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Overcrowding in US Prisons, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 944

Essay

Since 2002, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world; even though prison populations are increasing elsewhere in the world, the rate of incarceration for countries comparable to the United States remains approximately 100 prisoners per 100,000 populations (Scommegna, 2012.) The rate in the United States is five times that figure, or approximately 1.6 million prisoners in 2010. The correctional system has many problems to confront, but one of the most pressing is the overcrowding of prisons. This paper will discuss the issue of prison overcrowding and discuss potential solutions to address the issue.

Overcrowded prisons was a variety of problems for staff and other inmates, ranging from violence between inmates as well is that directed towards staff, civil rights violations, and the lack of success of prison programs. Recent studies have also shown that offender recidivism has been associated with overcrowded prisons (Blankenship, 2002.) In some states, such as California, overcrowded in the new main conditions in the prison system have reached the Supreme Court, which will hear a case on November 30, 2012. The case revolves around whether a federal court in California properly ordered the release of 40,000 prisoners to relieve the severe overcrowding in the state’s prisons that has led to inadequate medical and mental health care for prisoners (US Supreme Court Reviews Prison Overcrowding and Horrendous Conditions of Confinement, 2010.) In the state of California, several conditions have contributed to the overwhelming number of offenders confined to the prison system: the adoption of the states, “Three Strikes” laws, and the implementation of severe mandatory minimum sentencing and re-incarceration of parolees who have committed minor technical violations following release. The result of these factors is that California has 33 state prisons which are filled to almost twice the capacity for which they were originally designed.

Prisons are overcrowded because a variety of factors: the most obvious is that there is simply not enough space in the existing institutions. In addition, crime rates rise and fall during different periods of time, and changes in the strategies of law enforcement departments also have an impact on rates of arrest as well is convictions and sentences. The result is that there have been harsher sentences meted out for criminal behavior, legislative changes that redefine certain actions as illegal, growing recidivism rates and necessary reforms to the correctional system. The situation of overcrowded prisons results in a variety of problems which present a major threat to the criminal justice system. Various courts have also ruled that the conditions of overcrowding in prisons are potentially seen as cruel and unusual punishment, which violates the Constitution of the United States.

Certainly, having such large numbers of people in limited space results in prisoner misconduct, and it is likely that overcrowding also has an effect on the management of prisons because of the stress that such environments present to the correctional staff as well as the wardens. Overcrowding makes it more likely that the people in charge of prisons will make inappropriate or ill-advised decisions about how to manage the prison population, while remaining safe. The threat of prison violence certainly increases in such conditions, making working there risky and possibly life-threatening to officers and other staff. In addition, prison overcrowding directly affects the psychological status of inmates, causing stress and depression as well is isolation, despite being surrounded by people to a degree that is unhealthy and intrusive. The prisoners become anonymous, one of hundreds if not thousands, of a group of people who are viewed with almost a mob mentality and indeed, they have the potential to become a mob under these conditions.

There are many potential solutions to the problem of prison overcrowding. Discrepancies in sentencing should be examined more closely because, for example, many minority inmates are serving longer sentences for minor drug offenses as opposed to white offenders who frequently have the resources or status to avoid incarceration for virtually identical crimes. It would be important to explore sentencing and probation laws to develop a greater understanding of whether mentally ill inmates should be in prisons or in rehabilitation settings such as high-security hospitals. In addition, if more prison inmates were put on probation or parole by officials and parole boards, the problem of overcrowding could be greatly reduced. Another option for releasing prisoners that do not have violent criminal records would be to increase the number of releases with home monitoring devices, again substantially reducing the number of inmates who are institutionalized. For prisoners who are not at risk to commit violent acts, releasing them into supervised community programs would also be an option that would not only reduce the prison population, but could potentially provide rehabilitative opportunities for offenders.

Prison overcrowding is a serious weakness in the criminal justice system that must be addressed. The fact that the United States warehouses such a tremendous number of people in prisons is disgraceful, especially when that record is compared with other countries that are considered to be civilized. Surely, it would be beneficial to individuals who are incarcerated as well is the society at large to allow inmates who do not pose a threat to the general public other options than being sentenced to one of the prisons which risks reinforcing criminal behaviors.

References:

Blankenship, G. (2002). A Solution to Prison Overcrowding and Recidivism: Global Positioning System, Location of Parolees and Probationers. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from Gemstone Program, University Of Maryland: http://www.gemstone.umd.edu/teams/documents/innovative.pdf

Scommegna, T. T. (2012, August). US Has World’s Highest Incarceration Rate. Retrieved November 29, 2012, from Population Reference Bureau: http://www.prb.org/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.asp

US Supreme Court Reviews Prison Overcrowding and Horrendous Conditions of Confinement. (2010, December 3). Retrieved November 29, 2012, from Equal Justice Initiative: http://www.eji.org/node/488

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