Criminal Justice Samle Paper on Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities

Crime 430

Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities


Prison overcrowding refers to a situation where the demand for space in the facility surpasses the capacity for prisoners. It occurs when the rate at which people get sentenced exceeds the rate at which the incarcerated offenders are pardoned and/or released and die – factors that could free up prison space. Research has revealed that drug related offences and recidivists are the major causes of overcrowding in prisons (Cox et al., 1984).

Overcrowding is an important topic because, compared to other challenges or problems, it continues to place extreme pressure on the correctional facilities in terms of the increased inmate population that exceeds the facility’s maximum capacity and a decline in correctional spending (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). This leads to inhuman living conditions for the prisoners, poor working environment for the prison staff and also undermines the implementation of policies. Furthermore, overcrowding poses numerous negative effects on the inmates ranging from aggression, threats by fellow cell mates, competition on the limited resources, higher rates of illnesses and suicides to recidivism.

There are a variety of policies in place that are aimed at tackling overcrowding in the prisons, but the policies are faced with problems of how to introduce  and give explanations to the changes in sentencing  to the public (Cox et al., 1984). This is because it is common knowledge that the public often demands more security and equates it with long term incarceration sentences. Amongst some of the most significant strategies are the design of the prison and the reduction of the detainee census through community based substitutes to imprisonment.

Successive administrations have enacted various policies to help curb the problem, but the implementation of those policies has often attracted a significant budget (Hough et al., 2008). On the other hand, the implementation of the policies has not brought about significant structural decline in the prison census. This has been followed by an audit of the seven laws by the courts as a partial solution for the challenge of overcrowding. The new audited laws advanced the ideologies of less preventive detention, transfer of prisoners of foreign origin to their native countries, increased community service sentences and electronic monitoring, inclusion of the mentally challenged detainees in the mental health care facilities, reform of provisional and conditional releases, in addition to expansion of prison capacity (Hough et al., 2008). However, this paper looks into the policy that can be adopted by the prison administrator, based on the assumption that there are no additional funds, no additional stuff and that the laws cannot be changed.

Literature Review

There are grave concerns about the depressed situations that surround a majority of the correctional facilities and the negative impact of such conditions on the prisoners. Whilst prison conditions have progressively been improving, the current correctional organization still struggles to manage a number of the same challenges, which had been experienced formerly (Hough et al., 2008). The issue of prison overcrowding has continued to ail the US correctional systems due to the pressure of the increased inmate population, in addition to the demand for lower correctional charges, have led to a growing shortage of space that can comfortably accommodate all the inmates. The present situation is that the correctional facilities are either operating at their maximum capacity or have already surpassed their maximum capacity.


Reasons given to explain the causative factors of prison overcrowding have been surrounding the excessive use of prison sentences and the general increase of the prison population. However, it is widely assumed that prison overcrowding is strongly linked to the heavy use of incarceration (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). One of the examples is the State of California that has exhibited extremely higher rates of incarceration and at the same time higher level of overcrowding. This prompted the state, through a court ruling to reduce its prison population by about fifty five thousand prisoners in a span of three years so as to re-establish prison conditions with care not to infringe on the rights of the inmates, according to the 8th Amendment.

Two of the leading causes of incarceration are drug related offences and recidivists but given the tough laws against the offenders that perpetrate them, the prison population is often rising (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). The war on drugs alone accounts for approximately three quarters of the entire federal prison population. There is also evidence that indicates post incarceration syndrome (PICS) as a major factor that contributes to the higher rates of recidivism. The PICS is a cluster of symptoms ranging from sensory deprivation, helplessness, verbal violence, gender identity to post traumatic stress disorder.

The implementation of certain laws such as the mandatory minimum sentencing, have ensured the jails are overcrowded (McCain et al., 1980). For instance, this law has been applauded by proponents that it eliminates various forms of biases in sentencing, but studies have shown that racial discrepancies still exist and may have even increased as an outcome. Such laws have evidently promoted the rates of incarceration and ensured that the prisons are overcrowded, since the judges and the correctional administrators have no freedom of releasing the inmates so as to reduce overcrowding.

The criminalization of the youth through “zero tolerance” laws that have pushed students out of schools through expulsion or longer duration of suspension, but were previously in-school suspensions or school detention (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). One of the most accurate predictors of the individuals that get incarcerated is a person that lacks a high school diploma. The criminalization of the trivial acts that were previously not considered suitable for arrest has also contributed to the overcrowding in the prisons.

