Overpopulated U.S. prisons
Overpopulation in the United States Prisons
In the United States, overcrowding is a major issue of concern that has imposed pressure on the correctional facilities, hence creating the need for adequate measures from respective stakeholders. The number of inmates in the U.S. has doubled in the recent past while the resources put on correctional facilities have significantly reduced which have resulted to overcrowding (Farrington, & Nuttal, 1980, p 224). As demonstrated in various research studies, prison overcrowding affects the inmates negatively in many ways. Some of the effects discussed in this paper include; aggression, competition for limited resources, high rates of illness, increased recidivism and suicidal cases. Violence cases such as sexual assault among inmates arise when several inmates share housing units (Gilna, 2014). Reduction of this cell space per person is a persistent problem and cause of alarm. There are various methods that can be implemented to reduce overcrowding in prisons. They include; invest more in rehabilitation programs, focusing on adult education programs among inmates, the involvement of community and religious groups.
Research and practice by various stakeholders from different jurisdictions show that there are better ways to reduce mass incarceration in the United States of America (Howard, 1996). States need to be tough on criminal offences but in a way that emphasize on rehabilitation, treatment and promotes personal responsibility. Strategies such as community supervision should be enhanced to hold the victims accountable and help them get back on their feet. The community programs also act as an alternative system of strengthening law and rehabilitating the victims. The United States is faced with a tremendous increase of inmates leading to overcrowding in the state and federal prisons. This condition has resulted in competition for the limited correctional facilities compromising the quality of rehabilitation and training services in the institutions. There is an increasing shortage of space for prisoners. For that reason, many correctional facilities are now working under hazardous conditions, such as operating above their maximum capacity (Mayeux, 2015). This progressive growth of the number of incarcerated offenders requires the judiciary reevaluate the overcrowding problems with more efficient rehabilitation programs and an overhaul of the execution process.
Cases of overcrowding in the United States prisons.Drug offences are among the various causes of overcrowding of prisons in the United States of America. Statistics by the federal bureau of prisons show that there are over 50 % inmates in the federal prisons judged for drug offences (Miles, 2014). Over the decades, there is evidence of a subsequent increase in population from 16 % that was recorded in 1970 (United States, 1985). Despite an anticipated warning by this statistics, currently the rate of increase is anticipated to rise even higher in the next decades. There is a need to take more precaution to overcome these devastating results before the situation becomes worse. Currently, there are 215,000 prisoners in the federal prisons compared to the 25,000 that was recorded in 1980. This statistics translate to a 790 percent increase according to Congressional Research Service report released in 2012, (Miles, 2014).
The alarming prison population increase has led to a growing competition for the facilities hence diminishing the quality of service delivery. Most people have argued that the solution to this problem will be gathering more resources to build larger and more sophisticated prisons to detain the law offenders (Rosenfeld, & Kempf, 1991). This reason might be an immediate solution, but it is short-lived. Many questions are left unanswered considering the expected increment in the number of law offenders, in the next one generations of American population. Probably this statistical figures will be doubled or tripled. The prisoners are kept in the prison environments consuming the government resources without yielding to the society. These problems deserve a more reasonable and beneficial solution, For instance, where inmates gets a chance to raise their or American economy. For instance, the drug affected individuals should be taken to rehabilitation centers to be transformed from their old habits. Rehabilitation exercises are often expensive to the government but, it is logical to convert the money that is used to expand prisons to the development of rehabilitation centers. This centers will give back to the society by helping these individuals who might have quit their jobs, to go back and take care their families’ responsibilities.
Information received recently from the BOP Director Jr Charles Samuels indicate the intense implications of the overcrowding problem. He says that they are putting two to three bunks in a cell, of cause an action that is not acceptable for various known reasons. In the history of prisoners, pulling and mistreatment of new prisoners is experienced all the time and in other cases it has resulted in fights and caused deaths that can be avoided. The Bureau is converting open bays and television rooms to sleeping quarters. Charles says that In spite of all this efforts the increase is still alarming (Miles, 2014).
The Obama administration in the recent months has portrayed the harsh laws on drugs as unjust. He pledged to ask for the early release or reduced sentence for the non-violent drug offenders. The lawmakers have acted that requisition to by introducing identical bills stating a reduced sentence from the previous years by half. Now the new laws indicate that the low-level, non-violent drug offenders should be jailed for five to twenty years, (Miles, 2014). The president altered the sentences of eight federal prisoners in December last year. Six of them were serving a life sentence for nonviolent drug offences. The release seemed to be just in the sense that they had not committed a serious crime to deserve a life sentence. However, I wonder if any precautions were taken to avert their initial habits. It will be easier for such individuals to go back to their initials habits if they are nor rehabilitated. The world know understands the intensity of drug addiction and the issue should not be taken lightly. The drug problems are mental and psychological hence proper expert guidance of the victims is necessary before ejecting them to the society, (Miles, 2014).
