Prison Overcrowding Essay

1434 words - 6 pages

Prison overcrowding is one of the largest problems facing the American criminal justice system today. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, more than two million men and women are now behind bars in the United States (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). The exploding prison population has been propelled by public policy changes that have increased the use of prison sentences as well as the length of time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, "three strikes" laws, reductions in the availability of parole or early release, and the ?War on Drugs? campaign. The overcrowding of prisons has many negative effects on prisoners. Because the experts do not agree on how to solve the problem of overcrowding there is no right answer, just possible solutions. Some components of the justice system believe that building more prisons, privatization, or design is the solution to the problem, while their opponents, argues that alternative methods could be used to solve the problem of prison overcrowding. These alternative methods include the problem-solving courts such as drug courts.Over the past few years? crime has been declining so why then are our prisons still getting overcrowded. One of the reasons is that courts resort to imprisonment of offenders far too often even when alternative sentences are available. With these alternative sentences available some states have not introduced them while others don't utilize them adequately. Long prison sentences and modifying the parole system, is another reason contributing towards the overcrowding of prisons. Some states have done away with the parole system all together. The ?War on Drugs? campaign has played a large part to the overcrowding with large numbers admitted to prisons for drug offences. Most of these drug offenders are drug addicts possessing very small quantities. The ?Three Strikes? law states that if an offender commits a felon three times, he/she will do life in prison. This has had a very big impact on the overcrowding of the prison system in some states.Most studies indicated that crowded conditions could be reasonably well tolerated for short periods, but in terms of a long term crowded environment, prisons contained unusually high concentrations of the stress-inducing features (Panel Discussion, 2002). Although many negative effects of crowding have been identified, overcrowding does not affect all prisons uniformly. For instance, it has been reported that larger institutions with younger inmates tend to be more affected by crowding (Porporino & Dudley, 1984). To a certain degree, overcrowding has resulted in offenders being classified on the basis of the space available rather than the security level and programs most suitable for the offenders (Cox, Paulus, & McCain, 1984). If the assignment of inmates is carried out solely on the basis of available space, inmates are being manipulated to meet the requirements of the...

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