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The problem of prison overcrowding has an array of causes that range from not enough room in actual prisons to changing laws and fluctuating crime rates (Portland State University). In many cases, harsher punishments than necessary lead to overcrowding, which points to the necessity of improving the penal system in favor of those cases that can be resolved in other ways (e.g. probation time, therapy, community service, etc.). This paper will focus on exploring the adverse impact of prison overcrowding through analyzing research articles on the topic and describing how the findings could be presented to each component of the criminal justice system: Law Enforcement, Courts, Correctional Facilities, Juvenile Justice, and Homeland Security.
Davis et al. examined the views of local leaders on jail crowding. By interviewing leaders in local jurisdictions, researchers came to the conclusion that the prison overcrowding was a persistent problem that went beyond the boundaries of correctional facilities. However, the respondents showed great disagreements regarding the responsibilities of agencies to change the existing policies in order to reduce crowding in prisons (Davis et al.). It is also important to mention the study conducted by Minton from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The researcher found that the majority of increases in the jail inmate populations occurred in those areas where there were large jails, which means that those areas that we’re unable to deal with the increases in incarcerations opted for alternative options that prevent overcrowding.
Prison Overcrowding and Mental Health
A significant contribution to the topic of prison overcrowding was made by Lawrence and Andrews; they explored the influence of perceived prison crowding on inmates’ perception of aggressive events. The researchers found that crowding in prisons had a direct impact on the increase in prisoners’ stress and the reduction of their mental well-being. Moreover, it was found that those inmates who experienced crowding were much likely to interpret even friendly behavior as aggressive. Haney also explored harmful psychological consequences and dysfunctional reactions to crowded correctional facilities.
It was found that overcrowding contributed to the reduction of the mental well-being of prisoners and the correctional staff; nevertheless, there was no relationship between the decrease in crime rates and the increase in the prison population. Bronson and Berzofsky from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that many inmates experience mental health issues, and overcrowding only contributes to the exasperation of the issue. For instance, 29.2% of jail inmates charged with violent crime reported serious psychological stress while 41.1% of prisoners charged with the same type of crime reported a history of a mental health problem.
Prison Overcrowding and Physical Health
As to the influence of prison overcrowding on detainees’ physical health, Warmsley concluded that the official capacities of prisons do not allow sufficient spaces for each prisoner, which significantly impacts their well-being. The researcher suggested that with the rising prison population, the government should invest in providing more spaces for individuals. However, the most important point of the researcher was to make attempts to improve prison health by developing strategies targeted at eliminating overcrowding.
Presenting Findings to the Criminal Justice System Components
The mentioned research articles showed that prison overcrowding had an adverse impact on the local and state policies, the physical and mental well-being of prisoners, and the correctional staff, as well as the financial aspect of the justice system. When presenting the findings of the articles to the Law Enforcement, it is important to communicate to officers that crime prevention and sending as many offenders to prison do not align. Instead, the Law Enforcement should be educated on the disadvantages of excessive arrests and policing, which lead to prison overcrowding.
Similarly, when presenting the research findings to Courts, it is crucial to outline the disadvantages of harsher than necessary sentences as well as what alternative sentences can be administered to avoid prison overcrowding and its negative implications. The sphere of Corrections will especially benefit from the findings of the reviewed research due to the suggestions of improving the prison conditions by accommodating the mental and physical health needs.
As to presenting the findings to the Juvenile Justice system, it is essential to communicate the fact that prison overcrowding directly affects individuals’ well-being, and in the case of juvenile offenders, there are many other options for managing the punishment instead of imprisonment. Lastly, the problem of prison overcrowding is especially relevant for Homeland Security. Increases in prison populations lead to significant financial and policy issues. When communicating the findings to Homeland Security, it is important to focus on the findings of Minton and the conclusions made by Davis et al., who suggested the immediate actions of policymakers with regards to dealing with overcrowded prisons.
Overall, the review of the available research on the topic of overcrowded prisons showed a prevalence of disadvantages over the advantages of excessive sentencing and imprisonment. It is important to investigate the alternative sentencing management tools in order to ensure that only those individuals who actually deserve a prison sentence are in prisons. As a result, it will be possible to manage to overcrowd and ensure that the needs of prisoners and the staff are met.
Bronson, Jennifer, and Marcus Berzofsky. “Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12.” BJS.
Davis et al. “Roles and Responsibilities: Analyzing Local Leaders’ Views on Jail Crowding From a Systems Perspective.” Crime & Delinquency, vol. 50, no. 3, 2004, pp. 458-482.
Haney, Craig. “The Wages of Prison Overcrowding: Harmful Psychological Consequences and Dysfunctional Correctional Reactions.” Journal of Law & Policy, vol. 22, no. 1, 2006, pp. 265-293.
Lawrence, Claire, and Kathryn Andrews.”The Influence of Perceived Prison Crowding on Male Inmates’ Perception of Aggressive Events.” Aggressive Behavior, vol. 30, no. 4, 2004, pp. 273-283.
Minton, Todd. “Jail Inmates at Midyear 2012 – Statistical tables.” BJS.
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Portland State University. “Prison Overcrowding is a Growing Concern in the US.” Online CCJ.
Warmsley, Roy. “Prison Health Care and the Extent of Prison Overcrowding.” International Journal of Prisoner Health, vol. 1, no. 1, 2005, pp. 3-12.