Overcrowding as the National Crisis in the USA
It is not a secret that nowadays the U.S. can be marked with the national crisis of overcrowding in prisons. The main issue that is related to the topic of prisons presents the phenomenon of excessive admissions to prisons and their devastating effects on the safety and health of the Americans. The scholars raise different speculations concerning the principal causes that served as a background for such a problem. Moreover, they are involved in endless disagreements concerning possible solutions that may lead to opening prisons in residential areas. Thus, the current research paper is aimed at delineating the main causes related to overcrowding as well as providing workable solutions to reducing the level of the problem.
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It is reasonable to start with the notion of overcrowding as such and provide factual details regarding the matter. The scientific articles provide the evidences that prove the increase in crowding for the last three decades. Pfaff accurately determines the growth of imprisoned population by means of historical data (Figure 1). It is also important to emphasize the fact that the rate growth varies widely across the states. While North Carolina did not experience the effects of the problem, North Dakota, Mississippi, Illinois, and California in particular were the states that mostly suffered from the increase in this particular growth. For example, the level of overcrowding in prisons in California is unprecedented. Approximately 155 550 men and women are incarcerated in thirty three prisons that were designed to house roughly half that many (Specter 194). In addition, in October 2010, news stories reported that Kansas had officially run out of beds for its male prisoners. It has been projected that by 2020, Kansas will have nearly 2,000 prisoners over capacity (Exum 883).
Although it is difficult to explain the reasons why the growth of population reached the above-mentioned level, scholars usually provide general theories of prison growth. Thus, the historical rise in the prisons crowding was considered to be influenced by such factors as crime, economic, demographic, and political. However, Pfaff distinguishes four other important factors that concern deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, prison capacity, federal court orders and, eventually, the general financial and budgetary health of the state (554).
All the theories are closely tied up with the causes of overpopulation in the American prisons. Probably, the most powerful factor that exerted an influence on overcrowding was an increase in crime rates that ensured a large number of prison admissions. Another driving force that influenced the situation was economic conditions. This factor is connected with work conditions: the more abundant labor is, the less care the penal system shows to those who fall within its grasp (Pfaff 555). Moreover, the problem of unemployment is related to overcrowding by increasing the admissions. The incarceration rate is also thought to be influenced by demographic trends such as age and race distributions. Race has become the main factor that is oftentimes discussed by the scholars.
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It is of exceeding importance to mention political factors. They consist in the changes that the U.S, faced in terms of politics over the past thirty years. There are three principal claims concerning these factors. Firstly, one may notice the increasingly punitive criminal policies. Secondly, there is a suggestion stating that politicians use crime scares to lure away their voters. The third claim presents cyclic views on crime.
Other factors also contribute to the matter. Deinstitutionalization of people with mental disorders is known to be responsible for the crime rates as it is believed that mentally ill persons are more likely to offend a law. Prison capacity is mainly connected with the idea that judges are prone to incarcerate people the more space they think is available. Another cause that contributes to overcrowding is the financial health of the state. Obviously, the maintenance and construction of prisons demand huge sums of money. Thus, one may see direct influence of the states finances on the problem of overcrowding.
It is evident that overcrowding in prisons manifests itself in the disastrous impact on the welfare of the whole country. Donna Lyons considers it to be a tough challenge for lawmakers (26). She mainly dwells upon the problem that occurred in Kentucky because of the overcrowded prisons and their addicted inmates. The problem of overcrowding is badly in need of viable solutions that will take into account the number of incarcerated and the conditions they live in.
One may also pay attention to California where the prisons are vastly overcrowded. California possessing the third biggest range of prisons in the world nowadays is marked with dispiriting consequences of overcrowding. Overcrowding has dramatic effects on Californias criminal justice system in general. Firstly, it makes the safe operation of the prison system almost impossible. Secondly, it is the main trigger for injuries and deaths of prison inmates as mental and medical health care remains abysmal. Thus, the improvement of medical care system is impossible due to the high rates of overcrowding in prisons. According to Specter,
[…] crowding causes prisons to rely on lockdowns, which further restrict inmates access to care, and it forces prisons to house inmates in non-traditional settings, such as triple-bunks in gyms and dayrooms not designed for housing, that contribute to the lack of care and the spread of infectious disease and that increase the incidence and severity of mental illness among prisoners. (196)
Therefore, one may observe the prison overcrowding dilemma from the perspective that this issue marks the USA with the highest level of incarceration in the world. Accordingly, it is essential to provide solutions to the problem of overcrowding. They consist in taking a range of measures such as the transfers of prisoners to other out-of-state buildings, sentencing reform, community corrections, parole reform, and enhanced conduct credits (Specter 197). In addition, the programs that are in charge of influencing the matter positively should take into account the above-mentioned causes of overcrowding.
