Term Paper: Prison Overcrowding

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Prison Overcrowding

Prisoners' rights

Allegations of abuse

Prison overcrowding

Exploding jail populations

Soaring costs

Pressure on correctional facilities

Effects of overcrowding

Competition for limited resources

Aggression

Higher rates of illness

Increased likelihood of recidivism

Higher suicide rates

Prison Litigation

New prison construction

Convert other facilities to prisons

Economic development

Mandatory sentencing

Fills prison cells

Costs

Reducing prison population

Incarceration of drug users

Serious urban crime down

Publicity up

Makes up most prison population

Losing drug war

Incarceration of mentally impaired

Prisons used as hospitals

Prisons as local shelters

Elimination of parole boards

Emphasis on punishment not rehabilitation

Literacy of prisoners

Educational programs in prison

Reduce recidivism

Enable prisons to find jobs when released

Difficulties of programs

Stress practical applications

Creates more tolerable and humane conditions

Privatization of prisons

History

Movement gaining momentum

Seen by government as way of cutting costs

Critics

GPS monitoring

Free up prison beds

Allow prisoners to support families

Reduce costs

Reserve prison space for appropriate offenders

Conclusion

Prison Overcrowding

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." With these sixteen words, the framers of the Constitution of the United States (U.S.) declared for all time that this nation would not tolerate abuse of prisoners. Just exactly what has constituted abuse has occupied the national debate for the last 215 years.

The movement for Prisoners' rights is based on the principle that prisoners, even though they are deprived of liberty, are still entitled to basic human rights. Advocates for prisoners' rights argue that they are often deprived of very basic human rights, with the connivance of the prison authorities. They claim violations such as prison authorities turning a blind eye to assault or rape of prisoners, failing to take sufficient steps to protect prisoners from assault or rape, or even allegedly arranging for prisoners to be assaulted or raped by other inmates as a form of punishment. Other allegations include that prison officials have provided insufficient treatment for serious medical conditions, refused freedom of expression to read materials and communicate, and deprived inmates of freedom of religion. There have been claims that officials have punished prisoners who raise complaints about bad conditions and have taken away prisoners' rights to sue prison officials or governments for maltreatment, or to receive compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of prison authorities. Many of the complaints have centered on the overcrowding in our prisons.

During the last several decades, American prison and jail populations have exploded while the U.S. government's capacity to house and manage prison populations has remained virtually unchanged. Many facilities have been operating at or over 100% capacity for years. Additionally, taxpayers have largely rejected new taxes required to upgrade the system, but have simultaneously pushed for longer sentencing terms for offenders. "The latest UConn Poll shows that a majority of Connecticut residents (51%) oppose an increase in spending to send inmates to out-of-state prisons in order to reduce prison overcrowding. In addition, residents also oppose (53%) building more prisons in Connecticut, and an even larger amount (60%) oppose building prisons in their towns." This has left criminal justice professionals scrambling to make ends meet. Some of the consequences have been soaring costs and gaps in funding, rising number of lawsuits, decreased supervision, heightened pressure on both state prisons and county jails, early release of tens of thousands of offenders and felons transferred to county jails, mixing in with non-violent inmates.

Prison overcrowding has placed extreme pressure on correctional facilities. An increasing inmate population, coupled with declines in correctional spending, have resulted in prison overcrowding which quite often exceeds the facility's maximum capacity. Prison overcrowding has many negative effects upon inmates. Research has demonstrated that prison overcrowding creates competition for limited resources, aggression, higher rates of illness, increased likelihood of recidivism and higher suicide rates. "When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not stop to feed on free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end; nor is his quest for self-realization concluded." While prison conditions have improved considerably in many ways over the last 200 years, the present correctional system is still struggling to cope with some of the same problems experienced in the past. Prison and jail overcrowding has continued to haunt U.S. corrections facilities as the pressures of an increasing inmate population, coupled with the demand for lower corrections costs, have resulted in a growing shortage of living space for inmates. Not only are institutions operating at maximum capacity, but some exceed capacity. Increasingly, inmates are forced into double-bunking in single cells or living in open dormitories.

Not surprisingly, the explosion in imprisonment produced a parallel trend in prison litigation. In 1972, David Ruiz and other inmates filed a lawsuit against the Texas DOC seeking relief from the prison conditions noted above. The case was tried six years later, and in 1981 U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice ruled that confinement in Texas prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment. He cited brutality by guards, overcrowding, understaffing, use of building tenders, poor medical care, and uncontrolled physical abuse among inmates. Similar lawsuits were filed across the country and in increasing numbers. In 1970, some 2,200 civil rights cases were filed in federal courts, from a population of 360,000 inmates. By 1995, with a prison population of 1.6 million, nearly 40,000 new lawsuits were filed, about a fifth of the federal courts' civil docket. In that same year, almost a third of all correctional institutions across the nation were under state or federal court orders to limit prison populations or improve the conditions of confinement for inmates under their jurisdiction.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other industrialized country in the world. For a period of fifteen years, 1975 and 1990, the number of inmates in state and federal prisons increased by almost 200%. By 1998, one in every 150 U.S. residents was incarcerated. In 2000, the number of incarcerated men and women reached two million. By the middle of the 1990s, mass incarceration sparked both legal and penological crises. Despite the largest and most expensive prison-building program in history, correctional facilities continued operating at or above rated capacities, and, consequently, many DOCs remained in violation of court orders and consent decrees. As national and state economic problems mounted, even staunch conservatives were balking at the prospect of more prison expenditures.

Although about a thousand new prisons and jails have been built in the United States since 1980, most are already dangerously overcrowded. "Like something from a Charles Dickens' novel, in its early days the Nebraska State Penitentiary held only several hundred prisoners. Today the Department of Corrections by the year 2000 is looking at jailing 100% more men than it was designed to hold." Two examples: The Cook County, Illinois, jail has a court-ordered capacity of 9,798. In May 2001, its population was 11,803. Many prisoners sleep on the floors; others wait to be sent to prisons in downstate Illinois. Under consideration are proposals to convert the gymnasium into barracks, and during the summer to house inmates in tents. And in Decatur, Alabama, the Morgan County jail squeezes 256 inmates into a facility built for 96; most sleep on the floor.

Because of the growth of American prisons, it is not surprising that they have come to be viewed as magnets for economic development. Illinois Governor George Ryan explained that a new maximum-security prison was being built in a downstate community because it would be an important shot in the arm for a poor community badly in need of economic investment. The sixteen-hundred-bed prison is expected to generate 800 jobs and an annual payroll of $40 million. Not education or transportation but correctional services, at $1.3 billion a year, continue to be the largest item in the Illinois state budget. And in Sayre, Oklahoma, the city manager, referring to a recently built, $37 million, 1,440-inmate, 270-employee all-male prison, concluded that there was no more recession-proof form of economic development, because nothing is going to stop crime.

The war on drugs and mandatory sentencing, have contributed to our already overcrowded prison system. "The U.S. has become the world's leading jailer. With just 5% of the world's population, the U.S. holds 25% of its prisoners."

The yearly cost of operating the U.S. prison system is estimated at over $40 billion and constitutes the nation's largest, costliest program in human services.

Speaking out about Arizona's mandatory sentencing laws, opponents have charged that rigid mandatory sentencing laws fill prison cells and cost millions while doing little to enhance public safety. "After 25 years, the verdict is clear: Arizona's mandatory sentencing laws do not enhance public safety and the certainly do not deliver justice,' says Judge Rudy Gerber, who helped author the 1978 criminal code that established mandatory sentencing. 'In my 22 years on the bench, I was forced to sentence far too many people to prison… [END OF PREVIEW]

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