one’s perspective to view situations as more violent. Along with aggression, mental illness is also prevalent among inmates. A National Survey looked at the number of released inmates from overcrowded prisons that developed mental disorders within these prisons. This survey found that “7.2% suffered psychotic disorders and 12% reported ‘other’ psychological disorders,”. The survey also concurred that over 20 percent experienced depression or another psychological disorder resembling this. Most times, prisoners show signs of depression and other disorders but go unnoticed from the vast number of prisoners requiring the attention of the facilities. This link between prison overcrowding and psychological distress has created a trend between prison overcrowding and “the rate of suicide which has been seen to increase as overcrowding increases”. Not only does overcrowding lead to aggressive and psychotic behavior within society, but also disobedient behavior and actions regarding parole violations. The National Institute of Justice states that most arrests occur in the first six months after release. For parolees, two-thirds are re-incarcerated within three years after release. Researchers Michael Ruderman, Deindra Wilson, and Savanna Reid conducted a two-year study to test a link between overcrowding and increased parole violations. The study involving a random selection of inmates released from prison with parole in California. The results indicated that parole violations, one-third of which being drug related[footnoteRef:7], were directly correlated with the rates of overcrowding in prisons. Prison overcrowding has caused 42.8 percent[footnoteRef:8] of substance use disorder parole violators nationally to return to prison. This is due to “psychiatric conditions that have a significantly higher likelihood of returning to prison one-year after release,”.
Prison overcrowding causes prisons to neglect providing education, and the tools necessary to obtain jobs once released. In past years, the US has cut different acts and programs that were intended to provide education and job placement needed by released inmates. The Manpower Demonstration Training Act of 1962 and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 worked to provide released inmates with help and support to find good job placement. This then decreased the unemployment rate, and the national recidivism rate by allowing inmates with the needed resources to find adequate jobs upon release. However, funding for both ended by 1982, leaving inmates to obtain occupations and needed tools to succeed on their own. This has caused released inmates to be re-incarcerated where the most “common factor shared by most ex-offenders is the difficulty of finding permanent employment,”. When ex-convicts try to apply for a job, they have to indicate their criminal record and doing so puts them on the bottom of the list to be hired for good jobs. This leads into situations such as Casey Irwin where illegal activities are the only way to obtain enough money to support themselves and their family. Thus, contributing into recidivism and the mass overpopulation amongst federal and state United States prisons.
To reduce such negative impacts from overcrowding, a solution must be found to fix the future. The most effective solution “is to rehabilitate prisoners by requiring education and job training,”. When considering reform to our prison system for successful rehabilitation, Norway prison system should be the lead example. In Norway, the recidivism rate is at 20 percent compares to the US at 76.6 percent. Within the Norway prison system, the belief is that taking away one’s freedom is punishment enough. Therefore, instead of strict rules and punishment, Norway focuses on rehabilitation, preparing inmates for the future that lies outside of prison. The prime example of such a belief is at Halden Prison in Halden, Norway. At Halden Prison, prisoners live in adequate environments, no exposure to overcrowding, receive education and rehabilitation services to help one fight addiction. The major philosophy within Halden Prison, and all Norway prisons, is to treat prisoners “like humans and they’ll behave more civilly than if treated like forces of evil”. This idea of rehabilitations effectiveness is seen in Norway’s incarceration rate of 75 per 100,000 people vs. the US’s 707 per 100,000 people. This solution of rehabilitation would solve the issue of overcrowding leading to dependence on prison structure, behavior issues, psychological illnesses, and poor job placement. Why Norway’s prison system is so successful.
Prison overcrowding is becoming an increasingly problematic issue that is facing the United States prison system. Through such an issue, it has been proven to negatively impact prisoners after release affecting their self-reliance, behavior, mental state, and job placement. With such impacts, it creates difficulty for one to control and maintain a stable life to support themselves and their families. Thus, causing an endless cycle of recidivism, fueling prison overcrowding. In order to prevent such detrimental effects from occurring within the future, an effective solution as Norway is proposed. As analyzed, Norway has a system that has been seen to show positive outcomes, reducing such problematic issues by striking at the root cause; recidivism. In order to maintain a better future for these inmates, and the United States as a whole, rehabilitation services must be put in place to deal with the devastating effects from prison overcrowding on an inmate’s life.