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Prison overcrowding is a social phenomenon occurring when the demand for space in prisons in a jurisdiction exceeds the capacity for prisoners.[1]

Prison HistoryEdit

The prison system started in Europe in the 16th Century. The main focus for imprisonment at this time was for temporary holding before trials. Despite the crime committed, all assumed criminals were confined in cells with one another, even children. There were many deaths within the prison system in the 16th century due to lack of prisoner care and mass spread of sickness. It wasn't until the 17th Century when the Bridewell was created and had a main focus on inmate training and education. All within this time the prison's introduced staffing to create a steadier system. As the 18th Century approached, prisoners were forced into hard and manual labor that lasted from morning to dawn[2]. English philosopher Jeremey Bentham introduced an utilitarianism theory to help create more of a moral standard for the treatment and rehabilitation of inmates. His idea was to bring the understanding that inmates were rehabilitable. He wanted to introduce ethical thinking and proper decision making into the inmates life's in hopes they could rejoin society[3]. As the Great Depression hit, the crime rates increased due to individuals having to commit crimes for survival. Although there were still rising numbers of incarcerations from 1929-1970, the prison population increased dramatically when Nixon's War on Drugs[4] called for mandatory sentencing. Around the time of Nixon's act was introduced, another tact was to put in place allowing an individual to have two convictions with a serious felony, then placed in prison for life. Within the Three Strike Law[5] there was a 500% increase of incarcerations from 1970-1999.

United StatesEdit

It is estimated in 2018 that there were a total of 2.3 million inmates incarcerated[6]. Around 1.3 million of those inmates were incarcerated within the State Prison systems[7]. The prison population is half that of China. China's population is four times greater than the United States. Although the United States holds a large number of inmates, it is only at 103.9% of prison capacity. Comparatively, Haiti is the most overcrowded at 454.4%[8].

Colorado is one of the many states dealing with the prison overcrowding issue. According to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (2019), “The Colorado prison population is expected to increase by 20.5% between fiscal years 2018 and 2025, from an actual year-end inmate population of 20,136 to a projected population of 24,261” (p. 5).[9] Overcrowding in prisons is often due to recidivism. One contributing factor for prison overcrowding is parolees who reoffend by violating their parole supervision. Colorado saw an increase of 8% from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018 for parolees who returned to prison for technical parole violations (Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, 2019, p. 15). [10] A possible solution for, “What would it take to reduce overcrowding in Colorado Prisons?”, is the implementation of technological systems. Technological systems involve the use of electronic monitoring bracelets.


Although offenders are being released, most have not received proper rehabilitation tactics to keep them from committing another crime. This often leads reoccurring offenders back into the prison system. There has been an increase in waitlisted or lack of specialized programs (drug, alcohol, intoxicated driving courses) that allow inmates to have the proper rehabilitation. Some crimes are just simply not given the option for parole, which holds inmates in the system for an extended time or even life.[11]


The rise of overcrowding has resulted in:[12]

  • Poor health care
  • Increased gang activity within the prisons
  • Increase in individual mental health issues
  • Violence/Racism
  • Spread of disease
  • Staff stress


One way to have population control within the prison system would be to prevent new crimes from being committed. Alternatives are but not limited to:[13]

  • Alternative programs that provide mental health services, drug diversion programs, or house arrest (especially for minor crimes)
  • Building more prisons
  • Increasing the chances of parole
  • Releasing those that have committed crimes that are now legal

Findings resulting from the research conducted suggest that technological systems are a viable solution for prison overcrowding:

  • This proposed solution would be applied to individuals who commit non-violent crimes.
  • Technological systems are estimated to be less expensive than housing inmates in prison facilities. The Federal Register of the United States reports the average cost for incarceration of federal inmates was $36,299.25 for fiscal year 2017. This breaks down to $99.45 per day. [14]
  • Bagaric, Hunter, and Wolf (2018) estimate, “An ongoing cost of technological incarceration of between $10,000 and $15,000 per annum per prisoner, including amortization of the initial development costs” (p. 121).[15]
  • Technological systems would aid parole officers in monitoring the parolees’ locations and actions. Bagaric, Hunter, and Wolf (2018) explain that, “If they attempt to escape, commit harmful acts, or disable or remove their body sensors, the computers monitoring the events will instantly activate the CEDs embedded in their ankle bracelets to administer the electric shock” (p. 109). [16] Law enforcement would immediately be notified so the situation can be assessed.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Tackling Prison Overcrowding: Build More Prisons? Sentence Fewer Offenders? - Google Books". 2007-08-28. Retrieved 2013-10-13.
  2. ^ "History of Corrections & its Impact on Modern Concepts - Video & Lesson Transcript". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  3. ^ "Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832)".
  4. ^ "A Brief History of the Drug War". Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  5. ^ "Three-strikes law", Wikipedia, 2019-01-03, retrieved 2019-02-13
  6. ^ Initiative, Prison Policy; Sawyer, Peter Wagner and Wendy. "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  7. ^ Initiative, Prison Policy; Sawyer, Peter Wagner and Wendy. "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018". Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  8. ^ "Infographic: The World's Most Overcrowded Prison Systems". Statista Infographics. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  9. ^ Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. (2019). Adult and juvenile correctional populations forecasts. Retrieved from
  10. ^ Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. (2019a, b). Adult and juvenile correctional populations forecasts. Retrieved from
  11. ^ Pitts, James M. A.; Griffin, III, O. Hayden; Johnson, W. Wesley (2013). "Contemporary prison overcrowding: short-term fixes to a perpetual problem". Contemporary Justice Review. 17: 124–139.
  12. ^ "Prison conditions: key facts". Penal Reform International. Retrieved 2019-02-25.
  13. ^ "Alternatives to Incarceration: Programs & Treatment". Retrieved 2019-02-25.
  14. ^ Federal Register. (2018). The daily journal of the United States government. Retrieved from
  15. ^ Bagaric, M., Hunter, D., & Wolf, G. (2018). Technological incarceration and the end of the prison crisis. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 108(1), 73-135.
  16. ^ Bagaric, M., Hunter, D., & Wolf, G. (2018). Technological incarceration and the end of the prison crisis. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 108(1), 73-135.

Carson, A.E.. (2014, September 30). Prisoners in 2013 - Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from