Overcrowding is defined as a state of being filled with more people or things that are desirable; congestion as stated in the Collins online dictionary (2019). Another term that has been used over the years is overpopulation, which, according to the Miriam Webster online dictionary (2019), is the state of having a population so dense as to cause environmental deterioration, impaired quality of life, or a population crash. Nelson Mandela (1994) once said, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.
A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones ….” There are many problems and concerns in prisons as it relates to overcrowing, and is considered a human rights issue. Moreover, according to Mackay (2015), the human rights of the prisoners are being disregarded daily in Australian prisons as a result of being overpopulated. Prison space has not been improved to keep up with demand and this has resulted in constant overcrowding.
The rate of overcrowding continues to increase and as stated by MacDonald (2018), in excess of 10.3 million people are held in penal institutions worldwide, mostly as pre-trial detainees, remand, or sentenced prisoners. Thus, increasing convict populations have created overpopulated prisons, as cells that were formerly constructed to hold one inmate now shelter two or more prisoners each. There are many factors which have contributed to this phenomenon, some of which are the increased number of offenders sentenced to prison, high recidivism rates due to probation or parole violations, new criminal offenses added to the penal code, the “War on Drugs” (State of Connecticut, 2015).
Other contributing factors include stricter penalties for certain types of offenses, the increased role of victim advocacy in the court and parole process, and convicted inmates serving a longer portion of their sentences (the State of Connecticut, 2015). This paper focuses on the factors; increased number of offenders sentenced to prison, high recidivism rates due to probation or parole violation, the “war on drugs” and the three-strikes and other habitual offender laws. Overcrowding in prisons has caused a lack of security and safety, lack of sufficient food or improper food service, improper sanitary, and improper infrastructure.
With crime increasing and the rise in police and prosecution changes, there has been amplification in the number of offenders sentenced to prison. The changes in policy and prosecution practices and advances in policing techniques can lead to an increase in the number of offenses that result in a conviction, even when the actual number of offenses has not changed. It is important to state that this rise in incarceration numbers has caused overcrowding leading to effects such as the lack of safety and security. Thus overcrowding is likely to influence the risks of assaults, bullying, and other criminal behaviors between inmates.
As stated by the Howard League for Penal Reform (2018), a lack of finances and resources to support the increase in the penitentiary population means that despite the best efforts of those policymakers, the prisons are still filled with violence, increasing drug abuse and evidence are showing that there is a growth of prisoners developing mental issues. Prison overcrowding is becoming a trend throughout the world and is ultimately creating a financial burden on the administrative system of the country. Based on evaluations, more than 11 million people including both pre-trial and sentenced prisoners have been held in the penal institutions throughout the world in May 2011 (Robinson 2018). Therefore, such factors are contributing to the prisons being unhealthy for the prisoners.
Due to the rules governing parole, once there are breaches, the convict will be incarcerated for a certain period of time before parole can be again considered. In some instances, there may not be a real breach, but, once an allegation is made this may result in automatic incarceration or after an investigation. The University of Michigan (2017), stated that this self-perpetuating revolution of penitentiary admissions is being fed largely by readmissions to prison for technical violations of parole rather than new crimes. Consequently, prison readmission directly impacts the rapid growth in the prison population. For example, in the United Kingdom, an increasing number of persons are being readmitted to the prison every year for a very large number of people are returned to prison each year for breaching their parole, which adds to overcrowding (Morgan 2019).
Many persons returning to prison do not always do so because of a serious offense but because of failure to adhere to the conditions of the order itself. Morgan (2019), stated that a number of the older judges and other judiciaries have indicated their concern that many of the ‘failure to comply’ breaches, such as reaching home from work five minutes late, are as a result of the person circumstance and not to real ‘villainy’. With this flow of imprisonment being so dramatic, the population increase then becomes a major concern. Additionally, trickling effects of overcrowding such as physical health, security, and proper food service tend to arise. Instead of reincarnation, there are other approaches that can be taken into consideration, especially for minor breaches.
Many governments have been paying close attention to drug-related crimes and this has caused a rise in the number of prison cell occupants. Pfaff (2015) stated that U.S. incarnation rates started to set new records around the time the Reagan-era War on Drugs got into motion. Moreover, drug offenders are often traffic prisoners, which means they spend a relatively shorter time. Despite all the \”throw-away-the-key\” rhetoric that surrounds drug punishment, it turns out that almost all drug offenders serve relatively short sentences (Pfaff 2015). However, even though they may be a small percentage of the prison population, they could amount to a larger percentage of admittances which leads to overcrowding. Furthermore, with prisons being overcrowded security becomes limited and the lives of both prisoners and officers can be put in danger.
