Prison overcrowding is a phenomenon observed in the US prisons. In essence, this situation has a number of implications on the management of prisons as well as the personal welfare of the victims under the custody of prisons. Basically, prisons are made in a way that should allow free movement of persons through special allowances. However, in the US among other places, this is not the case due to a number of reasons. The major causes of prison overcrowding include insufficient rooms for the victims which cause a spillover of the prisoners above the carrying capacity of the prisons physical facility.

Besides that, overcrowding is also caused by the uncalled for fluctuation in crime rates within the states. In addition to that, overcrowding is a phenomenon observed due to amendments in the US laws and the enhancement of low enforcement tactics (Cook & Lane, 2009).

According to the findings of the contemporary researches on prison overcrowding, the fateful overcrowding scenario is caused by harsher punishments for criminal activities regardless of pettiness of the act, change in legislations which leads to the illegalization of new actions; high rates of recidivism and the over pounding demands for improvement of penal systems. In 1994, the examination carried out by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) revealed that despite the challenge of overcrowding in prisons through overstretched prison facilities, it remains unknown to the people on the existence of negative implication of prison overcrowding to the inmates.

Nevertheless, it is clear that overcrowding ought to be reduced and eliminated in the long run. Essentially, overcrowding results in over-utilization of the prison facilities. Consequently, this results in reduced capacity to offer individualized attention to the prisoners which may lead to loss of personal dignity and derail the process of recovery of the victims with respect to behavioral change (Lambropoulou, 2005).

In essence, prison overcrowding in the USA has had a number of serious problems, and thus it is considered a major concern in the US. However, the main resolution to the problem of overcrowding in prisons is basically entrenched on the absolute elimination of overcrowding. The discipline of criminal justice also identifies some specific causes of prison overcrowding provides sound measures that can be applied to eliminate it.

For instance, double-celling is a major problem attributed to overcrowding. The prison inmates ought to have particular amount of space. From the legal case of 1981 in the US, the overcrowding in prisons was identified as significant source of cruelty and atypical punishment. According to the Prison Overcrowding Research of 2003, jail overcrowding may not directly imply the misconduct of the prisoner. Instead, prison management styles are associated with the prisoner delinquency.

Consequently, the research indicates that most probably, prison overcrowding impacts negatively on prison management through the creation of a more traumatic atmosphere for the working of prison wardens and other correctional officers (Lambropoulou, 2005).

Besides that, prison overcrowding also has psychological impacts on the prisoners. According to the research findings of 2006 based on prison overcrowding, a high level of prison overcrowding causes unsuitable and stressful situation on both the prisoners and prison wardens. This situation prompts the prison management at times, to act inappropriately due to the inescapable press to accommodate a high population of ill-advised prisoners (Lambropoulou, 2005).

Furthermore, the Department of Justice (DOJ) unveiled its findings in 2002 which indicated that overcrowding in prisons can be rectified through the successive and continual collection as well as analysis of admissions and the effectual sharing of the results amongst justice officials and leaders within the Government. A study on Prison Population Density (PPD) in Japan also indicated that overcrowding in prisons is directly linked with to the Prison Violence Rates (PVR) (Lambropoulou, 2005).

Purpose of the Study

This research is aimed at unveiling various causes that result in overcrowding in the US prisons. The research finding will provide a framework upon which prison overcrowding is based and some insights upon which the overcrowding can be eliminated in the long run.

Significance of the Study

This research finding will provide a clear understanding of the concept of prison overcrowding which will lay a clear foundation upon which the situation can be arrested with a view to mitigate its impounding negative effects on populations as well as providing viable solutions to the prison management.

Research Questions

  1. What are the causes of prison overcrowding in the US?
  2. What are the effects of overcrowding in prisons on the prison management and the prisoners?
  3. What can be done to alleviate the problem of prison overcrowding in the US?

