Overcrowding in the Prison System Term Paper

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For this reason, "(p) end up leaving prison with the same (or worse) addictions, educational deficiencies, and tendencies toward violence that they had when they were first incarcerated. Thus the cycle of crime is perpetuated and the community as a whole is damaged" ("Addressing Prison").

Long-Term Solutions to Prison Overcrowding:

There are typically two governmental responses to solving the overcrowded prisons dilemma: building more prisons or enacting reforms, the later being the more effective choice. The most traditional approach prison overcrowding is to build more prisons. More prisons equates to more space for prisoners, which should lead to a reduction in overcrowding. However, this usually does not solve the problem, but only offers a temporary solution.

New prisons tend to quickly become overpopulated simply because the root cause of the prison overcrowding was never addressed in the first place. "The underlying causes of overcrowding are not usually a lack of prisons, but rather (among others) overburdened, inefficient judicial systems and poorly trained police, sending of vast numbers of people to prison for relatively petty, non-violent offences, and keeping prisoners on remand without proper oversight" ("Addressing Prison").

In addition to not solving the root cause of the problem, building more prisons has the additional disadvantage of the fact that prisons have a negative effect on people. People who are sent to prison for petty, non-violent crimes are more likely to create more serious crimes, in the future ("Addressing Prison"). Add to this the construction costs of building more prisons, in addition to the maintenance of the old prisons, and this option is little more than a temporary band-aid on a much larger wound.

The second option that governments utilize to correct prison overcrowding is reform, including the introduction of alternatives to imprisonment. These alternatives strive to use different methods for authorizing offenders that do not pose a safety risk to the community.

When considering that the majority of prisoners, in prisons around the globe, have committed non-violent offences, it becomes clear that these alternatives could be great benefit. Overcrowding in today's prison systems could be drastically reduced if even a percentage of these non-violent offenders were sentenced to an alternative other than imprisonment. These alternatives include a variety of programs including: community service, restorative justice, drug treatment programs, and probation ("Addressing Prison").

When alternative programs, such as these, are planned and carried out carefully, they bring many benefits to the offenders, the victims, and society as a whole. Alternative programs help offenders maintain their community and familial ties. Some even offer tangible educational or vocational training. Treatment programs have been shown to rehabilitate offenders and decrease the recidivism rates ("Addressing Prison").

In addition to implementing alternative programs to prison, the detention process must also be improved. The system that judicial authorities utilizes for prisoners on remand, either pre-trial or un-sentenced, can be improved. "Systematic inefficiencies such as poor record-keeping can translate into delays between arrest and trial of one, two, or even three years. Many remand prisoners spend that time in custody because bail is either unavailable or financially prohibitive" ("Addressing Prison").


In the end, prison overcrowding is a serious problem that affects prisons all over the world. Tougher criminal penalties and increasing crime rates are two of the primary causes of prison overcrowding. The effects are dramatic. Increased violence, inhumane conditions, higher rates of recidivism, and the rampant spread of disease are all a result of overcrowding in the prison system. The most common governmental response is the construction of new prisons; however, this does not solve the problem and only results in eventual crowding of the new facilities. A more effective response would be reform in the form of alternatives to prison for some non-violent, petty offenders. This, coupled with an improvement in the detention process, should provide a long-term solution to the problem.


Addressing Prison Overcrowding." PenalReform.org. No date. Penal Reform International. October 17, 2006 http://www.penalreform.org/download/ressource_kits/Kit%20I-C.6%20Addressing%20Prison%20Overcrowding%20(wkg)%20(KH)%2021-08-2003.pdf..

Davies, R. "Deaths in UK Prisons are Due to Overcrowding, Says Report." The Lancet 363(9406) 31 Jan 2004: 378.

Giertz, J. & Nardulli, P. "Prison Overcrowding." Public Choice 46(1) Apr 1985: 71-78.

Marciniak, E. "Standing Room Only." Commonweal…[continue]

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