The Major Issue Of Prison Overcrowding

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What do you do when you have a convicted felon that needs to serve time but there is no bed for him or her to even sleep in? Prison overcrowding is becoming a major problem in the United States and it is one of the biggest single problems facing prison systems. This problem is one of the key factors to poor prison conditions around the world. 18 states at the end of 2014 operated their prison facilities at more than 100 percent capacity. The reasons for overcrowding in prisons are because of the tougher sentences that judges are giving out to citizens that have committed small crimes, the “war on drugs”, and offenders are released and commit another crime only to become incarcerated again.

Overcrowding in prisons has been one of the biggest issues for prisons for many years. According to Penal Reform International (2018), overcrowding causes many of the health issues in prisons, most noticeable is infectious diseases and mental health issues. There is data that shows 22 national prison systems hold more than double their capacity. The overcrowding in prisons can lead to dirty, violent conditions that are unsafe for the physical and mental well-being of the prisoners. Not only do the prisoners suffer from overcrowding but also the staff who are working in the prisons face greater potential violence from the prisoners, the threat of infection, and the increased stress. In many of the overcrowded prisons they are also understaffed for the amount of prisoners because the officers don’t last long at the prison before quitting due to the burnout, forced overtime and poor wages. In the article, The Problem with Overpopulation in Prisons written by Shannon Price, California needed to reduce their prison population after the supreme court ruled that their overcrowding was “cruel and unusual punishment”. The reason for this was because the conditions in the prison were so deteriorated with no beds or living space. When there is overcrowding inmate classification may not be as thorough as it should be and inmates might not be houses properly. Proper classification of inmates is important for the safety of inmates and officers. Also, inmate recreation is affected and without proper yard time, inmates deal with more stress. Overcrowded prisons generally do not have fresh bedding or clothing which creates more unsanitary conditions.

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There are many causes of overcrowding in prisons one being judges giving out tougher sentences for small crimes. State and federal legislators have passed laws creating harsh sentencing and parole schemes designed to keep increasing the number of people in prisons. The policies include mandatory minimum sentencing which forces judges to issue severe sentences regardless of the individuals history. One main event that sparked the overcrowding of prisons was the “War on Drugs” which is series of actions tending toward a prohibition of the illegal drug trade. It is to both define and to end the import, manufacture, sale, and use of illegal drugs. The population of prisons before this era was a quarter of what it is today. According to the article, what causes overcrowding in jails and prisons?, 70 to 75% of the prisoners are put in prison today because of the adjustments made to the law from the “War on Drugs”. Another cause of overcrowding is when offenders are released and then commit another crime only to serve more prison time. Inmates can also be sent back to prison for not being able to complete their community service.

As far as solutions go, multiple things must be done to reform and fix this overcrowding situation in the United States. First, there should be a rehabilitation offered rather than prison time, especially to the people with crimes simply involving drug charges. There is some sort of rehabilitation offered to some prisoners, but not all prison facilities have this capability. Also allowing drug offenders to serve shorter sentences. The reason so many people are locked up for drug crimes is because of the federal mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. The sentencing for drug offenders to prison ranges from 5 years to 20 years depending on the severity of drug crime. Second, is awarding those with good behavior and productive time with early release or parole is a good incentive to create better environments and outcomes for non-violent prisoners. Sentence reduction allows for inmates to leave sooner and make room for incoming ones. Another way to solve overcrowding in prisons is relaxing on the “truth-in-sentencing” requirements which is everyone in the federal prison system must serve at least 85 percent of the time to which he or she is sentenced. Instead of at least 85 percent of their sentence, offenders should serve 70 percent of their sentences.

Overcrowding in prisons is a major issue that is still happening to this day. The reasons for overcrowding in prisons are because of the tougher sentences that judges are giving out to citizens that have committed small crimes, the “war on drugs”, and offenders are released and commit another crime only to become incarcerated again. Many prisons in the United States are not able to house more prisoners than their capacity because it becomes an unsafe prison environment. It causes more intense and quick-spreading illnesses as well as violence in the prisons and they cannot afford to keep enough staff in prisons to help control the prison population. Solving this issue will not happen overnight it will take time and knowledge to figure out how to change this prison and justice system for the better and how it will help prisons, inmates, and staff.   

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