Research Objectives

  1. To establish the causes of prison overcrowding in the US.
  2. To ascertain the effects of prison overcrowding on the US prison management and the prisoners.
  3. To provide suggestion to solving the problem of overcrowding in US prisons.

Literature Review


Prison overcrowding has been the major problem in most countries, such as the USA and Japan. However, due to the rising number of crimes worldwide, the reduction of overcrowding in prisons has been often unsuccessful due to the implications of reduced capacity of the prison departments while at the same time overstretching resources within the prison.

Furthermore, the overarching reasons for prison population spillover are high dynamics of the legal formalities and the subsequent illegalization of certain activities which were previously legal. From the latter, many individuals are caught up in more usual activities which are presumably legal but constitutionally illegal. As a result, most people in the USA suffer unintentional imprisonment which could have otherwise been avoided. Consequently, these arrests result in increased prison overcrowding.

Theoretical Literature

Prison overcrowding basically refers to a scenario where the spatial demands in prison jurisdiction surpass the capacity of prisoners within the present location. This phenomenon can occur when the sentence rates on people committing crimes to prisons surpass the rates the existing prisoners are unleashed or die thus, relieving spatial facility of the prison. This scenario also occurs at a situation where the prison facilities cannot be created increasingly fast to counter the increasing influx of prisoners to handle the increment (M. Dumont & D. Dumont 2008).

According to the contemporary study on the major crimes that cause prison overcrowding, there are basically two major reasons of prison overcrowding. These include recidivists and at times drug reprobates. However, in the US, it is a historical record that it has been subjecting people to major punishment on petty offences which has also impacted negatively on the prisons through increased number of people imprisoned and thus a resultant prison overcrowding.

Besides that, the US also constitutes a zero tolerance approach to policing while embarking on mandatory sentencing legal procedures. Consequently, this has reduced the propensity of judges to apply common sense judgments while sentencing lawbreakers. As a result, the judgment bestowed on offenders is particularly based on the excavation of facts rather than the search for facts. Instead, laws ought to be framed on the essence of universal principles regarding fairness while at the same time crafting the punishment to exigencies of crimes (M. Dumont & D. Dumont, 2008).

While prison overcrowding continues to escalate, there are a number of negative implications resulting from the phenomenon. For instance, there has been increased stress among prison staffs and inmates; diseases prevalence, high risks of brutality besides the moves to reduce sentences given to already imprisoned personnel thus releasing high potential offenders back into the society. The latter implies that the cycle of crime offences continues to rise consistently.

In late 2010, the prison facility in the US was on a record of holding a total of 1.6 million prisoners. Furthermore, more than seven states have exceeded 25% capacity with the leading states in the number of prisoners being Alabama and Illinois. In essence, prison riots are recorded on the rise due to the dissatisfaction of inmates with the state of prisons.

Studies on the effects of overcrowding in prison also unveil the ruthless and antagonizing effects of the spatial density and social density of overcrowding. Spatial density refers to the aggregate space available for persons regarding to housing units in particular and number as well as available facilities in general.

On the other hand, social density refers to the total number of persons sharing a single unit of housing and is particularly considered as the main factors which contribute to the adversities of inmates overcrowding in prisons. Other factor that may raise the level of densities in prisons includes the physical environments and personal control. Crowding is indirectly associated with the density of people. From the latter, people may feel crowded in the presence of few people or not crowded in the incidence of many. The above phenomenon arises from the frustration to ones ability to achieve some aspects of personal attributes in the presence of other people (Angelos & Jacobs, 1985).

In addition to that, prison surroundings have certain features with adverse effects on the inmates. Therefore, within the prison settings, crowded situations have chronic effects where individuals with anti-social behaviors are congregated. Consequently, this results in the absence of personal control as well as idleness and a subsequent boredom can be a major attribute of the overcrowding situation.

