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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 in the place.[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].


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 increased 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.[9]


The rise of overcrowding has resulted in:[10]

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


One simple way to have population control within the prison system would to prevent new crimes as a whole; however, realistically this is impossible. Alternatives are but not limited to:[11]

  • The judicial system can introduce alternative programs that can provide mental health services, drug diversion programs, or house arrest for minor crimes.
  • As minors start to head into the system with poor choices, there have been programs that allow these minors to visit jails in hopes they realize the more crimes they commit, the more likely they are to be apart of the system.
  • An expensive alternative to prevent overcrowding would to be build more prisons; however, this could cause problems with expense. There would need to be constructional cost, employee cost, and other resource costs which could result into increased taxes.
  • Providing realistic prison sentencing with increased chances of parole for minor or petty crimes.
  • Releasing those that have committed crimes that are now legal.

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. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Prison conditions: key facts". Penal Reform International. Retrieved 2019-02-25.
  11. ^ "Alternatives to Incarceration: Programs & Treatment". Retrieved 2019-02-25.

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