Prison Overcrowding and Its Relationship Term Paper

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The need for less restrictive parole policies could help relieve prison overcrowding (Kunselman & Johnson, 2004). According to Hughes (2007), "On any given day, a large number of the admissions to America's prisons come from individuals who have failed to comply with the conditions of their parole or probation supervision. For years, the revocation and incarceration rate of probationers and parolees has had a significant impact on the growth of the prison population" (p. 100). During the 15-year period 1990 to 2005, American prisons experienced the fastest growing correctional population, with an average annual increase of 4.5%; of these, the number of probationers and parolees under supervision grew from 3.76 million in 1995 to 4.95 million in 2005, adding more than a million potential individuals for revocation and incarceration (Hughes).

In many cases, tough, political stakeholders continue to demand mandatory minimum crime control legislation to develop political credibility or promote a "get tough on crime" personae; however, researchers have not provided unqualified support for such legislation to date (Kunselman & Johnson, 2004). In his essay, "The Foundation of Re-entry," Weedon (2004) reports that, "Politicians at both the state and federal levels, in an effort to be perceived as tough on crime, passed mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines, and three-strikes, and truth-in-sentencing laws. These measures, along with the criminalization of mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse and the reduction in judicial discretion in sentencing, has led to the quadrupling of the U.S. prison population during the past 20 years" (p. 6). This increase in prison population started to reverse itself during the latter part of the past decade, even before the extent of the economic downturn became apparent and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 compelled Americans to reevaluate national priorities (Weedon).

According to Cohen (2005), "Empirical research has demonstrated that crime rates can be affected by the deterrent effect of longer prison sentences. For example, it has ben estimated that for each 10% increase in a state's prison population, robberies fall 7%, assault and burglary drop by 4% each, auto theft and larceny decline 3% each, rape falls 2.5% and murder drops 1.5%" (p. 18). Likewise, Tonry (2004) suggests that, "A substantial degree of uniformity and predictability of sentences is needed in order to permit sentencing policy to reflect available correctional resources, avoid prison and jail overcrowding, and set priorities in the use of these limited resources" (p. 108). According to this author, the advantages of parole release discretion frequently include the following:

An agency with such authority can: predict with reasonable accuracy an individual prisoner's likelihood of reoffending (this can be restated in terms of the board's ability to discern when a prisoner has been rehabilitated);

Provide incentives to many prisoners to behave well in confinement and to participate seriously in prison-based programs, thus making their rehabilitation more probable;

Mitigate harsh pronounced sentences in individual cases and act overall as a force in favor of lenity in sentencing;

Facilitate prison population control in times of institutional overcrowding; and,

Reduce disparities in sentences imposed by trial judges (Tonry, 2004).

As Cochrane and Marsh (2004) emphasize, "It is difficult to assess the extent of prison overcrowding accurately: the data will fluctuate as offenders enter and leave prisons and as prisoners themselves are moved around the system. Our prisons are becoming no more than warehouses once again.... The consequences of overcrowding are jeopardising both the safe running of the prison system and the rehabilitation of individual offenders" (p. 198).

Chapter 3: Methodology

Description of the Study Approach

The study approach used by this study consisted of a critical review of the relevant peer-reviewed, scholarly and governmental literature concerning prison overcrowding in general and its impact on the incidence of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff violence in particular. This approach is consistent with a number of social researchers who advise that a review of the relevant literature is an essential step in almost any type of research project today (Neuman, 2003). In this regard, Fraenkel and Wallen (2001) report that, "Researchers usually dig into the literature to find out what has already been written about the topic they are interested in investigating. Both the opinions of experts in the field and other research studies are of interest. Such reading is referred to as a review of the literature" (p. 48)

Data-gathering Method and Database of Study

According to Maykut and Morehouse (1994), "The better one understands the larger picture that qualitative research methods fit into, the better one can conduct research within the research tradition that one is working within" (p. 2). Therefore, a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning prison overcrowding in general and its impact on the incidence of violence in particular was conducted. The selection of studies and empirical observations for inclusion in the study used a number of sources, including EBSCO and Questia, as well university and public libraries.

Chapter 4: Data Analysis

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports the measure of overcrowding annually in Correctional Populations in the United States and the rates for the past several years to the latest date available are provided in Table __ and Figures ____ through __ below.

The number of adults in the American correctional population has been increasing.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Correctional Surveys (the Annual Probation Survey, National Prisoner Statistics, Survey of Jails, and the Annual Parole Survey) as presented in Correctional Populations in the United States, Annual, Prisoners in 2006 and Probation and Parole in the United States, 2006 at

Table __.

Number of persons under correctional supervision: U.S.







Note: Totals for 1998 through 2006 exclude probationers in jail or prison.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Correctional Surveys (the Annual Probation Survey, National Prisoner Statistics, Survey of Jails, and the Annual Parole Survey.)

The 2003 probation and parole counts are estimated and may differ from previously published numbers.

Illinois did not provide data for 2006; therefore, all data for Illinois were estimated

Table ____.

Number of persons under correctional supervision by gender.



Source: Based on tabular data in Bureau of Justice Statistics Correctional Surveys (the National Probation Data Survey, National Prisoner Statistics, Survey of Jails, and the National Parole Data Survey) as presented in Correctional Populations in the United States, 1997 at


Violent offenses include murder, negligent and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, sexual assault, robbery, assault, extortion, intimidation, criminal endangerment, and other violent offenses.

Property offenses include burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, fraud, possession and selling of stolen property, destruction of property, trespassing, vandalism, criminal tampering, and other property offenses.

Drug offenses include possession, manufacturing, trafficking, and other drug offenses.

Public-order offenses include weapons, drunk driving, escape/flight to avoid prosecution, court offenses, obstruction, commercialized vice, morals and decency charges, liquor law violations, and other public-order offenses.

Source: Correctional Populations in the United States, Annual and Prisoners in 2006.

Source: Correctional Populations in the United States, 1997 and Prisoners in 2006.

Note: Number of sentenced inmates incarcerated under State and Federal jurisdiction per 100,000, 1980-2006.

Direct expenditure for each of the major criminal justice functions (police, corrections, judicial) has been increasing.

Source: Bureau of Justice: Expenditure and Employment Extracts, 2008

Local governments spend more on criminal justice than State governments or the Federal government.

Source: Justice Expenditure and Employment Extracts

Note: Does not include intergovernmental expenditures such as Federal grants; but these dollars are included as direct expenditures by the recipient government when they are spent for salaries, supplies, and so on.

Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations


Despite an increase in spending on corrections, recidivism rates remained unacceptably high across the country, with more than half of people released from prison being recommitted with in three years. Analyses of prison admissions identified high rates of failure among people on community supervision, a key factor driving prison admissions. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of people recommitted to prison for violating the terms of their parole supervision increased 652%. Consequently, parole violators, as a share of all prison admissions, increased from 17% in 1980 to 35% in 1999. Tougher criminal justice policies and high rates of recidivism led to exponential growth in state prison populations, which has placed considerable pressure on correctional facilities and budgets in many states.




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Bureau of Justice Statistics Correctional Surveys (2008). U.S. Bureau of Justice. [Online]. Available:

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