Basically, research indicates that overcrowding in prisons have three major effects on the environment of the prisons. To begin with, overcrowding results in inadequacy of all inmates which leads to significant overstretch of the existing facilities. This derails the prospects of the inmates to partake in self-improvement activities as well as rehabilitative initiatives which include education and vocational training programs (Angelos & Jacobs, 1985).

As a matter of fact, lack of work results in prisoners idleness which leads to the unfolding of the maxim that idleness breeds disruptive behaviors and disgruntlement. Furthermore, the inadequacy of resources can also drive the inmates into manipulating other resource facilities such a bathrooms, television lounges and recreational facilities. The ack of sufficient resources causes a number of far reaching consequences frustrations of inmates from limited access to resources necessary in a prison setting.

Furthermore, the prisoners engage in unhealthy competition and conflicts over insufficiency of resources leading to aggression and brutality. Additionally, overcrowding in prisons leads to unhealthy behaviors of individual inmates. Overcrowding results in stress which also raises the adversity of prison overcrowding. Coupled with the latter is idleness, terror and absolute inability to uphold personal identities or the subsiding of unwarranted interactions and inspirations such as clamor which amounts to additional crowding discomforts.

Consequently, different inmates have different abilities to cope with the natural simulation of stress such as withdrawals or depressions. However, all possible means of coping with crowding stress by the inmates do not enhance their personal health (Lambropoulou, 2005).

The effect of social relations and mutual interaction is presumably among the most significant effects of overcrowding in prisons. Research findings indicate that there are high violence and competition on available prison facilities in crowded situations coupled with low cooperation and high social withdrawals. On the other hand, individuals present in crowded situations are perceived to be less attractive while social milieu is an obnoxious condition. Furthermore, the aspect of social withdrawals with respect to crowding is perceived clearly in a number of ways.

For instance, the inmates adopt defensive or guarded mind-set to withdraw which degrades the quality of social interaction. Similarly, the conversations in crowded situations often lack self-relevance to any individuals involved regardless of their social classes (Lambropoulou, 2005).

Furthermore, overcrowding in prisons also results in the correctional systems being unable to meet the increased needs for spatial facilities which results in harmful effects on the individual inmates. With a view to coping with increased challenges of overcrowding from the limited amount of space in prisons, the prison management attempts to misclassify prisoners. By virtue of misclassifying the prisoners, the prisoners are classified on the basis of available space rather than using the criteria of security availability.

This is a major problem that persists despite the standardization of security purposes. Inmates are often not classified on the basis of incarceration of maximum security institutions while other inmates exist in middle level security facilities that would have been optimally considered for maximum security custody (Lambropoulou, 2005).

The misclassification of inmates has the impact that exceeds the mere issue of insufficient amount of space and resources. Furthermore, the latter leads to stunted progress made across the available correction systems and slowed exit process. Consequently, this aspect raises the pre-existing problem of overcrowding in the prisons. In essence, if the assignment of offenders is done on the sole base of available space, the inmates are manipulated in meeting the required standards regarding the correction systems rather than the modification of both the surrounding and contemporary programs aimed at meeting the demands of prison inmates.

Consequently, this aspect leads to improper programming of inmates which tampers with their individual and group progress. Furthermore, the misclassification of inmates may result in wrong labeling of inmates which may lead to the painting of bad connotations regarding the inmates (Cox & McCain, et al., 1984).

From the latter, infractions lead to failure of adjustment with respect to labels despite the fact that adjustment appears to be a major criteria for progress assessment in any given system. This implies that slowed rates of advancement of prison inmates is a major resultant condition.

Therefore, overcrowding and wrong classification creates a non-ending process. This implies that overcrowding is followed by inappropriate assigning of prisoner facilities and programs, then reactions from the inmates due to stress arising from lack of sufficient resources, restrained movements or derailed progress within a system arising from failure to adjust and finally the rule infractions with respect to reverted transfers and the cycle begins again.

