Prison Overcrowding is a Growing Concern in the U.S.

Prison stairs through a chainlink fence

Students in criminal justice degree programs who are interested in corrections must understand how prison populations interact and the dangers of overcrowding. As the increasing inmate population is a growing concern in the U.S., many law enforcement agencies and academic experts have analyzed data about the situation and are working to combat it.

What causes prison overcrowding?

Prison overcrowding is caused by a variety of issues, such as not enough room in prisons, fluctuating crime rates, changes to laws and improvements to law enforcement tactics. Students in criminal justice degree programs who want to examine the growing prison population need to understand what causes it before combating it.

What causes overcrowding? – Researchers have determined that some of the causes of prison overcrowding are harsher penalties for criminal activities, changes to laws that make new actions illegal, high recidivism rates and needed improvements to the penal system.

Examining prison crowding – In 1994 the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) examined prison crowding and found that, while overcrowding is a problem in many facilities, it is not known whether or not it negatively affects inmates. It does, however, make suggestions on how to improve overcrowding conditions.

What does prison overcrowding cause?

Overcrowding in prisons causes many problems, which is why it is a serious concern in the U.S. Once the causes of crowding have been established, researchers can begin to address the problems it causes and deal with them. However, the best way to solve the problems created by overcrowding is by eliminating overcrowding. Students in criminal justice degree programs may discover more about these issues when learning about corrections work.

Double-celling – Inmates in prisons are required to have a certain amount of space. A legal case in 1981 addressed overcrowding as potentially cruel and unusual punishment.

Prisoner misconduct and its causes – Research from 2003 indicates that jail overcrowding may not be a direct cause of prisoner misconduct. However, the study does show that prison management style is related to misconduct, and it is possible that overcrowding has a direct effect on prison management, as it creates a far more stressful environment on the corrections officers and wardens.

Psychological consequences of prison overcrowding – Another study done in 2006 found that a high prison population has a direct, negative effect on the psychological state of inmates. Overcrowding has been known to cause far more stressful situations and has prompted prison officials to react inappropriately on occasion due to being forced to accommodate ill-advised numbers of prisoners.

The effect of overcrowding on jail population dynamics – The Department of Justice (DOJ) performed a study in 2002 on inmate dynamics and how crowding affects them. This study found that the key to avoiding overcrowding is to “continuously collect, monitor and analyze admission and length-of-stay information, then to share the results with other justice officials and with officials in leadership positions in general government.”

Prison overcrowding and inmate violence – A long-term study on prison population density (PPD) in Japan found that it has a direct correlation with prison violence rates (PVR). This study conclusively states that “the effect of PPD was significant and positive on PVR, even after controlling for the effects of the proportions of males, age younger than 30 years, less than one-year incarceration, and prisoner/staff ratio.”

Can prison overcrowding be stopped?

A number of law enforcement agencies have examined the causes and effects of prison overcrowding and work to solve the problem. Students pursuing criminal justice degrees can learn more about these efforts and assist in them through various resources and organizations.

Monitoring prison overcrowding and long-term suggestions – A 2011 report examines the long-term effects of prison overcrowding and offers suggestions to combat it. One of the primary suggestions is to re-evaluate prison sentence terms for some crimes, drug-related offense in particular.

Examining best practices – A task force in Michigan examined the best practices of law enforcement regarding prison overcrowding and made suggestions on how to correct this problem. From examining sentencing to probation laws and how mentally ill inmates are handled, the report addresses issues with all of these conditions.

A look at how to alleviate jail overcrowding – In 2000, the DOJ re-examined jail overcrowding and released information, suggestions and a strategy for prisons and jails to assist in overcrowding situations. This strategy includes a checklist and revamped prisoner release information.

Prison overcrowding as a weakness of the penal system – The DOJ reported in 2002 that it found that prison overcrowding is a serious weakness in the justice system. However, the actions that the report suggested have not yet caused a change in the issues.