America’s war on drugs dates back to the last one century with the aim of eradicating drug abuse. It was affected by enforcement of strict laws over the law offender in the United States and beyond its borders. However, despite these efforts, the war against drugs abuse is considered a failure. The drugs are now more affordable, readily available and more concentrated. United Nations statistics shows that there is an increased world consumption of opium, cocaine and marijuana (Miles, 2014). Between 1998 and 2002, their consumption stands at, 35 percent, 27 percent, and 9 percent respectively. The above highlight gives a limelight to changing the ways in which to fight the abuse of drugs. It’s now evident that using harsh laws is not enough in overcoming the problem however laws should not be dismissed. The suggested efficient methods should be more psychological and mental curing.
The effects of prison overcrowding.Prisons are meant for confining fellow human beings who should be treated with dignity despite their character and offences that alienate them from society. Studies on the effects of overcrowding are done with research concentrated on social density in prisons. Another factor that is considered is spatial density. Social density refers to a situation where many individuals share a particular housing unit. While, spacial density refers to the amount of space that is available per housing unit, (number of square feet). Other researchers found out that, not only social and spacial density can lead to overcrowding. They stated other factors such as the physical environment and personal control (Smith, 1982, p. 51).
Crowding has an indirect relationship to overcrowding in the broad sense. It is possible for one to feel overcrowded in the presence of a few people. In such situations, the most significant element is frustration. It is caused due to failure to achieve some purposes in life because of the presence of other barriers (Howard, 1996). Taking, for instance, a victim serving an imprisonment penalty of 30 years. After serving his sentence, he is released to join the community. If this person was jailed at when at twenty years old, then he will be joining the rest of the community as an old man at 50. This person may have considered getting married and maybe pursuing his education further. But just because of a destruction probably from peers who engaged him in crime, he finds himself locked up in the cells. That is the law and I have no objection to the verdict but, there are other things that can be done to justify the early release of such victims. They should be allowed to continue with their education under secured environment. Ensure proper guidance from psychological experts until when these individuals are declared fit to be released from the prisons.
The prison environment has adverse effects on individual inmates. Considering that the people who are available in the prison environment are persons who are processed with bad behavioral characteristics that are not acceptable in the society. Gathering such a group of people is extremely dangerous hence lead into development of anti-social behaviour. Idleness and absence of personal control yield to boredom and ill thinking. Imprisonment should be modified to give a positive outcome (Howard, 1996). The prison environment reduces one’s daily activities and struggles of life. This is an opportunity to participate in self-improvement programs such as academic, training skills and employment. In many cases, prisons have changed people’s lives for the better but they haven’t done enough. Lack of opportunities and work in the prison environment is a distinct channel of energy to breeding discontent and disruptive behavior (Cox, Paulus, & McCain, 1984, p. 1149).
Overcrowding may also lead to limited resources. These resources are those things that prisoners may need to use in their day to day life. Things such as books from the library, television lounge sitting, washrooms, and recreational facilities. As in the case of the federal prison’s case mentioned above in this paper, TV rooms and other recreational space being converted to sleeping quarters may yield a series of problems yet. There are two main problems resulting from such situation. One of this problem is frustration and unpleasantness (Cox et al., 1984, p. 1149). That feeling of being limited or denied a resource is psychologically tormenting and finding other options that may ill driven. The second problem is the arising of conflicts due to frequent fighting over limited resources that result in aggression and violence.
Another overcrowding effect is the change of individual inmate’s behaviour. Imprisonment inflicts fear, creates stress, and inability to maintain personal identity. Change of environment triggers adjustment to the new surroundings. This change involves a process that takes some time for the imprisoned individual to cope with the excess stress in the new prison environment. The process could be depression, aggression or withdrawal among others. Whatever the process an individual may choose to follow to survive, the general stress result to adverse health problems. Research findings have indicated that, in similar environments, overcrowding lead to competition and aggression. Stress is regarded as the most significant effect of crowding on social relations (Cox et al., 1984, p. 1150). Cox et al., argues that crowded situations created more aggression, competition, reduced cooperation and increased social withdrawal. Other individuals are perceived to be less attractive or not interesting. Social withdrawal manifests without one’s knowledge. It develops psychologically, and the victim normally has the least control over it. However some victims of social withdrawal pretend to normal behaviour but sometimes under extreme pressure, it spills out. Victims affected by this behaviour portray characters such as self-defense and adoption to a guarded attitude (Cox et al., 1984, p. 1150).
There are factors that have led to offenders being classified in terms of security. These factors include the combination of the inability of the correctional systems to meet the increasing demand for space and the resulting harm to individual prisoners. For example categories such as maximum security, minimum security, and intermediate security. This grouping is done basically as a result of coping with the limited space that is available. The classification seems to be based on making prisons more secure, but the idea was developed after the authority had to look for ways to share the limited space and other resources. Therefore, this idea will always be used as a method of sharing resources rather than enhancing security hence compromise the security system (Howard, 1996).
