Overcrowding: a crisis in California
“Without health life is not life; it is only a state of languor and suffer – an image of death”, the eminent sage Buddha once said. Whether or not we want to accept it, he was right. This is a quote that reflects the system of imprisonment that currently resides in our society. Prison overcrowding is a conflict in our world today that has been going on for a few decades and no significant solutions have been successful in showing any remarkable effect on the numbers. Take a look at Figure A. We can see that more than half of the countries listed are operating at over capacity while the remaining portion is operating at under capacity. Even these select countries running at under capacities are still relatively high. Personally, it seems ironic that many of these countries are quite fully developed and still running at over capacities (e.g. Britain and France). This reflects our society today: the criminal justice system finds ways to put people not suited or illegitimately reasoned to be sentenced to prison and behind bars.
History of overcrowding dates back to the Civil War, when former African American slaves, many of whom were deemed as criminals in the South, were kept in prisons. During the time, the motive was to hold and gain the possession of a convict in order to give the state the opportunity to make money (yet, who’s to say that the current prison system isn’t operating under the same motive – but I digress). Majority of the crimes that gave these former slaves the status of “convict” were often minor charges such as public drunkenness or alleged theft, but still was considered enough to put them behind bars. The Northern states looked at these concerns with distaste, however the system held strong between 1867 and the early 1900s. Come 1870, the National Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline set their objective to amend the failing correctional system. Their proposed plan was to place emphasis on reformatories, indeterminate sentences, parole and probation since they really wanted to stress the concept of reforming the offenders as well as rewarding them for good behavior. All intentions were meant for good, however the plan did not exactly follow as expected: finances and prison administration created major difficulties with implementation, and in addition, probation and parole officers were responsible for quite a number of cases. These cases of probation and parole violations, only led to the opposite direction of what we strived for in a solution; recidivism rates increased and this resulted in the overcrowding epidemic only being worsened.
Come 1930, during the Great Depression more prisons were built in response to the decline in order to increase the amount of jobs available for the economy. Constantly producing new prisons was not an ideal solution since it required a considerable amount of land as well as money. When the plan was not viable anymore, renovated...