The Criminal Offender Record Indicator is currently available to most businesses owners, learning institutions, landlords, and so on (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). Therefore, this leaves nearly a third of the marked individuals out of life for good as they will not be able to be accepted or get the services that are trivial to their lives, without which they are forced to fall back into illegal or criminal activities. These activities may be perhaps the same that landed them into jail and a criminal record but they have no other options for surviving and providing for their families.

 Over the last few years, the budgets for social services have been reduced while that of the correctional system has continued to increase (McCain et al., 1980). When new prisons are constructed, money is needed to effectively run them and this money comes from increased corporate taxation, which targets social funding as the primary source. A large number of the inmates are incarcerated due to crimes out of poverty. Other causes include denial of parole, raising the classification of offenses, unaffordable bails, as well as mass round ups and detention of immigrants and non citizens (McCain et al., 1980).


Prison overcrowding has led to the coercion of inmates into double or triple-bunking in lone cells or dwelling in open dormitories.  Correctional surveys have indicated that over a quarter of the inmate population is sharing a single cell and amongst those that share the cells, approximately 15% feel threatened by their cell mates (McCain et al., 1980). Additionally, the lack of privacy often leads to tensions in the living spaces, which further promotes the occurrence of incidences of violence. A majority of the critics have viewed and suggested that the overcrowded facilities promote the degradation and the dehumanization of the inmates, which are ideas contrary to the present correctional reforms that advocate for the maximization of the of the opportunities available for the prisoners.

The overcrowded conditions may be chronic, coupled with the gathering of antisocial persons and the absence of personal control as well as idleness (Cox et al., 1984). The opportunities that may help to promote the well being, in term of academic advancement or vocational training of the detainees are often curtailed. The absence of engaging prospects usually breeds idleness, which further reinforces dissatisfaction, stress and disruptive behavior (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). The inmates can suffer frustration brought about by the scarcity of the resources, which brings about competition, aggression and subsequent violence.

In the attempt of trying to manage the overcrowding conditions, the detainees are prone to misclassification, in that, to a great extent space allocation has been used to classify them rather than the security levels and the most appropriate programs that could be offered to them. The effects of the misclassification are slow progress through the prison systems and consequent slow exit, which ultimately perpetuates the overcrowding challenge (Cox et al., 1984).

Basically, the impact of congestion and misclassification creates a vicious cycle of problems amongst the detainees. The problems begin with overcrowding; the placement into inappropriate facilities and misclassification of programs, followed by detainee stress reaction towards the inadequate of lack of essential services, restricted progress and movement in the facility, labeling, denial of parole and regressive transfers; and the cycle begins all over again (Cox et al., 1984).

On the other hand, overcrowding may prompt the courts to reduce the sentences of those in the processes of being sentenced or those that are already incarcerated or even the pardoning of some sentences (McCain et al., 1980). The outcome of this situation is that there is a likelihood of the courts releasing a potentially dangerous or harmful individuals and offenders back into their communities.


It is the duty of the prison administrators to improve the conditions of the detainees in overcrowded facilities. The policies discussed in this paper are meant to improve the quality of the detainees and the administrative staff and help to alleviate the problem of overcrowding without new legislation of involvement of a huge budget.

Security Strategy

While overcrowded prisons pose increased challenges to management due to amplified occurrences of conflict and violence, the restriction of movement of the prisoners should be highly encouraged to aid in the control of the situation. Given that this move is also highly likely to cause more stress and hostility among the detainees, it would be necessary for the administrator to create opportunities that reduce the idleness of the prisoners. This could be done through daily and compulsory exercise routines, sports competitions, as well as cultural and religious activities. This is because, active detainees are less likely to be hostile or stressed.

The second way is to classify the prisoners in accordance with their levels of risk. This is based on the assumption that lower risk groups need less security and supervision, so that more of the available prison staff can concentrate on high risk groups.

Health Strategy

There is usually a strain on the toileting, sanitation and catering equipment and the situation is worse with overcrowding (Hough et al., 2008). This puts the health conditions of the administrative staff and the detainees at risk, as the control of contagious diseases is significantly hampered. The administrator together with their colleagues should organize and offer training to the inmates on preventive health care, which includes sanitation, food preparation and individual hygiene.

