Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities
Overcrowding of the criminal justice system occurs due to a higher rate of sentencing and incarceration compared to the rates of release or pardoning. The problem of overcrowding in criminal justice systems results in several impacts. Overcrowding in correctional facilities has several impacts such as reduced spending, poor living conditions for inmates and poor work environments for correctional officers. In addition to this, it also causes poor implementation of policies of correctional facilities.
Overcrowding can be resolved through many ways. One of them would be to change sentencing polices. However, this poses significant challenge in that explaining to the public the rationale behind the change in polices would be difficult. Because of the challenges associated with the problem, strategies such as transfer of prisoners of foreign origin and increasing community service sentences have been recommended with little impact on the prison census.
The challenge of overcrowding in correctional facilities ails the entire US correctional system. Several causes have been linked to this problem both in the past and in the contemporary times. Farrington and Nuttal suggest that one of the probable causes of this problem is the heavy use of incarceration due to recidivism and drug related offenses (1980). Drug related offenses alone comprise of more than three quarters of the US prison population. In addition to this, the implementation of sentencing laws such as the compulsory minimum sentencing law has also resulted in the increase in prison populations (McCain et al., 1980).
The zero tolerance rule applied in schools and colleges is also blamed for pushing many youths onto the streets due to suspension or expulsion from schools. This makes the youths vulnerable to crime and subsequent prison sentences. In addition to this, the exposure of criminal records to the public has made it difficult for ex-convicts to get access to essential services in life making them prone to re-incarceration. The increase in prison populations have therefore resulted in increased spending in the correctional system, which has led to a reduction of social support funds.
There are several risks associated with overcrowding in correctional facilities. First, the overcrowding results in loss of privacy since inmates are forced to share cells through double or triple bunking. The shared spaces are confined meaning that there is increased potential of resulting in chronic conditions. Disruptive behaviors, dissatisfaction and stress can all result from the confinement and loss of privacy in the cells.
There is also increased vulnerability to misclassification which results in slow progress and subsequently slow exit from the system (Cox et al., 1984). From these impacts, it is clear that overcrowding results in a vicious cycle of events which all result in overcrowding once again. To avert this situation, courts may release some of the detainees prematurely hence resulting in increased danger in the outside society.
The prison officers can help to manage overcrowding in facilities through the implementation of policies to limit movement and to classify the prisoners according to their associated risk levels. Since the health and nutrition conditions of overcrowded facilities are also questionable, it is recommended that the prisoners should provide labor for cleaning and growing of food items on the prison gardens.
In addition to this, the prison administrators may propose strategies for getting lawyers to address the needs of un-sentenced prisoners as some of them may be entitled to bail. Similarly, some of the sentenced prisoners do not pose significant danger to the society and may be subjected to lighter punishment on the recommendation of prison administrators. To address the condition of overcrowding, prison administrators could create opportunities for volunteers and other willing persons to assist (Hough et al., 2008).
Cox, V., Paulus, P., & McCain, G. (1984). Prison crowding research: The relevance of prison housing standards and a general approach regarding crowding phenomena. American Psychologist, 39, 1148-1160.
Farrington, D. P., & Nuttall, C. P. (1980). Prison size, overcrowding, prison violence, and recidivism. Journal of Criminal Justice, 8(4), 221-231.
Hough, J. M., Allen, R., & Solomon, E. (2008). Tackling prison overcrowding: Build more prisons? Sentence fewer offenders?. Bristol: Policy Press.
McCain, G., Cox, V., & Paulus, P. (1980). The effect of prison crowding on inmate behavior. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
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