Furthermore, research has indicated that there is a significant relationship between spatial extent and the amount of occupants for every room and measures and other measures of institutional and individual strains which may include hypertension, complaints regarding illness, recidivism and disciplinary infringements. Furthermore, further research indicates that crowded conditions could be adequately tolerated in the short spans but are inevitably intolerable in the long run with the prisons containing high stress-inducing characteristics.

Essentially, overcrowding affects more than proportionate selected offenders within the prison environment and acts as an interactive variable which has the capacity to cause high levels of psychiatric commitments, illness grievances and high probability of recidivism. Furthermore, overcrowding has the effect of raising the rates of suicide incidences on the inmates among other forms of brutal demise. However, the effect of overcrowding in prisons produces varying effects on individual prisons.

For instance, larger prisons with young inmates are highly susceptible to overcrowding. Furthermore, high individual misunderstanding with regard to responses to overcrowding are based upon varying racial, ethnic groupings and socio-economic classes (Levitt, 1996).

Empirical Literature

Essentially, the United States of America has the leading imprisonment rates of about 529 individual for every 10,000 people among the 15 global leading states with respect to imprisonment rates. This is closely followed by Canada with about 130 individuals for every 100,000 people ranking fourth in the world. Indeed, the aspect of incarceration has been the main folklore mainstay of Canadas correctional systems. However, the entire aspect of prison overcrowding necessitates the extension of the mainstay from the mere traditional prison to incorporate the whole correctional control system.

Imprisonment is an issue of great concern and a spillover that results in overcrowding in the US prisons. Besides the social impact of prison overcrowding in the US, overcrowded prisons cost the US more than $65 billion annually. Indeed, overcrowding has been on the rise in all states within the union and other federal prisons which are spilling over from low capacity than the available facilities besides stretching the available facilities within the prison departments.

In particular, the US federal and union prisons house about five inmates within 8 by 10 compartments which falls beyond the recommended standards and the contemporary legal provisions of the US and the international framework. Indeed, the US has the highest number of imprisoned citizens worldwide (M. Dumont & D. Dumont, 2008).

Basically, there are a number of factors which lead to the overcrowding of the US prisons. For instance, some legislators have obsessive views towards cracking down crimes. Indeed, some of the US legislators believe that the singular way to reduce crimes is to restrain the offenders from the streets regardless of the magnitude of their crimes. In this regard, the legislators do not regard other viable mechanisms of behavior corrections such as rehabilitations and regard life imprisonment as the only means of curbing crimes in the US.

According to lawmakers, crime penalties are deterrent, and therefore there is no essence of using resources on rehabilitation. Consequently, this leads to the arrest of most offenders and subsequent imprisonment of all crimes thus resulting the overcrowding in the US prisons (Cook & Lane, 2009).

On the other hand, some US federal prosecutors have a win all cost mentality where they confine their every aspects to gaining convictions. Consequently, such prosecutors withhold important evidence from defense crew thus resort to dissipated tactics across the entire investigation process regarding the presumably committed crimes. In this regard, the prosecutors confine their minds into gaining convictions rather than determining guilt or innocence of the accused (Cook & Lane, 2009).

Furthermore, the reduction of white collar offenses and the commonly called corporate crimes is the main cause of overcrowding in the US prisons. The white collar crimes refer to crimes associated with high profile victims or the high social ranks within the victims occupational framework. White collar crimes are also closely related to corporate crimes committed by corporations or group of individuals with separate legal traits from the persons managing their activities or representatives. Corporate crimes include embezzlement of funds, computer-related crimes, bribery as well as frauds and infringement of copyrights. These crimes are often committed by the persons referred to as the white collar workers (Cook & Lane, 2009).

On the other hand, overcrowding in prisons is also done with respect to the violation of probations novel commitment of courts as well as petty drug violations. Indeed, the federal prosecutors overlook the available alternatives to the incarcerations which are viable means of mitigating prison populations by sentencing inmates through the alternative measures to incarcerations. Some of the major alternatives to incarceration include electronic monitoring, pre-trial diversion, community service mental health courts as well as domestic violence courts and fines.

