Prison over Crowding

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April 15, 2013

Prison overcrowding paper
Overcrowding in prisons is one of the biggest challenges facing the American criminal justice system today. 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. 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...
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