Over the years, the criminal justice system in the United States has been a major topic of discussion with regard to the welfare of incarcerated criminals. One of the biggest concerns raised by the interested parties has been the challenge of crowding in prisons. Most prisons in the country have a big challenge with regard to their capacity to hold the high number of people being sentenced to prison (Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons, 2014). There is an urgent need for the relevant authorities to apply effective strategies that will increase the capacity of prisons. Overcrowding in prisons has been a major concern, especially among human rights activists who have noted the challenge in their regular visits to prisons in a bid to understand interactions among inmates. Studies have established that this phenomenon is also necessitated by a slow rate at which prison space is freed up through the death of inmates or a low number of those being released (Whitefield, 2013). Overcrowded prisons have uninhabitable conditions because the available facilities are often overstrained and poorly maintained. This plays a major role in reducing the effectiveness of the prison system, thus creating life-threatening consequences for the inmates. Research has established that the rates of suicide and cases of depression among inmates are very high in overpopulated prisons (Coons & Tillis, 2017).
Despite the fact that the United States has one of the most organized prison systems in the world, it has faced numerous challenges in addressing the problem of overcrowding in its facilities. One of the factors that have contributed to this challenge is the growing threat of drug trafficking (Whitefield, 2013). The illegal business is deeply rooted in the country and the relevant authorities have been aggressive in incarcerating those engaging in the business. In addition, illegal business also contributes to the highest number of individuals repeatedly arrested for the same criminal behavior (Coons & Tillis, 2017).
Another notable element that has contributed a lot to the challenge of overcrowding in prisons is the highly regulated sentencing procedures that limit the influence of prison administrators in determining the rate at which prisoners are taken into and released from their facilities (Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons, 2014). This has created a disconnection between the criminal justice system and the prison administrators. In such a situation, it is hard to manage the population in prisons because inmates that can be sentenced to community service or other alternatives to imprisonment often find themselves behind bars. It is important to note that with high rates of crime in the United States, very little can be done to prevent overcrowding in prisons unless the relevant authorities make the necessary efforts to build new prisons or increase the capacity of the existing ones (Campers, 2012).
Risks of Overcrowding in Prisons
Research on the efficiency of the prison systems across the world has established that overcrowded prisons attract numerous risks to prisoners, the administrators, as well as the government and the public. One of the notable risks associated with crowded prisons is the high cost of operation (Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons, 2014). This challenge is necessitated by the fact that more employees will be needed to handle the high number of inmates. In addition, the cost of maintaining the additional prisoners is also felt by the administrators who are often forced to look for additional resources. Overcrowded prisons also reduce the efficiency of service delivery by the employees because they are forced to deal with a higher ration of inmates beyond the recommended levels (Campers, 2012). The living conditions and healthcare of inmates are also compromised to a great degree due to overcrowding. Research has established that sanitation levels in overpopulated prisons are hard to maintain because other basic services such as water supply are hard to achieve (Coons & Tillis, 2017). In addition, crowding in prisons increases the vulnerability of both the inmates and the workers to the spread of airborne diseases due to poor circulation of fresh air.
Most cases of depression reported in prisons among inmates and the employees are because of overpopulation (Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons, 2014). Dealing with a high number of people in a small area can lead to people suffering from stressing moments, which eventually culminate in depression and on some occasions leading to suicide. Overcrowded prisons are also prone to violence among inmates coupled with occasional riots. These challenges are necessitated by the poor living conditions, the need for expression, and conflicting characters. Studies have shown that groupings within the inmates are very common in overpopulated prisons because the workers do not know most of the inmates, thus making it easy for them to cause violence and organize riots (Campers, 2012). Violence caused by inmates has been one of the major challenges faced by prison administrators with regard to achieving efficiency in the management of their facilities and ensuring the welfare of prisoners. Cases of violence within prisons often lead to deaths of inmates and workers who fail to cooperate with the gangs that apparently control their fellow inmates. There is an urgent need for all the relevant authorities to ensure that all the crowded prisons are reorganized in order to increase the efficiency of the delivery systems (Coons & Tillis, 2017).
Solutions to Overcrowding in Prisons
According to human rights activists, overcrowding in prisons is a cruel experience that leads to inmates suffering an unusual form of punishment (Ataby, 2013). This phenomenon is a major challenge in prison departments across the world. However, this challenge can be addressed through a number of strategies that would make the conditions and population of prisons more manageable. One of the best solutions to overcrowding in prisons is coming up with alternative ways of punishing criminals apart from putting them in custody. They include community service, house arrest, and probation among others (Ataby, 2013).
These alternatives should be used on individuals that have committed minor offenses, as well as those whose sentences do not exceed twelve months. This will play a crucial role in regulating the population of prisons, which will be left for serial offenders and those serving long jail terms. The second strategy that can effectively address overcrowding in prisons is increasing the capacity of the prison infrastructure by constructing new prisons and expanding the existing ones (Ataby, 2013). This will help in improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system because even the criminals who commit less violent offenses can be incarcerated as long as there is enough space. Overcrowding in prisons can also be addressed by removing minor and non-violent criminal cases out of the justice system (Ataby, 2013). These cases can be solved through other means that do not involve the court system. This will ensure that the prisons can only administer criminals who have committed serious crimes that warrant incarceration.
Overcrowding in prisons can also be addressed by using programs such as parole, which involves a conditional release of inmates from prison that entitles them to serve the remainder of their sentence outside provided they comply with the conditions provided on their release (Ataby, 2013). This can be effective in managing the population of prisons because inmates that show signs of changing and desire to reintegrate into the society can be released to create space for new inmates with long sentences. Technology can also be used to address the challenge of overcrowding in prisons. Criminals that commit minor offenses can be fixed with smart bracelets that allow police officers to monitor their movements. This can be applied to criminals under home arrest and community service because tracking their whereabouts will be easier (Ataby, 2013). In addition, incorporating the technology will play a major role in preventing them from going to prison, thus addressing the problem of overcrowding.
Most prisons in the United States and other parts of the world are overcrowded. They hold more prisoners that the initial capacity they were designed to accommodate. This phenomenon has been necessitated by factors such as a disconnection between the criminal justice system and the prison administrators, as well as a steady rise in the rate of criminal offenses. The challenge of overcrowding in prisons can be addressed through alternative methods of punishing criminals that do not involve incarceration. They include probation, house arrest, probation, and community service among others. These strategies will go a long way in reducing the number of criminals sent to prison. There is an urgent need for all the relevant authorities to address the challenge of overcrowding in prisons in order to improve the welfare of inmates in terms of increasing their safety and reducing the vulnerability levels to various health hazards.
Ataby, T. (2013). Handbook on strategies to reduce overcrowding in prisons. New ork, NY: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons. (2014). New York, NY: Howard League for Penal Reform.
Campers, S.M. (2012). A failing correctional system: State prison overcrowding in the United States. Pell Scholars and Senior Thesis, 79, 1-19.
Coons, C., & Tillis, T. (2017). America’s criminal justice system is broken. “CNN”. Web.
Whitefield, R. (2013). The state of prisons – 200 years on. New York, NY: Routledge.