Prison Overcrowding Harms Everyone
March 18, 2009
Axia College of University of Phoenix
Did you know that the USA with 5% of the world's population has 25% of its prisoners, making it the world's no#1 jailer? The most recent statistics from the Department of Justice states that 1 out of every 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 has been jailed. Most likely, every person in the USA has either been incarcerated or knows someone who was. At the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were being held in prison or jail and this number keeps growing. Because of the immense population of inmates, most facilities are overcrowded. To make room for all these inmates, correction departments have resorted to housing prisoners in tents, hallways, and gymnasiums. Below is a picture from USA Today of inmates being housed in a gymnasium. Locking up so many people in these overcrowded conditions creates serious emotional, physical, and mental problems for inmates and causes prisons to be even more dangerous. Due to these conditions, the prisoner winds up worst upon release than when they came in. (Smolowe and Blackman 1994)
In addition to the overcrowding problem, there is a huge financial strain to keep these facilities operating. To incarcerate only California’s prisoners, it costs more than $7.6 million dollars a day. While funding for education and public assistance decreases, the prison budget maintains growth. One would think that for all the important resources we take money away from to invest in prisons, we would see some positive results, but unfortunately the USA has the highest crime rate in the world. Locking up so many people causes serious overcrowding problems making rehabilitation next to impossible. Overcrowded prisons harm the rest of the population by breaking apart families, spreading diseases, and wasting valuable resources on a system that is not reducing the crime rate. (Clark 1994)
The overcrowded prisons have a negative and dangerous impact on its residents’ physical well-being. Deadly and infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculoses commonly exist in America’s prisons. With very few doctors available, many prisoners are not even aware that they are infected and go untreated. Every year, more than 1.5 million inmates are released back into the society, infected. Once released, they spread these deadly diseases to their families and communities. As long as prisons remain understaffed, inmates and the rest of society will suffer. (USA Today)
Insufficient staffing makes it impossible for prisoners to go through a detailed screening process. The monitoring, screening, and managing of vulnerable or problematic inmates are rarely maintained. Many times dangerous and mentally ill prisoners, untreated and undiagnosed, are put into the main population where they have a negative effect on other inmates as well as themselves. Prisoners are no longer put into facilities that best match their needs; instead they are squeezed into whichever facility has room. This environment is conducive to violence. Many times prisoners are assaulted and even raped by others because staff is not readily available to control the situation. Besides an increased chance of being victimized, research has shown that understaffed jails have more suicides than ones that are properly proportioned.
Overcrowding has created a dangerous atmosphere that has forced staff to focus on keeping order rather than worrying about meeting prisoners’ basic needs. Overcrowding has caused many staff members to fear for their personal safety and to look at prisoners with disdain. They are equipped with many lethal and non-lethal weapons to keep them safe and in some jurisdictions rifles and shotguns are carried inside cell blocks. In California, armed guards are kept inside housing units and...
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