Causes of Prison Overcrowding and Its Solutions


All over the U.S, states are working on various approaches toward controlling the ever increasing inmate populations in their correctional institutions. A recent research effort reveals that, nearly all prisons and jails in Americas’ states are operating beyond their capacity hence leading to the problem of prison overcrowding. The problem of prison overcrowding more often than not is attributed to tough legislations that lead petite crimes to be punished by a prison or jai term. Overcrowding in our prisons and jails leads to adverse living conditions that can negatively impact the health conditions of the inmates. For instance, Prison overcrowding can lead to depression which is a mental condition associated with anti-social behavior. Prison overcrowding is also the root cause of prison violence in many correctional institutions.

The problem of prison overcrowding has been there for long time yet lasting solutions to controlling the ever increasing inmate populace in correctional institutions are long overdue. This problem has turned to be a dilemma for nearly all countries, where every solution brings in a series of problems. The consequence has been jails having more inmates than what they practically can accommodate. States in America, in order to avoid prison overcrowding are turning to extreme approaches such as releasing inmates early and turning away new prisoners. These approaches are giving offenders the chances of becoming repeat criminals without much effect (Kaminski, 2004). This leads us to the conclusion that the current solutions to the problem of prison overcrowding are not effective and many people are turning to approaches which employ financial assistance to former offenders as incentive to prevent repeat offenders.


Nearly, all the root causes to the problem of prison overcrowding can be attributed to issues outside the prisons and jails. Perhaps, factors such as lack employment, poor education, troubles in families, drug abuse and poverty encourage crimes that results to a prison or jail term. These intricate issues and challenges cannot be handled single handily by one state department and require many agencies to be put into play.

In the past three decades, the number of criminals in the correctional institutions has been on the rise regardless of the low crime rate as well as lower of individuals arrested as per reports from a number of U.S states. The increase in the prisoners’ populace can be attributed to a number of factors. These factors include among others the war on drugs, rise in federal funding for policing as well as the enhanced role of inmates and inmate advocacy agencies in the court procedures (Kaminski, 2004).

Other factors that can be regarded as the causes of the problem of overcrowding in prisons are increased bed capacity in the prisons and increased rate of repeat offenders. Increased rate of offenders taken back to correctional institutions for their failure to effectively take part in community service programs is also leading to overcrowding in our prisons. Another key cause of prison overcrowding is tougher punishments for particular kinds of crimes such as drunk driving as well as crimes such sexual harassments (Alan, 2001). Additionally, the slim chances to qualify one to the community release or alternative punishment methods is also contributing to increased population on our prisons and jails.

Analysis of Information

Although there has been gradual decrease in arrest rates for the last decade, many American states are facing the problem increased prisoners’ population and increased rate of repeat offenders among those put under community corrections programs. In many states the solution to prison overcrowding has been increasing bed capacity via construction of new buildings or expanding the existing ones. For instance, Connecticut in 1990s increased his bed capacity by more than 10,000; however after only five years all its correctional facilities were operating over their capacity (Bruce, 1996). To deal with the problem of overcrowding in the prisons the state of Connecticut transferred nearly 1000 prisoners to remote prisons and jails.

In the year 2000 the state of Connecticut carried out a study to ascertain the root causes of prison overcrowding in their correctional facilities and their alternatives solutions. In this study, the state explored the sentencing laws as well as the reforms passed since 1970s. The study also covered the community based sentencing as well as the sentencing trends.

The findings from the study suggested that problem prison overcrowding as cyclical. The result also revealed that factors that cause the problem of prison overcrowding are not within prisons control. The findings also revealed that the increase of prisoners is as results of a number of issues. This issues include among others the “war on drugs”, rise policing funding as well as increased repeat offenders.

One of the solutions to the problem prison overcrowding is expanding the prison facilities so as to accommodate more inmates. Compared to other alternative this is the most costly and less effective solution to the problem of prison overcrowding. Moreover this approach can only serve small population of inmates.

The other solution to the problem of prison overcrowding involves setting and financing an approach referred to as community corrections. In this approach offenders are sent to serve the community where they are rehabilitated in different ways. This approach can serve a big population of offenders but the approach has more risks to the public where such offenders are serving.


The problem of prison overcrowding is a challenging one to all criminal justice systems all over the world. This problem continues to growth regardless of the decreased rate of crimes as well as the arrests. This problem perhaps is as a result of criminal justice legislations. Both sentencing procedures and repeat offenders can be said to be two root causes of overcrowding in prisons. The problem of prisons overcrowding negatively affect heath of inmates both physically and emotionally and the end result is bad health. The problem of prison overcrowding limits the prison core duty of rehabilitating the offenders so as to allow them to be integrated back to the community as good citizens. The encouragement of community corrections systems can help very much in dealing with the problem of overcrowding in our prisons.


Alan, T. (2001). American Colonies. London: Penguin publishing Co.

Bruce, F. A. (1996). The Politics of Punishment: Prison Reform in Russia 1863 – 1917. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Kaminski, M. M. (2004) Games Prisoners Play. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

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