Other resources that are shared include rehabilitation centers, and sharing of the resources in groups may not be appropriate. This is because, inmates if different security crime may not be allowed to train or attend the services together. But, those of the same security crime will be permitted to attend to the rehabilitation services and programs together. The problem with the above arrangement is that these individuals may be at different levels of training and therefore grouping together will automatically compromise the quality of service and training received (Howard, 1996). Sometimes, misclassifications errors lead to the victims being categorized in a manner that portrays negative references about them (Clements, 1982, p. 75). The authorities should look for more appropriate ways to deal with this matter and allocate more resources to such centers. They should also give a quality of service to ensure that the victims are fully rehabilitated and ready to join their families and the society much earlier than anticipated. If this exercise becomes successful, it will help reduce the enormous populations inside the United States’ prisons gates.
Research has found out that overcrowding leads to misclassification errors that result in a vicious cycle of problems afterwards. Beginning with the overcrowding then the allocation of an inappropriate facility, the inmate reacts with stress. Due to the insufficiency of services caused by population pressure, this cycle results in limited progress in the system and later being labelled as failure to adjust. More time is wasted in this unfortunate sequences that develop as a result of misclassification. After this cycle is over with the trainee labelled failure to adjust, there is a regressive transfer that marks the start of another cycle (Clements, 1982, p. 75).
Further research has shown that there is a link between the available space and the various measures of personal strain. The number of inmates sharing housing facilities is directly proportional to arising of particular strain measures such as illness complaints, blood pressure, disciplinary violations and tendency rates. The studies further show that the overcrowded conditions though can be tolerated for a short time. However, prisons that are overcrowded in long-term have high rates of rising cases related to stress the inducing features mentioned above.
Overcrowding is psychologically tormenting no matter how it is ignored. Its effects are adverse both to the inmates and other users of the prison such as prison guards. Complaints raised in prison ranging from health, social to physical are in high numbers during the overcrowded periods (Howard, 1996). Unfortunately, this crowded seasons are graduating from being seasonal to permanent characteristics of the United States’ prisons. Overcrowding conditions have been proved present in most prisons and response to stopping the anticipated dangerous implications afterwards; there are various solutions that are suggested for implementation. This paper outlines some of the reliable and applicable solutions to the problem.
Ways of reducing the prison population in the United States.
The available information indicating the extreme effects of overcrowding has often triggered various concerned teams to combine efforts. Their shared goal is to help the government in coming up with concrete solutions that reduce the cases of overcrowding. Other measures are already implemented but not working to their full and expected capacity. Many officials and researchers have stepped forward to accept that overcrowding is not a situation that can be dealt with in one day. Other researchers have recommended building of more prisons to accommodate more people (Howard, 1996). Though they forget that these people who are confined in jails need assistance to regain their position as sensible human beings. They might have caused problems to the society in different capacities but, total confinement in this environment is not the best solution for the problem. It only assists the victims to harden their character to a state that may be difficult to avert later when they are released after serving their jail sentence.
Various alternatives are discussed in this paper. Increasing rehabilitation centers to cater for more people and reduce the number of members per rehabilitation session. Improvement on drug abuse education campaigns. The judiciary to oversee the execution process to ensure that innocent individuals are not jailed and to reduce the jail term for simple crimes such as over speeding. Reducing the number of arrests non-dangerous law offenders among other solutions discussed later in this paper. Rehabilitation and counselling are a major program that have shown positive results in the fight against overpopulation. However, it has not been given more emphasis. Recent reports indicate that there is a reduced commitment to rehabilitation and treatment as a method of reducing crowds in prisons (Opata, 2001). There is an open question whether the system has been deserted for a better program regardless of its contribution, especially with drug-affected prisoners. Irrespective of the intense commitment it takes to implement an operational rehabilitation center, the diversity of its programs are beneficial to the community.
Theft and robbery are among the most committed crimes that lead to imprisonment. In most cases people who emerge to be thieves, have an unfortunate background that triggers the urge to steal because that seems to be the only opportunity to meet their desires. These are individuals who may have skills but lack employment and in some way they convert their skills to theft crimes. Due to the presence of many prisoners with such characteristics, it is easier to equip them with the fundamental and professional skills that will enable them earn a living by through legal and acceptable means. In this case, rehabilitation programs are necessary to change their psychological behavior and understanding of the extremity of their crimes. Those who do not have any skills are equipped with technical knowledge that enable them generate some income hence reducing the offence rates that will in turn reduce imprisonment (Opata, 2001).
