Causes of Overcrowding in Prisons and Possible Remedies
In any country today, the number of prisoners is steadily increasing and thus causing overcrowding in prisons. In America and Asia for instance, over one million people have been imprisoned for past five years and have become a major financial and controversial problem in these areas. However, with this increasing numbers of inmates many governments have been overwhelmed by the need for space in prisons and can no longer match the challenges that come with. The problem of overcrowding in prisons has been caused by a number of issues that range from those that are unique to states to those that transcend national boundaries. The solutions to this state exist and as Hough, Allen & Solomon (2008) aver, the solutions to it may need to be institutional for at best in part.
Nations have to rethink exactly what crimes deserve imprisonment. Prior to the current worldwide prohibition of drugs, the prison’s population in many nations was almost a quarter of what it is currently. But in the dawn of adoption and launching of the worldwide ‘war on drugs’ initiative thirty or so years ago, the prison’s population has always been in increase. Many studies provide that 70% to 75% of persons in prisons are prisoners of war against drugs. With the increased financial problems worldwide, many people have taken refuge in drugs which is contrary to the laws. As the number of drug takers increases it follows that nonviolent drug convicts also raise and are sent to the already overcrowded prisons. Such drug offenders have a high chance of reoffending even when they complete their sentence and therefore do not need imprisonment but rehabilitation.
Many nations have taken up mandatory minimum sentencing for petty crimes and have thus precipitated prison overcrowding. Such petty crimes can be reviewed and the offenders made to carry out social work while out of prisons since as Greenhaven (1994) adds ‘restitution and community work will go a long way in punishing a petty offender’. While supporters of the idea of mandatory minimum sentencing argued that such a strategy would go along way in reducing racial based and other forms sentencing based on favoritism, subsequent researches provide that racial discrimination stayed on with its increase being a consequence result. Such laws see to it that prisons will remain overcrowded since the jury has no alternative to forgive and release offenders to reduce their increasing numbers in prisons.
The increasing numbers of reoffending have greatly contributed to prison overcrowding in many nations. Criminals go through a process in prison that is motivated by harsh punishment that is aimed at ‘teaching them a lesson’. The animosity of officers and fellow inmates remains a key problem. Clark (1994) claims that ‘besides this physical brutality, inmates are subjected to verbal violence and are looked down upon from participation in programs, to sexual related abuses’. This breeds the anti-social personality traits as a weapon of defense against the abusive institution that majors in sensory denial. This violence is permanently embedded in the offenders and they will never fit in the society as they become seasoned offenders with a high chance of reoffending. Ironically, while the society celebrates that criminals are put away each passing day in bid to make it safe and moral, no one seems to acknowledge the fact that the aim of punishment should be motivated by the need to rehabilitate offenders.
There are many foreign prisoners that are imprisoned in countries away from their mother countries thus creating overcrowding in such prisons. In America for instance, according to recent researches as stated in Clark (1994), 15% of inmates are foreigners and immigrants. This comes about if visiting individuals commit crimes in foreign countries and are tried and convicted. At times the state decides to initiate a move that sees dozens of poor people and people of a particular skin identity arrested for reasons termed as security specific. For instance in America when the Chicopee women’s prison was created there was an increased arrest of sex workers. A majority of arrests of this nature are for the low and non-violent crimes and have a great (and also unnecessary) financial impact on the taxpayer these arrests are for low level offenses or outstanding warrants and impact on the exchequer.
The whole idea of prison overcrowding has haunted governments for a long time and many times remedies that are proposed to solve it have turned to be factors that surprisingly allow it flourish. It has been thought widely that constructing new prisons can reduce overcrowding in prisons. But the fact is that such a move will provide nothing close to a remedy. Frankly, in the words of Clark (1994), ‘if new prisons are to be built it follows that the funds to run them have to come from somewhere else’ to cater for the financial implications carried by it. This in many times calls for an increase in corporate tax as a fund source. As Leveson (2002) notes, ‘a great number of the incarcerated are put in for committing crimes that are precipitated by poverty’, therefore, as the economic cuts in social amenities severe, the number of people in prisons also shoots up. The state should therefore ensure that the existing prisons are equipped with proper rehabilitation programs that aim at making the offenders more economically empowered once they walk out of prison.
Prisons are being overcrowded notably by failure of the offenders to afford the court bails. This has turned prisons to a reservoir of the poor people since many of those in prisons are low-income earners who cannot afford bail. It is worth accepting what Hough, Allen & Solomon (2008) state that, ‘the disappearance of many secure jobs in non- or low-skilled sectors has led to the creation of a large population that is unemployed or insecurely employed.’ In many societies across the globe, the prison has been seen as the only place that reminds the poor that freedom is allowed only to the rich who will always have enough to bail themselves out in courts. Many a times the duration spent as one awaits trial often exceed the sentence passed when one is found guilty. To eliminate this, courts can consider deducting the time one spends awaiting trial from the time that the convict has been sentenced.
The factor of profit motive can never go unmentioned as a cause of overcrowding since many great companies make a lot of it by doing business with prisons. The need to make profit that constantly define the society people live in does not excuse the prisons either. Though many governments have made efforts to portray prisons as areas out of bound for commerce, evidences still attest to the commercialization of these institutions. Strangely, even Massachusetts, despite the Pacheco law prohibiting privatization of such nature, the prisons still remain a lucrative business ground. Both the government and the companies bid for tenders in medical services, feeding, clothing and the like for the prisons. It appears therefore, the more the inmates the greater the profits. In order to please shareholders, corporations must achieve growth. Empty cells do not generate profits.
To conclude, factors that cause prison overcrowding include imprisoning petty offenders, mandatory minimum sentencing, high rates of reoffending, foreign prisoners and immigrants, poor policing, expensive court bails and the profit motive. This problem of prison overcrowding can be solved if petty offenders are punished through social work, scrapping off the minimum sentencing and deporting foreigners so that they are tried and sentenced ion their own countries. The court bails should be charged realistically, the state must come up with rational policies that confirm that they can solve overcrowding in prisons. Prisons should not be viewed commercially as virgin grounds for doing business but instead be fully equipped to serve their rehabilitative function with a view to reducing rates of reoffending amongst the inmates.
Allen, R. Hough, M. & Solomon, E. (2008) Tackling Prison Overcrowding. University of Bristol: The Policy Press.
- Clark, S. (1994). Prison Overcrowding: Will Building More Prisons Cut the Crime Rate? Congressional Quarterly, Inc. Vol.5
Greenhaven, S. (1991) How can Prison Overcrowding be Solved? New York: Greenhaven Publishers.
Levenson, J. (2002). Prison Overcrowding: The inside Story. Britain: Prison Reform Trust.