Effect of prison overcrowding on the Criminal Justice System is a complex problem. Prison overcrowding has become a threat to the officials in prison as well as criminal justice as a whole (Council of Europe, 2000). The main causes of this problem lie outside the prison system and therefore not within their control. The prison administrators have tried various input control to limit the number of persons allocated to prison systems, but with no success (Gainers & Miller, 2010). The mismatch between the prison system capacity and the number of prisoners to be accommodated has been caused by an increase in the number of prisoners. The level of overcrowding of the inmates in the prisons varies in different countries and does not depend on the population of the inmates in a country but rather the ability of the country’s prison to accommodate them. There are nations where the number of inmates is very high but their prison system is big enough to accommodate them. Similarly, there are nations where the population of the inmates is low but their prison system capacity is very low to accommodate them. The approach used by researchers to study overcrowding in the prisons in various countries uses the reference of the evolution of prison population (Council of Europe, 2000). The offenders are taken to prison depending on the nature of crime committed and the need to control the crime in future. The judgment is made according to the law as well as the rules and regulations that are supposed to be followed (Council of Europe, 2000).
Effects of overcrowding
When the population is high in the prisons, studies have focus on the definition of overcrowding to describe the basis of crowding on the inmates. Researchers concentrate mainly on the social and spatial density to study the overcrowding. The spatial density defines the space that every person occupies in a particular house. On the other hand, social density defines the number of persons who stay in the same house and at the same time considers the factors that contribute to adverse effects of crowding (Dammer & Albanese, 2011).
The first effect of overcrowding on individuals is lack of enough space and resources to cater for the inmates. The opportunities for the inmates to participate in activities to improve themselves and take care of their individual needs through vocational training, employment and academic are being curtailed (Tonry & Hatlestad, 1997). In addition, the inmates lack the freedom of movement due to the limited space of the prisons. In the prisons nothing go around to keep the inmates busy all the time, which exposes them to idleness (McCain, Cox & Paulus, 1980). Being that most of these inmates are criminals, they use most of this time-sharing their experiences and that is the reasons why they are in the prison. This instead of molding the behaviors of the inmates it makes them worse. Cox, Paulus & McCain (1984) asserts that, lack of commitment makes people become idle, which results to bad behavior. In addition, failure to have basic needs applies to other things that are of essential to the inmates such as sanitation, recreation and leisure materials, and library books. Lack of the resources further causes other effects to the inmates such as frustrations or unpleasantness of resource denial or insufficiency of the same. The insufficiency may cause competition and conflict that consequently results to aggression and violence (McCain, Cox & Paulus, 1980).
The second effect occurs on the personal behavior, which vary from one inmate to the other. Idleness, lack of self-esteem and lack of interaction as well as fear cause stress to the overcrowded inmates (Tonry & Hatlestad, 1997). The inmates look for ways to help them to cope with the excess stress levels. Most of them find escape through cruel behaviors such as aggression and depression. They further engage in other methods of reducing stress such as drug abuse. The methods that the inmate use to cope with stress of crowding are not methods generally to improve their behaviors or enhance their health but to worsen them (Gainers & Miller, 2010). The social interaction and relations further affect the inmates through the competition of resources. Other individual may be affected by discrimination, as they may be considered less attractive or interesting than others may. This causes them to develop a negative attitude towards themselves, other inmates that then results to more stress (Cox, Paulus & McCain, 1984). The majority of the inmates being adults and the limitation to freedom of movements, while the prisons at the same time prison accommodate one gender, cases of rape increase in the prison. The situation becomes worse due to overcrowding where people with deviant behaviors meet. The poor conditions in overcrowded prisons make inmates sleep constantly cross to other inmate with less knowledge that lead to them being subjected to rape cases (Reid, 2011). The exposure to this behavior causes some inmates to learn and acquire them.
The third effect involves lack of resources to build more houses, which make inmates to harm one another. To solve the situation, misclassifying the inmates has been observed. In certain cases, the classification of the overcrowded offenders has resulted in the offenders being classified in reference to accommodation available instead of considering how secure they are and offender’s most suitable programs (Cox, Paulus & McCain, 1984). There have been different ways of classifying inmates with the most common being according to the crime committed. Others are in medium security institution while they were supposed to be in the maximum-security institutions. This effect further delays the rate of progress in the prisons and lack of development (McCain, Cox & Paulus, 1980).
The fourth effect of overcrowding in prisons is the movement of inmates from state, province, or locality to other places. Lack of space in prisons in some places force the prison administration to shift some of the inmates from their localities to other prisons that have space to accommodate them. This does not only affect the inmate but it also affects the inmate’s family members who will have to travel long distances to visit their family member as well as the taxpayers. The cost of shifting the inmates from one prison is generally high (Reid, 2011). Although, some of the researchers found this as a method to solve the prisons overcrowding rather than construction of new prisons, while others found it as an injustice act to the inmates to ship them from their state (Reid, 2011).
In many nations, the number of inmates depends solely on the available resources, thus manipulating the inmates in order to accommodate them in prisons environment and programs being developed and modified to cater for the requirements of the inmates. The inmates are subjected to the available resources instead of the available resources being subjected to the inmates. The increased population in the prisons has lasted for more than twenty-five years in most of the nations and it need to have been solved. However, there has been reluctance in solving the problem thus denying the inmates their rights to have a better life in the prisons. The prisons have turned to be places of torture rather than places of correcting behaviors.
Council of Europe, Committee of ministers (2000). Prison overcrowding and prison population inflation. Recommendation No. R (99) 22 and Report. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
Cox, V., Paulus, P., & McCain, G. (1984). Prison crowding research: The relevance of prison housing standards and a general approach regarding crowding phenomena. American Psychologist, 39, 1148-1160.
Dammer, H., & Albanese, J. (2011). Comparative criminal justice systems. USA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
Gainers, L. &, Miller, R. (2010). Criminal justice in action: The core. 6th Eds. New York: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
McCain, G., Cox, V., & Paulus, P. (1980). The effect of prison crowding on inmate behavior. Washington: Department of Justice.
Reid, S. (2011). Criminal justice essentials. 9th Eds. United States: Wiley Blackwell.
Tonry, M. & Hatlestad, K. (1997). Sentencing reform in overcrowded times: a comparative perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.
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