Free «Problems with Overcrowded Prisons» Essay

Problems with Overcrowded Prisons

There are several challenges currently facing criminal justice and corrections system. However, none of them is as pressing as overcrowding in prisons. In many states of the United States of America, overcrowding in prisons have increased to high levels and is becoming a major contributing factor to crime both within and outside prisons. The crowded conditions in the prisons have also led to neglect of prisoners, their mental as well as physical health needs. Over the years several attempts to alleviate this problem have failed due to poor policies in place. This paper looks into the problems of overcrowding in prisons and possible solutions to the same. 

Prisons are meant to be institutions of corrections for criminal offenders; however, prisoners are supposed to be confined in a psychologically healthy environment as well as treated in a humane way. Unfortunately, most prisons across the globe, including the ones in America, do not provide friendly environment to effect this correction. Prison overcrowding is a state that results when the number of prisoners in a particular prison raises above the number the facility was meant to accommodate. In this case, the inmates find themselves in situations that hinder their mental and psychological improvement. In the United States overcrowding has been a major challenge for decades. This write-up explores vast challenges that are a result of overcrowding in prisons and proceeds to outline policies that should be put in place in order to solve the problem of overcrowding in prisons.

Building of prisons usually takes long and is equally expensive; this results into overcrowding as prisons have to accommodate more inmates than their facilities are designed for. It is possible to measure crowding in prisons by determining available floor space per individual prisoner, or the number of prisoners per living unit, as well as the population of an individual institution relative to its size. Overcrowding in prisons may be caused by a number of factors, such as insufficient funding for building of new structures in prisons, failure to craft effective modes of punishment alternative to prisons, wearing out of the existing infrastructure (Hough, Allen & Solomon 2008).

Problems Associated with Overcrowding in Prisons

Prisoners in overcrowded prisons live in degrading and inhuman conditions; they are forced to share such facilities as toilets, while also having no equipments such as a chair to sit on when taking their meals. These poor conditions have several negative impacts on both inmates and the entire prisons staff fraternity. The degraded conditions often contribute to consistent health problems which are a major challenge facing inmates and staff in overcrowded prisons. The prisoners confined in open bay dormitories are usually prone to communicable diseases and even develop other health complications, such as high blood pressure than those in single or double bunked cells (Parks, 2012).

Due to overcrowding, prisons’ facilities are usually strained. This means that they may not be able to offer considerable attention to each prisoner. Facilities meant to deliver services, such as training, education, as well as other positive activities may be insufficient due to the inflated number of inmates. On the other hand, as the staff tries to obtain and maintain prisons which are safe and positive, such prisons are usually overstretched due to the large number they have to accommodate. This culminates in reduced staff morale. Ultimately, these challenges usually result into collapse of the intended rehabilitatin program which increases chances of re-offending (Criminal Law and Justice Weekly 2010). 

Conflicts and violence is another problem associated with overcrowding in prisons. Security is a real concern and more challenging to manage in the overcrowded prisons, as such prisons experience conflicts and violence more often. In an attempt to control this, the movement of prisoners is usually restricted. On the contrary, this only adds to the problem as inmates grow more hostile due to accelerated stressful situations. In addition, overcrowding in prisons provides fewer opportunities for inmates to go through rehabilitation, as inmates are confined within cells for unnecessarily long time with minimal supervision, resulting in tension between prison staff and inmates. The staff usually have to spend limited time with individual inmates, thus the inmates do not complete their programs on rehabilitation. Consequently, the staff becomes the target of the angry prisoners (Parks, 2012).

The Criminal Law and Justice Weekly (2010) reports that it is a result of overcrowding that the prison systems are sometimes forced to move prisoners in remand around the prison estate in order to secure more space for them close to the appropriate courts. However, this movement usually impacts negatively on most prisoners. For instance, moving vulnerable prisoners from where they are known without proper knowledge to a prison where they are not known may make them feel insecure. Such movements have led to the increase of cases of self-inflicted deaths and harm for those in custody. This movement also damages family relationships as the prisoners may be very far from their homes. The long distance may disrupt visits from family members and ultimately affect resettlement work, as well as reduce chances of the prisoners to secure jobs and houses after release. Additionally, movement of prisoners due to overcrowding  has been largely blamed for disrupting training, education, programs on modest behavior as well as drug and alcohol treatment. The overall consequence is recurrent offenders.

