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. Prison overcrowding can occur when the rate at which people are incarcerated exceeds the rate at which other prisoners are released or die, thereby freeing up prison space. There is currently ongoing debate whether courts are sentencing criminal offenders to serve prison time and not utilizing other programs like rehabilitation centers effectively.[1]

United States

At the end of 2010, United States state and federal correctional facilities housed over 1.6 million inmates. At least seven states are currently at 25% over capacity with the highest being Alabama at 196% and closely followed by Illinois at 144% above maximum capacity. Nineteen states in total are operating above maximum capacity. In 2007, California declared a "state of emergency" with regard to overcrowded prisons.[2][3]


Studies have shown that the majority of prison sentences are handed to two types of offenders: drug offenders and recidivists.[4]

Determinate sentencing procedures have taken away control from prison administration from controlling admission and discharge.[5]


Operating prisons over maximum capacity is expensive, and inconvenient and dangerous for both prisoners and employees. Possible problems caused by prison overcrowding include:[4]


Some of the solutions to prison overcrowding focus on increasing prison capacity. This includes the construction of new prisons, and the conversion of space within existing facilities that has been used for other purposes into prison space.[4][6]

Other solutions that have been employed involve keeping offenders, particularly those who commit non-violent or less violent offenses, out of prison. Alternate forms of sentencing are used, including probation, community service, restitution, diversion programs, and house arrest. Additionally, inmates may become eligible for early release from parole and other credits.[4] Criminal drug addicts can be provided with the appropriate health care needs that they need if they aren't in an overcrowded prison and the courts can make use of rehabilitation centers appropriately.

Technology for tracking criminals outside of prison with smart bracelets continues to evolve and improve. One technology involves using GPS to create a geo-fence to monitor criminals to keep them within a designated area at certain times. This enables criminals to go to work, school, and return home in a controlled manner.

The final solution is to shorten prison sentences. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2014), if prison sentences are revamped to be shorter and more accurate to the crime, prison population will decrease tenfold. This decrease will help eliminate overcrowding. It will also allow for more rehabilitation opportunities. The average tax payer will be paying less with this option, as well. With inmates spending shorter amounts of time in prison, they are costing the taxpayers less money. Also, since the study was done proving that more inmates are willing to attend rehabilitation clinics when they are in comfortable situations, it will also call for less repeat offenders. These repeat offenders generally hold longer sentences due to past convictions; however, with less repeat offenders, less taxpayer money will go into caring for inmates. [7]

In the United States 1 in nearly 100 American adults are incarcerated.[8] There is a lack of rehabilitation and reentry programs; most prisoners have to be on a waiting list for these programs. Drug treatment studies for in-prison populations find that when programs are well-designed, carefully implemented, and utilize effective practices they reduce relapse, reduce criminality, reduce recidivism, reduce inmate misconduct, increase the level of the offender's stake in societal norms, increase levels of education and employment upon return to the community, improve health and mental health symptoms and conditions, and improve relationships.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "Tackling Prison Overcrowding: Build More Prisons? Sentence Fewer Offenders? - Google Books". Books.google.com. 2007-08-28. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  2. ^ "Prison Overcrowding State of Emergency Proclamation - CA.Gov". Gov.ca.gov. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  3. ^ "California to Address Prison Overcrowding With Giant Building Program - New York Times". nytimes.com. 2007-04-27. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Prisons: Today and Tomorrow - Google Books". Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-10-13. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ SpearIt (2014-01-01). "Economic Interest Convergence in Downsizing Imprisonment". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2608698Freely accessible. 
  7. ^ Carson, AE. "Prison Overcrowding Statistics" (PDF). Bureau of Justice Statistics. BJS. Retrieved 3 March 2018. 
  8. ^ "Prison Overcrowding". alec.org. 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-15. 
  9. ^ "Imates Custody and Care". bop.gov. 2015-02-21. Retrieved 2015-04-15. 

Carson, A.E.. (2014, September 30). Prisoners in 2013 - Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf