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Prison overcrowding is a serious issue in the US calling for urgent policies to address. As noted by Professor Craig Haney in ‘prison overcrowding: harmful consequences and dysfunctional reactions’ the number of prisoners has been rising at unprecedented rates since the 1970’s and early 80’s. The number of inmates became so high that the prison staff could not identify them by name or even track their locations. The influx of inmates however failed to match the funding or rather the finances allocated a factor that contributed by a large extent to the inefficiencies in the prison systems as correctional facilities.
When prisons are overcrowded chances that the inmates will be worse off on release into the society are higher than would have been had the number been contained to manageable numbers. This paper will focus on establishing the implications of prison overcrowding not only in California prison system but also in other national correctional facilities. California which is one of the largest prison systems in the US is so overcrowded that some inmates are accommodated in the gyms as well as the hallways.
This precipitated the establishment of a plan for the construction of a giant prison to accommodate the overwhelming prison population.
The plan would cost the government a tune of $8. 3 billion. (Steinhauer J, 2007). The plan was backed by the state’s governor, a republican and it would prevent the state from facing receivership. The California prison registered a 70% recidivism rate an issue raising concerns especially among the democrats. For the republicans the main objective is to ensure that inmates are reformed even if it means the construction of more prisons arising due to the high recidivism rates.
(Steinhauer J, 2007). Overcrowding in prisons has negative effects on the inmates, the prison staff as well as the society at large.
Inmates are likely to suffer physically, mentally as well as psychologically due to the harsh conditions in the overcrowded prisons. It is difficult to identify or screen inmates with special needs for instance those with mental conditions and hence difficult to assist them accordingly. As Kupers and Toch in ‘Prison madness’ established the condition of prisoners with special needs deteriorates when faced with the prison overcrowding a factor precipitating inefficiencies in the correctional facilities. (Kupers T and Toch H,1999). Another implication of prison overcrowding is the inappropriate redress of the inmates’ educational needs.
This triggers increased illiteracy levels. Educational programs are vital in any correctional facility as they prepare the inmates for easy but effective re entry into the society on release from prisons. It would ensure that they stand a better ground while seeking employment on completion of their term in prison. The prison staff members also experience the negative effects of prison overcrowding. Those with a vocation or calling to see the inmates reform will be disappointed when this is not realized due overwhelming prison population in any given prison.
Their professional development will be negatively affected as their morale will be lowered. Prison overcrowding is also blamed for the increased illegal activities in prisons. (John Baker et al, 2002). When the population is high it creates conducive environment for anonymity. Collusion with some prison staff to undertake drug trafficking is also possible when prisons are overcrowded. Prison overcrowding is also blamed for increased crime rates as the hostile environment would harden the inmates exposing them to worse crimes than those that saw them in the prisons.
Loss of life could also occur when due to stress and confusion some inmates commit suicide. With a reduced prison to staff ratio supervision is likely to be ineffective and this can promote violence Overcrowding also causes pressure or strain on medical supplies. There is poor hygiene and sanitation that precipitates the spread of diseases. With too many inmates, some could be left idle due to the variance between the duties and the labor supply available. Construction of more or larger prisons may not be an overall solution to the problem of overcrowding in prisons. (William S, 2000).
This problem is quite complex and would only be resolved amicably if varying approaches are incorporated together. Reducing the flow of inmates would jeopardize the role of the criminal justice system of ensuring that justice prevails. Investing intensively in prison expansion would not be a feasible solution to the problem of prison overcrowding either as the federal government has minimal funds in the face of many important programs. There are vital issues like health care and education and the government should not spend billions in the construction of more ineffective prisons.
Effectiveness and efficiency in the prison system would ensure that inmates are reformed and recidivism would be reduced hence reducing the inflow of inmates. (William S, 2000). Those inmates in prisons due to mental issues can effectively be identified and well assisted reducing the number of inmates in prisons. Adoption of other punitive measures to offenders would also be critical in controlling the flow of inmates in prisons. Fines can be incorporated to some offenders like those guilty of breaching licenses. Restitution programs like house arrests, home arrests under parole or electronic monitoring can also be applied on some offences.
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