Overcrowding in the U.S. Prison System Capstone Project

Pages: 4 (1612 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Santos Reyes is sentenced to 26 to life in prison for cheating on a driver's license test. This petty, victimless crime is Reyes' third strike, coming 10 after his second strike, a robbery in which no one was harmed. The case attracts worldwide attention and focuses public scorn on California's Three Strikes Law for incarcerating felons on minor charges.

Voters in California pass Proposition 36, which scales back the Three Strikes Law by offering mandatory drug treatment for offenders convicted of drug possession on their third offense.

The Supreme Court upholds California's Three Strikes Law on appeal from conviction in Ewing v. California. On the same day, the Supreme Court upholds a similar challenge to the Three Strikes Law in Lockyer v. Andrade. The Supreme Court maintains that 25-year sentences for third-time offenders do not violate the 8th Amendment, prohibiting "cruel and unusual punishment."

December: The U.S. Court of Appeals upholds Reyes' sentencing, agreeing with the Supreme Court that the Three Strikes Law does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."


April: The U.S. Department of Justice Statistics issues a report stating that the rate of new prisoners in 2003-04 has reached a new apex. Nearly 2.3 per cent of the population has been incarcerated for some length of time.

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May: A federal judge issues a statement in which he threatens to assume control of the California penal system of health care, citing medical care that is sub-standard and much poorer compared to that of the average.

July: The same judge issues a statement saying that he will appoint an independent supervisor for California's medical facilities.

November: The U.S. Justice Department says in a report that the number of adults in prison in the entire country is on the rise.


TOPIC: Capstone Project on Overcrowding in the U.S. Prison System Assignment

January: The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issues a report that allows that 44 prisoners committed suicide during 2005, out of a total population of 164,000. This number rose from 26 in 2004. The previous high was 36 in 2003.

February: After a two-year effort at reforming California's prison system, the California Youth and Adult Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman resigns.

May: Prisoners were added to the current prisoner population at a rate of 2.5 per cent between July 2004 and July 2005. This equates to roughly 1,000 new prisoners per week. The Justice Department Bureau of Statistics estimates a total inmate population of 2,186,230, a rapid increase over previous years.

June: A sudden change in state policy by the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger prompts the sudden resignation of to administrators of the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. This is reported by a watchdog organization charged with supervising the California penal code and the general progress of California state prison reform over previous years.

October: Governor Schwarzenegger publishes an urgent proclamation declaring the possibility of providing relief for overcrowded state prisons and penitentiaries through the transfer of inmates to prisons in other states.

October: A federal judge grants a restraining order with the intention of relieving "unspeakable conditions" in state prisons. The target is the Los Angeles County prison system.

November: California initiates the process of transferring prisoners to other states, based upon the terms of Governor Schwarzenegger's urgent proclamation.

December: Federal District Judge Lawrence Karlton gives the state of California 180 days to fix its prison over-population problem. The prison system in California is 70 per cent beyond capacity at this point, with a population of 173,000. The consequences for failure to fix the problem will be a three-member arbitral panel formed to recommend further action to alleviate the problem.


February: The Sacramento County Superior Court nixes Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposal of exporting prison inmates to out-of-state prisons.

February: Gov. Schwarzenegger issues a plan to release inmates from their prison terms to alleviate pressure on overcrowded prisons.

April: The California state assembly issues a plan to build new prison facilities. The plan will cost state taxpayers $8.3 million.

May: The Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act is signed into law, allocating $7.7 million for the building of new prisons.

November: A research group in Washington called the JFA Institute issues a report stating that the U.S. prison systems currently have a population more than eight times as high as it was in 1970.

December: The Department of Justice issues a report stating that more than 7 million Americans were incarcerated or on parole in 2006.


March: A trial between California and various inmate advocacy groups is initiated over prison conditions. A California district judge says he is hopeful of a settlement before a court battle that could hamper California's ability to address those conditions in a healthy fashion.

March: A plan initiated by Gov. Schwarzenegger to release low risk prisoners is abandoned. This plan would have offered relief to urgently overcrowded prisons around the state.

June: The Department of Justice issues new reports that demonstrate that the prison system population rose 1.6 per cent from July 2006 to July 2007.

In 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger notably opposed Proposition 66, which would have demanded that the third felony among a convict's three strikes to be a serious or violent crime to yield a 25-year prison sentence. Schwarzenegger said at the time that the passage of Prop 66 would "release 26,000 dangerous criminals and rapists (Beale, 2010)." Just two years later, Schwarzenegger issued a declaration recommending the transfer of inmates to neighboring states, an initiative he later undertook. When Schwarzenegger eventually settled on recommending public bonds dedicated to erecting new prison facilities, this was accepted as a compromised between state legislators and the public.

The Department of Justice has issued reports on an annual basis outlining the demographic and popular breakdown of incarcerated felons. Each year during the middle portion of the previous decade saw a rapid increase in prison populations, with the total number by the end of 2007 reaching 70 per cent more than the purported capacity of the California prison system.

Rising prison populations have led to unsafe conditions for inmates with low levels of health care, infrastructure and various basic provisions (Smith, 2007). Overcrowding also fosters environments which reduce the likelihood of productive rehabilitation of non-violent criminals. As a result, one commonly suggested solution has been to release offenders of non-violent crimes that are nearing the end of their prison term.

California voters have responded to the issue of prison overcrowding by supporting legislators opposing Prop 66. However, they were ultimately stuck with the bill supporting the development of new prison facilities.

The state and federal judicial systems have been active in pointing out overcrowding issues and the role of the Three Strikes Law.

Gov. Schwarzenegger

Department of Justice

Prison populations

California voters

Judicial system


Insistence on maintaining the sanctity of Three Strikes Law

Regular reports chronicling the effects of overcrowding

Massive overcrowding

Vote down Prop 66, which would have alleviated pressure on prisons

Guiding states prison policy; pointing out shortcomings in legislative and political actions




Extremely high


Extremely high




Extremely high






Extremely high


Extremely high




Extremely high






Extremely high





Violent criminals

California's infrastructure

California's infrastructure

Violent criminals



Create a three-pronged solution that addresses CA's incarceration policy, infrastructure shortfalls, and revisits Three Strikes Law

Invoke more discrimination when sending criminals to prison

Reduce recidivism

Allocate more funding for prisons; vote in favor of legislation supporting the release of non-violent criminals

Invoke more discrimination when sentencing criminals to prison


Reducing population

Reducing population

Reducing population

Reducing population

Reducing population


Allow him to concentrate on other issues

Let merits of case determine sentencing

Create safer environment for inmates

Alleviate concerns about prisons

Alleviate concerns about prisons



Criminal, Public

Criminal, Private


Public, Criminal


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