 The administrator can also involve the low risk detainee labor in growing food in some prison garden and raising livestock to aid in the provision of extra and more varied food types for the prison. This will not only improve the nutritional conditions of the inmates, but also provide them with meaningful activity.

Non-sentenced Prisoner Strategy

A slower court system may sometimes be the cause of overcrowding in the correctional facilities, which is amplified by the remand detainees (Hough et al., 2008). Some of the non-sentenced detainees may not have appeared before a court because they lack legal representation and the others could be entitled to bail. The administrator can help this situation by setting up a process for lawyers, judges and prosecutors to evaluate the status of the inmates and propose suitable suggestions for the court.

The administrator can also organize with volunteer lawyers to help speed the release of the non-sentenced prisoners (Hough et al., 2008).  They can help the detainees in the preparation of bail hearings and to aid in the reduction of the amount of time they may have to wait for their cases to be heard.

Sentenced Prisoner Strategy

A majority of the imprisoned offenders do not pose real danger to the society, so the administrator should lobby for meaningful alternatives for punishments (Hough et al., 2008). The administrators can; therefore, convene meetings with politicians, judges and community leaders at the prison grounds to discuss the use of alternative community based services for the non-dangerous detainees, while getting in touch with the real conditions of the facilities.

The administrator can also propose and acquire political support for legal authority to be able to allow trustworthy and non-dangerous detainees to leave the prison grounds during some specific days of the week or month for employment, relative’s visitation and community service activities.

Condition Strategy

Overcrowding makes it more challenging to manage the facilities humanly and efficiently due to the strains on the living space, and the reduction or complete absence of spaces for recreation, cultural and religious activities (Hough et al., 2008). The prison administrators should; therefore, be open to volunteers, community groups and nongovernmental organizations to aid in the provision of meaningful programs for the detainees. The use of volunteers also aids in the reduction of the detainee idleness and improvement of their morale.

 The prison administrator should ensure that the staff is trained in basic relational skills or offer such training whenever there is a deficit, to promote effective communication, build respectful and humane associations, manage anger, as well as mediate in conflict (Hough et al., 2008). This initiative will work to enhance the morale of both the staff and the detainees.


Prison overcrowding has continued to be a grave hindrance to the safe management of the correctional facilities, effective rehabilitation of the detainees and to the compliance with the United Nations standards of human rights for the inmates (Hough et al., 2008). Overcrowding in the prisons may lead to the violation of various human rights, including contact with healthcare, nutritional needs and sanitation.

Whatever solutions sought to tackle this problem in the correctional facilities, success cannot be gauged merely on the transfer of the detainees from overcrowded locations to the less crowded locations (Hough et al., 2008). The prison administrators, in conjunction with the policy makers, courts and politicians, can also play a vital role in the reduction of the pressure brought about by overcrowding, through the use of  strategies that are non-budgetary, do not require additional staff or the change of laws.


  • Policy recommendations that address measures against overcrowding in prisons should be based on the pretrial phase, particularly in the pretrial detention and the sentencing.  This will ensure that factors influencing the length of the sentencing are carefully reviewed.
  • The prison administrators should carefully implement the proposed measures according to the set guidelines and procedures. They should also be concerned about the measures that lose part of their efficiency because of rules that might be too strict or deficient.
  • Usually, there are no follow up activities after the implementation of measures to tackle overcrowding. The administrator should; therefore, follow up and ensure the implementation of the measures proposed by the federal and judicial systems.
  • The decisions on post adjudication and post release, including pardon and amnesty should be carefully reviewed so that the dangerous detainees are not mistakenly returned back to the society, while trying to create more space.
  • The administrator should gather up colleagues and form a task force that can act as a resource for education and training concerning prison capacity in their facilities.
  • New policy strategies should be based on evidence based practices through research for the most effective practices and programs, and their performance should be measurable.


Cox, V., Paulus, P., & McCain, G. (1984). Prison crowding research: The relevance of prison housing standards and a general approach regarding crowding phenomena. American Psychologist, 39, 1148-1160.

Farrington, D. P., & Nuttall, C. P. (1980). Prison size, overcrowding, prison violence, and recidivism. Journal of Criminal Justice8(4), 221-231.

Hough, J. M., Allen, R., & Solomon, E. (2008). Tackling prison overcrowding: Build more prisons? Sentence fewer offenders?. Bristol: Policy Press.

McCain, G., Cox, V., & Paulus, P. (1980). The effect of prison crowding on inmate behaviour. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.