Introduction or education and work programs have been widely used in the United States’ prisons. These programs are meant to make the trainees believe in educational work, and skills are the good habits in which acquiring them is integral to employment. Some of the learners in prison turn out to be good people with skills to work and give back to the society (Shelden, & Brown, 1991). Therefore, it is important to invest more in such programs than building more prisons. The resources invested in such programs reap more yields to the government that if the funds are spent in constructing more prisons in the effort to reduce their population pressure.
A 1995 survey reveal that only a quarter of the prisoners in federal prisons were enrolled in some educational and rehabilitation programs (Towl, 2006). Inmates are enrolled in basic education programs such as literacy language and skills in science by the General Equivalence Development, which is a high school equivalent degree. After graduating from this level, some proceed to higher levels. After completion of the causes, some get employed by the government and their lives change for the better. If the enrollment of inmates to these programmes is increased to at least three-quarters of the total prison population, the prison population will reduce by more than a half of its current population in the next decade. The United States has continually shown some effort towards this programs. The final stages involve preparing the inmates for employment after gaining the necessary skills.
A survey in 1994 among forty-three correctional stations indicate that over 6500 inmates were enrolled in vocational training that is meant to assist them secure jobs upon release from prison (Towl, 2006). The survey further indicated that about two-thirds of the jail population are given assignments to keep them busy. Some of the tasks assigned to them included; institutional maintenance, providing labour in the prison farm and working in a prison industry. The importance of this programme is that the discipline that is earned while working in the development of the individual skills will not fade away. Instead, it will assist the inmates secure and maintain their jobs after they leave the prison environments. The programs also help in the maintenance of order and making them busy while on the jail grounds. The programs reduce idleness contributing to reduced offensive behaviour and antisocial characteristics among the inmates.
Necessary efforts are made towards improving psychological/counseling programs. Apart from life skills, the inmates are also allowed to learn the basic life skills that can enable them have a better chance of survival in their communities. As indicated earlier in this paper, half of all the prisoners are reported to engage in drug abuse at a certain stage in their lifetime (Howard, 1996). A third of the inmates are said to have abused drugs at the time of their imprisonment. This is a large number that requires attention provided by therapeutic communities. The drug affected inmates are housed in different units with the extent of their addiction. After which they start a treatment process that will ensure that the victims regain their normal body functioning without the use of drugs. Such institutions are expensive to build and maintain but, they are important in saving people lives today and securing a better future generation.
In 1998, mentally ill persons comprised of 16 percent of the population in state prisons and 7 percent of the federal prisons. While in jail, 45 percent of them received the therapy while a half of them were under medication. About a quarter were receiving medical care from a mental hospital. These statistics shows efforts towards rehabilitating prisoners to be fit to live with other people in the society. Sex offenders comprise another group of inmates that need care. The correctional measures for the sex offenders include diagnostic centers and therapeutic communities (McCain, Cox, & Paulus, 1980). Counselling from this groups helps this category of inmates regain their social ethics. After meeting the satisfactory requirements, their imprisonment can be terminated legally but close monitoring is done to certify that they have completely reformed. Contribution towards such groups is necessary for depopulating the federal prisons.
Another source of programming and counselling in prisons is via chaplains and volunteer religious groups. Within the correctional systems, religious facilities are put in place where they can meet and share their religious faith. Religious belief have proven to be the strongest forces that bind the existence of human beings to the unknown world. Due to this influence, many inmates are being converted to various religions. For instance, there is a unit in Texas that has a faith-based program where inmates are allowed to attend prayer, Bible study and meditation programs. During these sessions, religious groups are permitted to mentor and worship with them. After serving their imprisonment terms, most of them are reported to change from their old criminal behaviour. Therefore, chaplains should be given a chance in all prisons to enable the prisoners give repentance an opportunity and in the process, they get renewed and abandon their previous iniquities.
The government should remain tough in enforcing the law to ensure that all of its citizens receive justice. All law offenders are subject to legal punishment that includes imprisonment and to serve different jail terms specified by the law. However, there is a need for flexibility to allow other means of correcting the wrong doers. These measures include enhancing more efficient rehabilitation and training programs. Provision of counseling services to the inmates and enabling them to interact with volunteer religious groups has made a permanent positive change on the victims. These methods have proven some degree of effectiveness that is just confining the victims in prisons and releasing them after some time.
In conclusion, it is an obligation that the U.S. government should step up and develop a judiciary regulatory system that will ensure that various criminal offences are dealt with by the most efficient methods. These methods should be corrective to ensure that the inmates do not go back to jail later in their lifetime. Overcrowding is caused by various factors that include an increase in crime rate, use of drugs, lack of proper guidance, strict laws, and deteriorating rehabilitation services. There different strategies that can be implemented to cut the crime rates effectively. These methods include; rehabilitation programs, professional counselling, treatment of mental illness, and involvement of community and religious groups.
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