A large number of drug offenders are also violent criminals. According to a 2018 report by the Howard League for Penal Reform, there were more alleged homicides in 2015 than in any other year on record, assaults in prison rose by 31% in the twelve months to the end of September 2016, and assaults on staff rose by an even greater 40%. With homicides increasing at large in prison, this poses a threat to the aging community and mortality rate. Based on statistics, overcrowding in prisons not only creates safety and security threats for prisoners but prison staff as well. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (2017), stated that neither the prisoners nor the officers are safe in the prison walls and has gotten worse over the past six years since records began.
Oleson (2015) was of the opinion that three-strikes laws are a jurisprudential problem for most countries. There are persons who have been sentenced to life without parole for simple, petty, and nonviolent crimes such as shoplifting bread, breaking into a parked car, and jaywalking. With so many persons serving such long sentences due to the three-strikes laws, overcrowding became a problem in the prisons. Sloan III (2015) stated, “Three strikes laws,” which are based on repeated felon laws passed in the 1920s and 1930s, were maintained by many states and the federal government in the 1990s and sanction important improvements to the penalties of offenders with previous convictions who are then convicted of a new crime.
Even though advocates made promises that serious crimes would have declined with the laws, there is minimal factual support available that three-strikes laws have had any significant effect. Evidently, we’re not as effective as some crimes increased, including murder (Sloan III, 2015). What many may have not realized is that with the three-strikes laws, the offense need not to always be serious, violent crimes. Therefore, instead of seeing an improvement in terms of crime levels, they increased and this eventually led to an increase in incarceration rates. With these numbers of increasing this poses a major concern for the prison populations. As the prisons were made to house a certain number of prisoners, overcrowding becomes an ongoing issue across the board and causing a negative effect on the health of the prison.
Send drug offenders to rehabilitation institutions instead of prison. Most prisons are ill-equipped to meet the need of individuals who are drug addicts and create more negative impacts that could affect the convict once released, resulting in re-offending. Specialty facilities could cause a decrease in the prison population and reduce the possible re-offenses by preparing drug offenders to better manage their challenges. Clearly, rehabilitation services are a severely neglected area of Arizona’s correctional system for many reasons, although funding programs is the largest concern on behalf of legislators and administrators. Yet, this potential solution could heavily and positively affect the prison population and recidivism rates alike (Abel, 2018).
Awarding early release and parole to nonviolent criminals on good behavior and who used their time productively. Controlling and lowering penalty lengths can decrease overcrowded penitentiaries by regularly cutting sentences down to more feasible and suitable times. It is stated that nonviolent criminals compose nearly 30% of Arizona’s prison population thus reiterating the need for release policies for nonviolent offenders, (Abel, 2018). Giving these individuals early release not only will save the government money but the overcrowding in prisons will be tackled.
Reviewing and reforming all processes can be of great advantage to the imprisonment numbers. Not all persons who have committed a crime may have used reasoning, due to being under the influence of drugs or have some form of mental illness, however, is tried as such. Abel (2018) stated that a 2014 study calculated that 15% of inmates in state prisons nationwide have serious mental illness thus very heavily contributing to the number of people unable to use sound reasoning in the commission of a crime.
The health of any environment is of great importance. However, in most environments, there are challenges that are faced resulting from many causes. It has been concluded that overcrowding is a major factor that continues to have a significant impact on the health and overall well-being of the prisoners and the environment in which they are living. This research paper presents in great detail the overcrowding of prisons and its effect on health, solutions, evaluations, and recommendations.
Firstly, it is imperative to restate some of the causes of overcrowding in prisons are increased number of offenders sentenced to prison, high recidivism rates due to parole violations, the “war on drugs” and the three-strikes and other habitual offender laws. Although there are human rights laws that should be followed, because of overcrowding little to none of these rights are met. Consequently, both the prisoners and officers bear the brunt of the impact, caused by social determinants.
Then, there are three possible solutions to the issue of overcrowding in prisons, however, each solution may be correlated and have an impact on the other. These solutions include sending drug offenders to rehabilitation institutions instead of prison, awarding early release and parole to nonviolent criminals on good behavior, and who used their time productively and reviewing and reforming all processes can be of great advantage to the imprisonment numbers.
Finally, it is proposed that for overcrowding in prisons to be tackled and create a healthier environment there are some things that should be put into consideration. Some recommendations are to develop and implement constructive non-custodial measures and sentences, develop programs to assist prisoners on release to adjust to communities and prevent their return to prison, and Identify drug addiction and divert those affected to appropriate medical or other care. With these being implemented, it is foreseen that major improvements can be made in providing healthy prison environments, contributing to better communities.