Reducing Prison Overcrowding in American Prisons

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Overcrowding is one of the leading problems that affect the United States’ criminal justice system. Although the overutilization of prison facilities is a challenge of endemic proportions across different parts of the planet, human rights violations related to this pattern are egregious in the United States. Incarceration is an important program in bringing social order. However, the costs of imprisoning a single federal inmate have increased sharply over the last one and a half-decade. In 2000, the cost per capita for imprisonment for one inmate was approximately $21,600. In 2014, the average cost was estimated to be $30,600 (Malcolm, 2015), The United States also has the highest prison population in the world compared to other developed countries. About one in every 31 adults is under one or other forms of imprisonment. Mass incarceration in the United States is a critical problem that needs urgent reforms.

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In the last ten years, the American criminal justice system has been grappling with the challenge of dwindling budgets, skyrocketing prison costs, and high prison congestions that generate hazardous conditions. Consequently, policymakers, human rights activists, and legislators all agree that there are effective ways to reverse these challenges. In particular, observers hold that there are numerous strategies at the disposal of concerned authorities on smarter ways of cutting costs while fostering public safety. As such, Malcolm (2015) proposes the expansion of incentive programs to offenders, especially in terms of earned time credits that can lead to sentence minimization. According to Malcolm (2015), inmates who successfully finish educational, treatment, and vocational training initiatives, and those who participate in production duties within the jail environments, can be allowed to earn a significant time back. From 2000, about half of states have embraced programs aimed at rolling back minimal mandatory sentencing for drug offenders. These states allow for the diversion of low-level drug criminals into society through community supervision and treatment plans. These states have also established risk-and-needs evaluations to structure supervisory and treatment plans based on each offender’s recidivism risks and specific treatment requirements. Malcolm (2015) observes that ten states that implemented these initiatives have witnessed 16-percent average crime rate reductions and 13 declines in imprisonment rates.

While Malcolm (2015) recommends the use of incentives to offenders, Matz (2018) roots for the enhancement of community supervision programs to reduce prison overcrowding. The utilization of community supervision is increasingly gaining relevance in the American correctional settings. This idea is founded on the acknowledgment that correctional institutions hold vast numbers of people who face physical and behavioral health problems. According to Matz (2018), these programs should be adjusted to ensure that most of the inmates who fall under such categories are released to the community while other significant numbers who are convicted should be put on probation and supervision. In already existing arrangements, the US Department of Health and Human Services has collaborated with the Department of Justice to ensure that people who go back to disadvantaged communities get vocational and health services. Although being exposed to the criminal justice system is certainly an undesired situation for a person, it does provide a chance for enhanced health care for a hard-to-reach group of people. In most circumstances, such health requirements, particularly substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, often border criminogenic or deviant traits that necessitate more justice-health collaborations. Essentially, the process of undertaking screening, treatment, and training of these people on the ways of evaluating their problems such as depression, reserves the health and safety of the person, and their colleagues through the justice system, and the public.

Matz (2018) observes that though screening and treating for a significant majority may start with an organization, for others, it provides their best access to health care services. Ita maintenance will be dependent upon the efficacy of community reintegration programs under probation and parole supervision. Thus, community correction institutions can potentially play a critical role in enhancing continuity of care between correctional and community-based health agencies for the criminal justice groups.

Further, emphasis should be placed on addressing the over punishing tendencies that the American criminal justice system is often inclined to. Indeed, Bierschbach and Bibas (2017) argue that the genesis of prison overcrowding is systematic over punishing largely as a result of few measures to enforce considerations of the whole social costs of the criminal justice intervention. Usually, key players normally have insufficient information or incentives to reduce damages that they cause. One of the challenges is structural. In this respect, the criminal justice system is often vertically fragmented across government agencies, and horizontally among other bodies. Viewing punishments as other public policy challenges of regulation indicate several regulatory instruments like possible solutions. These include cost-benefit evaluation, devolution, pricing, and caps.

Bierschbach and Bibas (2017) assert that the United States over punishes its offenders. In so doing, they cause overcrowding by locking up too many offenders for a long period of time. The expenses associated with these policy problems are monumental since taxpayers often give out thousands of dollars to place a single person in custody annually. However, these costs transcend the limits of monetary factors. For instance, families and friends lose their loved ones, such as husbands and fathers whom they depend on as breadwinners. At the same time, millions of Americans often mistrust and detest the swollen prison system. This structure has lost legitimacy over time. Bierschbach and Bibas (2017) state that the practice of over punishing is at odds with Bentham’s view on punishment. Therefore, government institutions should never impose disciplinary measures that are not effective and are too costly than options. Since criminal justice is fragmented and emphasizes the view of guests from individual views, stakeholders scarcely tackle the administration of discipline as a public policy challenge for regulation. This should be subject to the same standards and concepts that are employed concerning pollution, for instance.

Finally, the focus should be placed on reforming the prosecutorial process. According to Gershowitz (2016), prosecutors possess most of the authority in the American justice system. After making an earlier decision to charge a suspect, the prosecutor can explore a broad list of offenses to select from. Therefore, a significant fraction of possible charges and high authorized sentencing grant prosecutors the leverage to pressurize defendants to plead guilty. However, the criminal justice system operates based on plea bargaining. As such, prosecutors should be encouraged to have a stronger say in the negotiations that can commute a crime to a much lesser offense that does not warrant a longer jail term.


The continued overpopulation of American prisons has attracted negative publicity from the media and stakeholders from the international community. The United States has the highest number of inmates compared to other developed economies. This pattern raises social and economic concerns. For instance, a lot of financial resources are often allocated every year to maintain the bloating prison population, further choking the taxpayer with hefty costs. Thus, the focus should be placed on passing policies that promote community policing, probation and parole, and encouraging prosecutors to commute charges to less serious ones in cases that do not warrant long periods in jail.

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