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Solutions to Overcrowding in Prison

Overcrowding in prisons has been a long time problem and currently needs urgent attention. Over time, attempts have been made and some are still underway to reduce overcrowding in prisons by building more structures in order to expand existing facilities to accommodate the ever increasing number of inmates. However, this has proved to be quite ineffective and inefficient as overcrowding persists in the same expanded institutions. Moreover, the cost for building the structures that can accommodate more prisoners is too high and impractical due to the already increased spending on prisons. It is needful for the criminal justice to be reformed through introduction of new policies to reduce overreliance on prisons as means of correction. However, this should be done in a manner that does not undermine independence of the courts (Criminal Law and Justice Weekly 2010).

A good number of those imprisoned may not really pose danger to the community. However, their imprisonments were ordered by the courts since meaningful mode of punishment is in place. Policies that encourage crafting of other means of punishment can serve well to avert the crisis of overcrowding. It is thus important to have a meeting with different stakeholders, such as politicians, judges, lawyers and community leaders in order to come up with alternative community-based punishments. Such policy changes would see those who have committed criminal offence, but whom their continual stay in the community poses no danger, serve theiir sentences out of prison thereby reducing overcrowding (Hough, Allen, & Solomon, 2008).

However, it may be challenging to effect, as different stakeholders have different policies and interests. To overcome this challenge, it is important to sensitize different stakeholders about the need of dealing with the issue of overcrowding as a matter of national concern. In addition, some of these out of prison punishments may be challenging to realize. For instance, in some cases convicts are fined instead of being imprisoned. However, some of these convicts, more so, those who come from poor communities and poverty zones may end up in prison should they fail to meet the amount of fine imposed on them. It is therefore necessary that before an out of prison punishment is issued, the courts should be able to understand well socioeconomic background of every individual facing charge (Prison Fellowship International 2012).  

Even though it is necessary for conflict and violence be reduced in overcrowded prisons, it is a real challenge to manage overcrowded prisons humanely and effectively. Studies have shown that inmates who are active are less likely to engage in violence due to the reduced stress. In most cases, space available for recreational, educational, cultural as well religious activities is reduced or totally eliminated as the need for living space increases. Most of the activities, such as education, training and addiction treatment programs needed no enhance rehabilitation of prisoners require adequate funding and trained personnel. However, this is a challenge in most correctional institutions as the funds are usually insufficient (Hough, Allen, & Solomon 2008). This challenge can be overcome by involving volunteers, including NGOs and community groups to offer meaningful reform programs to prisoners.

Involvement of these volunteers would boost the prisoners’ morale even if space available is limited. On the other hand, to be able to manage conflicts that arise between staff and inmates, staff members should be trained in basic relationships, such as nurturing respectful and humane relationships, effective communication skills, conflict mediation and anger management. The problem of insecurity in prisons can also be reduced by classifying prisoners in accordance to their level of risk. Classes at lower risk can be easily managed at lower security basis as they require less security (Arrigo & Shipley 2005).

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The inmates’ health usually becomes at risk when toilet, sanitation, as well as cooking facilities, are less adequate to serve them due to increased population. The problem can be tackled by offering inmates training in preventive health care such, as basic sanitation, personal hygiene as well as food preparation precautions. It is also important that the nutrition for inmates to be improved. This can be achieved by involving low risk inmate labor in order to raise livestock and cultivate vegetables (Prison Fellowship International 2012). In addition to improving the quality of food, engaging the inmates in these services may help to keep them busy. Land requirement for agricultural activities may pose a challenge; however, cooperation with the community may solve this problem.

Conclusion

It is thus important to note that prison overcrowding is an entrenched problem. To be able to find a solution, it is needful that careful work coupled with strong political will be pursued. All the relevant stakeholders should be able to come together and attend to a matter that concerns human rights and is of national interest.

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