Prison Overcrowding – Term Paper

Causes of Prison Overcrowding

Overcrowding poses a great challenge in America’s prison system. Implementation of determinate sentencing, integrated political policies, and high crime rate are the primary reason population rates continue to increase. Determinate sentencing plays a promising part and through it, more criminals find themselves behind bars and for a long time. Moreover, the political and public scenes continue to find strict crime policies favorable to enforce prison sentences and dictate punishment for a wide variety of crimes. The choice of entirely relying on prison as the best way of issuing punishment combined with the adoption of lengthy sentences are the main reason for the existence of current population woes. This has considerably contributed to the compromise of rehabilitative efforts, due to limited resources (Moehling & Piehl, 2009).

In 1865, United States adopted the penal system as the primary method of dealing with crime and until now this approach is the most preferred. Until today the, overcrowding in America’s prisons is a significant challenge in the justice system, although, some trends and reformation that exist around the penal system are noticeable (Brent & Kraska, 2011). The conducted surveys, reforms, reports, and movements aimed at improving the state of prisoners led to the establishment of the legal status of prisoners and improvement of conditions. Today there is the practice of Solitary confinement, which replaces corporal punishment, there is recreation to provide relief to prisoners, there are no stripped uniforms, and prisons are equipped with modern technology and medicine to facilitate the internal conditions of prisons so that rehabilitation processes can be useful. There are many reforms and transformations that the America’s prison system has experienced, however, the policies and the determinate sentencing that exist still complement the increase of inmates in prisons (Hancock, 2000).

Prison Overcrowding Solutions

From the beginning of 2002, America boasts the highest incarceration rate globally. It is also true that the population of inmates or prison population is increasing in other countries; however, their incarceration rate compared to that of the United States is around 100 inmates per 100,000 citizens. The incarceration rate for the United States, on the other hand, is 500 inmates per 100,000 residents in regards to the data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The United States encompasses 5-percent of the total global population; however, 25 percent of its total population is in prison, this is approximately 2.2 million people. Over the past 40 years, the America has developed harsh crime policies that have significantly affected its prison population. The prison was mostly filled with poor and uneducated people most of them having mental health challenges. The massive prison population is an issue that has significantly cost the country, specifically to communities, families, and individuals (Brent & Kraska, 2011).

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In the country one out of 100 citizens is incarcerated, this translates to a per capita rate that is five to 10 times higher compared democracies. However, this rate has decreased since from 2006 to 2011, almost half of the prisons in the United States reduced their prison population. Statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, still considered America as the leader in incarceration rates by a greater margin, despite their tremendous efforts to reduce the crime rate. Overcrowding in prisons means that the government has to increase the resource in those establishments, spending approximately $60 billion yearly on federal and state prisons. The figure 20 years ago was approximate $12 billion annually. The policy that governs incarceration in the country is very costly and results in fewer benefits and tremendous adverse effects on families, communities and the country’s economy (Brent & Kraska, 2011).

The Best Prison System in the World

The United States was leading for decades concerning having the best penal system. In the late 1960sand early 1970s, the situation totally changed. There was an increased in crime rate from the 1960s to 1980s. The crimes regarded drug smuggling and what followed were great drug penalties where mandatory minimum sentences and other harsh policies became the highlight of the justice system. The policies ensure that criminals served at least 85 percent of their sentences. The lengthy sentences together with stringent drug penalties that were put in place played a central part in the rapid rise of the prison population. The stand taken to form policies was not based on scientific rationale; rather the decision was made with significant political influence and interest. It is not reasonable at this time and age that the politicians and legislators still continue to push for a strategy of punitive crime control policies regardless of the cost involved (Brent & Kraska, 2011).

In the 1960s there was a large health institution for the mentally ill was closed, due to lack of resources to take care of them; therefore, some people went to jail and prisons. According to a study, the number of individuals who went to jail at that time accounted for about 7-percent of the prison population rise, from 1980 to 2000. Instead of this population of mentally ill people being in safe institutions where they would get help, they were in harsh environments, which affected them further. When this group of individuals got released, there is a significant possibility that they practiced criminal behavior since they didn’t receive effective rehabilitation. The group would end up in jail; therefore, the prison population continuously grows. Currently, there are an array o cases involving inmates in both federal and state prisons. From this statement, it is clear that another reason contributing to overpopulation in prisons is the fact that the United States does not have the necessary mechanisms for dealing with mental health crisis. Many people suffer from treatable mental issues, but since there are no proper mechanisms put in place to care for them, so they end up caught up in the whims of the justice system (Moehling & Piehl, 2009).

The increase in incarceration rates within the country has significantly affected minorities within the country. The disparities that exist within the American prison system are partly due to the harsh laws and the stringent war on drugs. Also, racial differences in processing of cases played a significant part. There was a high chance of black to be incarcerated without going for trial; this is a clear reason for overcrowding since there is a great chance that the people got sentenced without breaking the law. The same disparities occurred in mental institutions where black found it hard to get treatment, thus having a higher chance of finding themselves in the criminal justice system. The rise in incarceration during that time greatly changed the American prison system, and it also affected U.S. race relations. It is clear that reduction of crime would only occur if the rate of incarceration gets the attention it deserves since there are countries that have low crime rates, which concurrently relate to low incarceration rates (Moehling & Piehl, 2009).