However, not every alternative to incarceration is appropriate to all reprobates. However, the alternatives are very effective to a significant number of offenders where their applications could effectively reduce the swelling levels of imprisonments (Clements, 1992).

Finally in this context, mandatory minimums are also a major cause of the overcrowding in the US prisons. Mandatory minimum sentence refers to the decision of the court settings where the judicial prudence is confined to the provision of the law. More often, the defendants convicted with particular crimes are entitled to a compulsory minimum imprisonment of a certain period of time.

In the US, Government juries are legally exempted from being informed of compulsory minimum penalties applicable in the event of conviction of the defendant particularly due to the limitation of determination capacity regarding guilt or innocence. Further research indicates that the compulsory minimum sentences effectively underpin the judges roles and discretion via shift from the jury to the prosecutors. As a result, the judges cannot determine the mandatory minimum sentences for the offenders (M. Dumont & D. Dumont, 2008).

In this regard, the prosecutors choose charges to bestow on the defendant which is prone to negative manipulation. Indeed, the prosecutors often tend to overcharge defendants a condition that pushes the defendants into pleading guilty and a subsequent imprisonment. The US prosecutors form part of the executive arm of governance. Furthermore, the judicial branch has virtually no role in sentencing. This increases the affinity of the offenders to imprisonment and therefore the overcrowding.

Consequently, the checks and balances regarding democratic system are detached. Indeed, some opponents to this approach argue that the above is the best role that the judges ought to play rather than the prosecutors as it happens to be the case in the US.

Furthermore, some opponents to the current prosecution processes in the US argue that the cost of rehabilitation and other respective treatments is relatively cheaper than long-sentences which lead to prison overcrowding. Furthermore, other public surveys indicate that the public preference on judicial discretion is higher than the mandatory minimum at the discretion of the prosecutors (Bleich, 1989).

In this regard, close adherence to mandatory minimums is believed to reduce the rate of crimes besides promoting fairness to individual offenders and enhancing uniform sentencing approaches. Indeed, the potential and replicate criminals are expected to circumvent criminal activities since they can contemplate their sentences in the event that they are caught up in the crime. Most federal personnel believes that the locking up of criminals in prisons, this would prevent the individuals from perpetuated commitment of crimes and therefore improving the safety of the society, a notion that expresses its naivety and simplistic facet (Bleich, 1989).

On account of the latter, there has not been any supportive relationship linking gross incarceration and reduced crime rates. In the US, imprisonment cases are very high due to low adoption of alternative sanctions on minor crime and the first time offenders. Indeed, the alternative sanctions have been identified and ascertained as being effective in reducing rates of recidivism as well as cutting down on costs incurred on imprisonment.

Indeed, there has not been any established correlation which ascertains that increase durations of incarceration and imprisonment result in a proportionate decline in crime rates. Similarly, there has not been any direct relationship between increasing the number of incarceration and convictions of minor crime offenders to proportionate reduction in crime rates (Bleich, 1989).

In the contemporary prison set ups, the US aligns the framework of its prisons through a disciplinary and castigatory system which does not aim at rehabilitating the inmates and therefore the inability to mitigate recidivism. This leads to recurrent crime offenders in the US and the subsequent prison overcrowding. Furthermore, the persons overseeing the population of inmates within the Bureau of Prisons in the US have low education, training and expertise to manage the contemporary inmate population.

The US legislators assume that the mentality of law and order and the resultant crimes do not imply that the placement of the prisons should be based on absolute punitive and zero tolerance to rehabilitative missions. In this regard, prison has been regarded as a necessary evil meant to mitigate crimes but at times results in minimal change in character transformation.