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The first possible solution is to cut the number of incarcerated by reducing the time of the sentence. However, scholars are concerned with the assumption that such a way of resolving the problem may result in higher rates of crime in the USA. On the other hand, the empirical evidence suggests that the duration of the sentence does not determine whether the parolee will perpetrate another crime. This matter is closely connected with the incarceration of drug offenders that noticeably increase in the American prisons because of the laws in force.
Quite an interesting Supreme Court program concerning the overcrowding is peculiar to Californias prisons. It is called Brown v. Plata and marked with the decision of three judges to release more than 35 000 inmates due to the fact that overcrowding came to the point that conditions in California prisons became unconstitutional. The case concerned human dignity and served as a background for Krolikowskis article Brown v. Plata: The Struggle to Harmonize Human Dignity with the Constitution. The scholar reached the following conclusion:
The Plata decision sets a high-water mark for the application of human dignity as an underlying constitutional value in the field of prisoners rights. Plata suggests that the Court will be willing to intervene when it finds that the constitutional rights of an exceedingly unpopular minority have been violated. (Krolikowski 1290)
Another obvious solution consists in constructing new private prisons or transporting the prisoners to other states where there is no overcrowding. This kind of a model is called prison expansion. This option has been widely used in Connecticut. It also deals with providing the inmates with a whole number of things that are necessary in prisons such as new prison beds, etc. Nevertheless, it is quite a costly endeavor that presupposes the huge investments of money. The construction of new prisons presents certain difficulties in terms of budget and places where the prisons may be located.
Here occurs another problem. The lawmakers should ensure themselves that the prisons are not built in the residential areas. As the main objective of the crime policies concerns the protection of public safety, the most serious offenders should be kept in places that are far from residences of ordinary people. Koh states that prison location is as important as duration in determining whether and to what extent a convict is being appropriately punished (1317). Thus, one may notice that the main disadvantage to the prison expansion model consists in siting difficulties.
However, the model of prison expansion is not the most effective and affordable way to influence the problem of overcrowding. One may pay attention to the community correction model. The enactment of this strategy may prevent people from committing crime. One of the options that are now under discussion in the USA concerns rehabilitation and treatment. Drug offenders, meaning addicted possessors, should not be kept in prisons as special rehabilitation centers can fix the problem rather than a sentence in one of the American prisons.
Nowadays, there are also other options to relieve overcrowding. The most famous are applied in California and Connecticut. They consist in emergency and supervised home releases, mandatory minimum sentences, and paroles. However, they exert a minimal impact on the matter of overcrowding.
There is also something that the public can do to help the inmates who are released from the prison as a result of a sentencing reform. The matter is that non-offenders may volunteer their time to help the inmates of the overcrowded prisons fill in the job application, provide them with transportation services, etc. Nowadays, public is responding to the needs of the inmates, Dr. John Paitakes proves it in the interview in Ebru Today.
The problem of overcrowding is very difficult to solve because of the impressive numbers that the statistics shows nowadays. It now raises the question of the intervention of the other worlds countries. The collaboration at the global level would relieve the American overcrowded prisons.
In addition, quite an interesting aspect was touched by Susan Lundstrom concerning the need in releases of inmates that suffer from HIV and other terminal-centered diseases. It is obvious that the prisons can benefit from releasing the ill inmates from prisons. The author possesses a critical view on the matter of overcrowding in general and views the problem as a national crisis in the USA:
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The changing characteristics of inmate populations in our federal and state correctional facilities cannot be ignored, and the national challenges they impose cannot be easily solved by the naive “knee-jerk” responses of building new prisons and hiring more security personnel, or by assumptions that “Uncle Sam” and state governments will rescue America from its prison challenges. (Lundstrom 157)
Lundstroms main high-water mark is in her direct attitude to the problem. She dwells on the benefits of the electronic home detention program that is also a good way to influence the problem of overcrowding. It was cost-efficient in Illinois and became an alternative form of imprisonment for particular groups of offenders. Apart from home detection programs, one may find the Project for Older Prisoners (POPS). It concerns the releases of people who are over 45 and do not pose danger to anyone. Lundstroms main claim concerning the factor that influenced the overcrowding in prisons is the absence of leadership in the American justice system.
Therefore, it is reasonable to make a conclusion that the U.S. faces a current problem of overcrowding in prisons and it has a negative impact on the care of inmates as well as on their lives and human dignity. The problem occurred due to a number of reasons that are accurately determined by the scholars as criminal, political, demographic, and economic. It is sufficient to say that considering such an impressive variety of factors that entail overcrowding, one may provide reasonable solutions, but it is very difficult to make them work for the problem of overcrowding as it reached the level of national crisis. The research paper has mainly showed the consequences of overcrowding, proposed viable solutions, and explained the immediate importance of enacting the laws that aim at relieving overcrowded prisons.