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the years, one of the main challenges facing prison authorities worldwide is
finding out the best ways to handle prisoners' overcrowding effectively. While
overcrowding has always been a significant concern for the Bureau of Prisons in
the U.S, the COVID-19 global pandemic has further brought the matter to the
front burner of national discussion. This article will discuss Some Best Ways
To Help Reduce Jail And Prison Overcrowding.
to Prison Policy.org, the criminal justice system in America holds 2.3 million
incarcerated people, while the U.S prison currently has a 103.9% occupancy
rate. This implies that prison facilities are presently holding more inmates
beyond their designed capacity. The implication of this is that inmates can be
exposed to social violence, poor living conditions, and overstretched prison
facilities, making it difficult to maintain social distancing in the face of
rising cases of COVID-19, the new Delta variant, and other environmental
Why Are Prisons Overcrowded?
are different factors responsible for inmate overcrowding from one country to
another. For example, in the U.S, an increase in the crime rate, increase in
the number of inmates awaiting trial in various courts, public demand for an
increase in a prison sentence for offenders, failure on the side of the
government to expand prison holding capacities, and the restriction or
elimination of early release programs like parole amongst others have been significant
factors contributing to prison overcrowding.
Are The Adverse Effects Of Prison Overcrowding?
First, to understand the
effect of prison overcrowding, one must realize that prison is also part of
society. Therefore, whatever happens within the prison facility can also affect society at large. For instance, overcrowded jails can lead to health hazards
and make it challenging to manage deadly diseases like the COVID-19 virus. This
is because this disease can quickly spread in an environment where practicing
social distancing measures is difficult.
Second, aside from inmates,
other people work within the prison facility, which means they interact with
inmates due to their job obligations. So, when a prison is overcrowded, it can lead
to unrest and breakdown of law within the prison. This exposes those working
within the prison facility and inmates to dangers, especially when there is
rioting within the facility. Staff shortages due to COVID-19 can leave inmates
and other staff vulnerable to violence, rioting, and COVID-19.
Third, overcrowding of prison
facilities can overstretch the existing infrastructure, thus leading to
scarcity of basic amenities such as toiletries and personal hygiene items. When
essential amenities are not in place, it can worsen the living condition of
both inmates and staff working within the prison facility.
Image Source: Bureau of Prisons
5 Best Ways To Effectively Handle Jail And Prison Overcrowding
Undoubtedly, the Bureau of Prisons
has always made efforts to decongest prisons across the U.S. Some efforts and
• Introducing educational and vocational
classes to the inmates
• Home confinement instead of sending or
leaving offenders to prison
• Releasing non-violent offenders and
While all these measures are
geared towards depopulating prison facilities, other measures that can further
reduce prison overcrowding are:
Release and Parole
Granting parole to inmates
with good behavior and non-violent offenses can reduce prison congestion.
The primary reason for introducing a prison sentence is to remove individuals
with deviant behavior from society and keep them in custody. They can be
educated and rehabilitated in prison before reintroducing them back into
society, especially those with non-violent offenses and first-time offenders.
So, once a prisoner has shown
good behavior, the best thing to do is release such a person on parole, early
release programs, or home confinement instead of further incarceration. Early
release for prisoners with good conduct will go a long way in reducing prison
congestion and help to reduce pressure on prison facilities.
2) Home Confinement/Electronic
Home confinement requires an
offender to stay in their homes or in the home or dwellings of others. In
contrast, an electronic home monitor uses an electronic device such as an ankle
device to always monitor the offender’s movement. To reduce prison congestion,
home confinement and electronic home monitoring can be adopted. These two
methods will go a long way toward reducing the number of inmates in prison and
reducing environmental and health risks among inmates and prison officials.
The halfway houses, also known
as community correction centers, are designed to serve various purposes, such
as facilities for offenders that violate their parole conditions, a prisoner
serving a short-term sentence, and a facility for housing prisoners recently
released on parole or other programs before reintegrating them back into the
Furthermore, the Federal
Bureau of Prisons can transfer first-time offenders or prisoners with
non-violent offenses to halfway houses instead of moving them to maximum prison
to reduce overcrowding within the prison facility.
Asking offenders to carry out
community service instead of a prison sentence will reduce prison congestion.
However, to ensure this system is not abused, only offenders with non-violent
offenses, prisoners with short-term sentences, and those who have committed a
civil crime should be granted access to community service instead of serving
jail time. This system can also be extended to prisoners released on parole to
monitor whether they constitute a threat to society.
5) The Use
Of Fines Instead Of Jail Or Prison Time
To reduce jail overcrowding,
there should be substituted punishment for offenses committed by offenders. For
instance, if an offender breaks traffic laws or destroys public property due to
recklessness, instead of jailing or imprisoning the offender, the court can
consider imposing a fine for the offender to pay that is proportional to the
value of what was damaged.
So, instead of sending the
offender to serve jail time, the individual will only have to pay for the
offense. One downside to this proposal is that it can unjustly exclude offenders who
are unable to afford or pay fines due to a lack of money or resources. Alternative options to promote fairness for prisoners who are unable to afford to pay fines can be implemented. However, the option
for offenders to pay fines may cut down public expenditures used for fixing
infrastructures and reduce the number of inmates in incarceration.
Prison congestion is a subject
matter that all stakeholders, including the public, should take seriously
because the prison is part of the larger society. When anything goes wrong, the
impact may be felt across the board. When jails and prison facilities are
overcrowded, it poses environmental and health hazards to inmates, staff, and
With any daily increase or
surges in COVID-19, the Delta variant, and infection spreading across various
states, the federal Bureau of Prisons can implement further frameworks that
will drastically reduce the number of inmates across various prisons by using
other alternatives such as fines, home confinement, and other alternatives to
jail and prison time. Adopting other alternatives to jail and prison sentences may
drastically reduce the number of inmates, reduce pressure on existing prison
infrastructure and further reduce the possibilities of deadly outbreaks of
various diseases within prison facilities and, by extension, the larger
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The Cutting Four-Piece: Crime And Tragedy In An Era Of Prison-Overcrowding By Scott Thomas Anderson