According to Adam Liptak, a quarter of the global prisoners are situated in the US where prison population exceeds any other worldwide. Furthermore, Liptak claims that more incarcerations on lesser crimes and long imprisonment in the US arises from the fact that the US is usually less democratic in comparison to any other states in the world. In essence, most European nations have lenient treatment on prison sentences. As a matter of fact, the culture of the United States is the main cause of high rate of incarceration. In this regard, prison overcrowding has risen from the high incarceration rates.

According to Liptak via the New York Times, California has been on record to have very high prisoner populations. On the same note, the supreme court of the US has also demanded that California cut down stunningly high number of prison inmates. Consequently, this move has sparked a number of challenges in determining the mediation process upon which sustainable solutions may be arrived at in reducing the inmate count, saving money used in imprisonment as well as potentially maintaining maximum security within the country (Bleich, 1989).

Prison overcrowding results in a complex chain anchored in a number of issues but enshrined in the strictness of the US legislations. Extreme overcrowding in the US has been perceived in California among other points which have rendered conditions within the unlivable prisons. Consequently, there has been a negative implication on the physical and mental health conditions of the prison inmates in the US.

According to Michael Montgomery, who is a reporter within the center for Investigative Reporting of California, there is at least one prisoner who dies per week due to insufficient medical attention in Californias overcrowded prisons. Furthermore, Liptak asserts that the Supreme Court ruling on overcrowded California prisons was based on the fact that the prison environment was extremely bad and subjected to violation of the eighth constitutional amendment, that prohibits unusual and brutal punishments.

With regard to the causes of overcrowding in the US prisons and California in particular, Montgomery stated that members of the US public required tougher legal sentencing to curb the overarching crime rates. However, this was coupled with the public reluctance to pay additional taxes for the acquisition of supplementary prison facilities. Consequently, the US legislators made the tough sentences as it proved the measures that the citizens called for.

However, this retaliatory move by the legislators impacted negatively on the population of prisons and the contemporary overcrowding scenario. Similarly, the US citizens have historically called for strict laws. Further critics assert that the US justice system is extremely harsh, and therefore it is considered the root cause of overcrowding in prisons (M. Dumont & D. Dumont, 2008).

According to the US article, Strict US sentencing Laws, Tipping Scale of Justice; Marshall Case Shows One-Size Punishment Doesn't Fit All, the offenders can be confined to an unidentified numerical profile of lawbreakers, the legal treatment is subjected to a standardized treatment regardless of the extent and magnitudes of crimes. In other words, the US legal procedures treat all individuals the same with respect to the subject of punishment.

However, this kind of treatment subjects other cases to improper results in the event that imprisonment would result in the most effective outcome for the society. For instance, the Los Angeles Times reported that the sentenced case on the sale of cocaine by Bobbie group was indeed inarguable. However, the role that Bobbie played while out on bail resulted in a consequential retreatment and resultant behavior change which presented Bobbie with an opportunity to counsel youths in better ways to escape drug gangs.

These outcomes produced very positive implications rather than the imprisonment which could lead to additional burden on the state of prisons besides increased stretch of prison resource without positive implication on the behavior change. This was indicative of the effectiveness of alternative means of combating crimes rather than imprisonment whose effect causes massive overcrowding. However, the subsequent imprisonment of Bobbie group has been on account of the high prevalence of overcrowding in prisons of California (M. Dumont & D. Dumont, 2008).


Finally, the imprisonment level in the US can be wholly attributed to extremely strict legal measures in curbing crimes. Furthermore, the overcrowding scenario is a function of the US traditions in demands for strict crime control measures perhaps due to the escalating crime levels. However, the wrong placement of the role of the judiciary and the jury in particular with respect to the transferred role to prosecutors is a major impediment to the relief that would be obtained in the containing process of crimes.

It has been highly reprimanded by the legislators who strongly believe that imprisonment or restrained movement of offenders is the only way in which a state can curb crime levels. Furthermore, the authority also overlooks alternative means of curbing crimes such as rehabilitative measures which would provide more desirable outcomes besides reducing the incidences of crimes.

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