Prison overcrowding is indeed a grave problem that many states face. It is a phenomenon that both the international and national parties have faced for decades (Howard,1996). Overcrowded correction facilities may lead to the failures of programs in the prisons, violations of civil rights and also violence between inmates. Prison overcrowding may develop as a result of steady, regular, continuous increase and enlargement of prisoners which then develops to what is known as chronic overcrowding.
Overcrowding does not have a universal definition and this is due to the absence of a consented formula that could be used to create a tool and a measuring device that can be applied in a uniform manner to measure overcrowding. In determining overcrowding the courts does not rely on one indicator but deals with the facts of each case and also considers the interests of prison administration, economics, and individual's rights of the prisoners among others.
Definition of overcrowding therefore requires the establishment, creation and determination of a maximum number of prisoners to be accommodated in a particular facility. This therefore mans that the number to be accommodated must be established with references to the standards set bi international and national bodies and also be consistent with human rights and United Nations.
Overcrowding has also arisen as a result of the growth of prison population and also the excessive use of prison sentences. However, it is largely presumed that overcrowding is as a result of the heavy use of imprisonment.
Factors contributing to overpopulation in prisons
Factors that have led to over populations in prisons are many and may vary from one jurisdiction to another. The factors contributing to over population ranges from social, economic, political, the perceptions of crime by the society, the measures of crime prevention among others. They may also include corruption activities, the excessive use of imprisonment, the income inequity and also harsh social policies.
Inefficiency in the criminal justice system has led to the rapid growth of population in the prison sector as there are delayed or ineffective investigations, the lack of resources in the prosecution sector and also in the judiciary, lack of proper case management services. These will lead to backlog of cases, delays in the investigation, unnecessary court adjournments and delays in trial proceedings.
Issues relating to access to justice system which include the lack of an effective and proper legal representation system also contribute to the increase in population in the prisons. Lack of legal representations for the accused may lead to a higher percentage of being detained even in instances where it involves a minor offence. Delays in the criminal justice system may also be caused by the lack of legal representation. In many states the poor and the vulnerable have inadequate and proper access to justice thus faces a higher risk of detention which in turn results to overpopulation.
The underuse or the lack of release programs have also contributed to overpopulation in many prisons and correction facilities. In many states, there is lack of programs that may facilitate early release from prisons and in instances where such programs exists it is often underused due to limitation of resources and other relevant factors. Parole systems and rules that are inefficient, ineffective and rigid may contribute to large prison populations by limiting the number of cases that parole is granted.
Poor and inadequate infrastructure has also contributed to growing populations in prisons. Prison facilities of many states need renovations and replacements in order to cater for the ever growing population. The lack of investments in the construction and renovation of prisons and also the delays of developing building strategies have contributed to overpopulation and have also aggravated its effects.
The rise in crime rates have also led to the rapid increase in the size of population in prisons. This has a correlation with social marginalization, lack of adequate responses to poverty and also inequity.
The lack of adequate provisions for sanctions and non-custodian measures has also contributed to overpopulation. In states where alternatives to imprisonment are available the courts mainly prefer imprisonment over them hence leading to overcrowding in the prisons.
Effects of overcrowding in prisons
Overcrowding in prisons has a very negative impact on the conditions of imprisonment and envisioned and planned consequences of imprisonment.
Overcrowding may affect the prison staff with situations of non-compliance of the national and international standards of accommodating the prisoners and also with conditions that create stress and fatigueness. Overcrowding may therefore be linked to infringement and ciolations of statutory law and the normative standards that are in place. The principles of separations such as the separation of juvenile detainees, remand prisoners, adult prisoners and sentenced prisoners are at risk of being infringed and violated and even the risk of non-compliance.
Overcrowding may also be associated with the excessive use of prison sentence and consequently associated with imprisoning a higher and a larger percentage of young men from disadvantaged neighborhood and minority group. It is also presumed that serving a sentence in overcrowded conditions may increase the risk of breaking the law again upon release.
Overcrowding may also lead to strains in the prison budget and thus lead to smaller portins of food distributed to the inmates. It may also lead to the spread of diseases that are infectious especially from drug offenders. Overcrowding may also lead to a higher rate of suicide by inmates.
Remedies to Overcrowding in prisons
Since overcrowding has been an international and national problem for decades then it is no surprise that there are strategies that have been developed and put in place to curb this kind of problem. Therefore methods to deal with overcrowding will mainly focus on the reduction in the length of stay of the prisoners and also reduction in the detention and admission to prisons.
The methods and strategies in achieving the reduction in the length of stay and admissions of prisoners in prisons may include the use of traditional justice, the use of restorative justice approaches, the use of other means to penal prosecutions, decriminalization, speedy trials and efficient and effective case management by the prison service and the courts, access to better defense counsels and paralegals in the process, recognizing the last resort principle, setting targets and programs for the reduction of populations in prisons, consideration of the capacity in prisons before imposing a sentence on a prisoner and the length of the term, pushing for the political will to speed up prison reforms and change, the implementation of early and conditional schemes of release.
In the development of policies and programs to deal with overcrowding, cultural context and wishes have to be considered. Solutions and answers to overcrowding have to deal with the complex nature of the decision making process which has lead to overcrowding. The complex issues are essentially due to the complicated normative structure which determines the scope of power of state actors and criminal justice.
All places of liberty including prisons fall under standard framework of international and national laws where overcrowding and its impacts for prisoner human rights are examined. International instruments that deal with human rights such as the United Convention Against Torture, International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights contains provisions that prohibit degrading and inhuman treatment and punishment. Other regional treaties and conventions also have such provisions that prohibit the same. They include the European Convention on Human Rights in article 3, the American Convention on Human Rights in article 5, the European Convention against Torture in article 5, and also the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights in article 5.
The ECHR (European Court on Human Rights) recognized the problem of structures which were the reason and cause of long-term overcrowding that were intended by no state actor and party. This conclusion came when the court was dealing with the issue of overcrowding. It therefore encouraged the development of a functional and a well organized complaint system to the prison service and the detention facilities supervising authorities which were placed in a better position to take up speedy and appropriate remedies to the problem.
There was also the need to design and implement an inclusive structural reform which were aimed at reducing the number of prisoners and therefore increasing the capacity in prison and improving the prison facilities by modernizing the same and also to remove and eliminate non-violent prisoners from detention facilities and also to improve and increase the usage of non-custodian measures.
Access to justice and public defence mechanisms must be strengthened which will in turn improve the administration of justice and thus reduce thepopulation rate in prisons. Legal practitioners can help ensure and improve the rate at which cases are heard and the time frame in which a case may take before it is finalized. They play an important role by giving updated information to prisoners and also in reducing their stress and anxiety of the prisoners. The states should therefore encourage free legal aid to prisoners by giving free legal advice and also…