Sample Research Paper on Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities

Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities


Correctional facilities have in the recent past received negative publicity because of their correctional ineffectiveness, which is largely contributed by the increasing demand for more space that is not always available to accommodate the ever-growing number of inmates in various correctional facilities (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). The rate of overcrowding in correctional facilities is majorly caused by the escalating numbers of incarcerated people as opposed to the number of inmates who die or are released in a bid to free up some space. This is not usually the case in terms of creation of more space to accommodate the growing number of prisoners in various prisons (Lester, 1990). A review of various criminological literatures reveals that indeed, the size of correctional facilities affect significantly the effectiveness of these facilities in terms of behavior both inside and outside when they are later released or freed. Certainly, the effectiveness of correctional facilities determines how effective it is to deal with individual problems of inmates, ensure their privacy, and health concerns among others (Hough et al., 2008). Overcrowding in correctional facilities has a depressing impact as far as the health of inmates is concerned. Despite the fact that it is clearly spelled out in the international standards that there should always be enough space available per prisoner, 70 per cent of such correctional facilities is unable to meet these standards (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). It should be noted that prisoners too have their rights and despite their conviction, they too deserve to enjoy their rights whenever and wherever they are. As such, the prison authority should ensure a parallel increase in space as the number of inmates increase, to be able to provide ample space to accommodate these inmates. This paper explicates the causes, risks and impacts, and mitigation strategies in the struggle to increase the effectiveness of correctional facilities.



Recent studies on criminology reveal that the increasing rate of overcrowding in prisons is caused majorly by the unrelenting augment in the number of convicts who are sent to prison due to various reasons. The high recidivism rate among people released from various correctional facilities has so far been proved to cause the number of inmates increase unpredictably without a corresponding increase in the amount of space available to accommodate recidivists (Lappi-Seppälä, 2010). Most people who have been released from state prisons, especially in the United States prisons have later on been rearrested after a period not exceeding three years. Despite the fact that these individuals are released due to their convincing change of behaviors in a bid to free some space for incoming convicts, they end up returning in the same prisons simply because they repeated the same crime, and thus rearrested. This increases strain against the space available to accommodate the growing number of prisoners, and thus leading to overcrowding. Besides, the alarming rate of offenders who are sent back to correctional facilities either for breaching or for unsuccessfully carrying out community custody have also contributed to the increased overcrowding in prisons, and other correctional facilities over the years (Lappi-Seppälä, 2010). Additionally, the war on drugs, addition of new unlawful crimes added to punitive code, cruel punishments assigned to certain kinds of crimes, and the amplified role of inmate and inmate advocacy in the court as well as the sophisticated nature of the parole process have all significantly contributed to the increasing rate of overcrowding in correctional facilities.

The effect of convicted prisoners serving a larger part of their prison term in prison has an effect of causing too much strain on the space available to accommodate prisoners. Ideally, there is an increase of inflow of convicted inmates into prisons who are given longer jail terms and because this is the case, the available space is made to accommodate more than it is officially recommended, thus leading to overcrowding. Notably, the shift from undefined to defined sentencing has consequently caused the average minimum sentences to increase, therefore, causing the amount of jail term to increase (Lappi-Seppälä, 2010). Besides, the elimination of “good time” for prisoners has ensured an increase in jail term, thus ensuring an inevitable increase in the number of inmates, which is not commensurate with the space created to accommodate them.

The aggressive nature of the legislature and the criminal justice system on crime has also seen an increase in the number of convicted inmates sent to spend many years in prisons, and increase in harsher conditions to correct offenders. The General Assembly has increasingly backed up extra punitive reaction to crime and criminals to reduce the level of crime in various areas (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). Additionally, the fact that the prison authority does not set aside limited and costly penitentiary beds for grave, fierce, and duplicate offenders makes it impossible to control overcrowding in prisons. Falling short of penitentiary beds specifically high security beds because high security convicted inmates cannot be accommodate in the lower security convicted prisons has a significant impact on the availability of space (Lappi-Seppälä, 2010). Besides, it becomes hard to create space for more beds despite the increase in the number of inmates.

Inability to plan efficiently in terms of perfect population estimation as well as lack of reliable offenders needs analysis program leads to an inevitable overcrowding in correctional facilities (Lappi-Seppälä, 2010). The unavailability of accurate and adequate estimation and statistics of the total populace of offenders makes it almost hard for the prison authority to plan effectively due to failure to determine the flow of inmates in and out of correctional facilities. Current research unravels that the existing projection techniques are the main contributors of overcrowding in correctional facilities due to their lack of sensitivity in terms of taking into account the prevailing conditions. Additionally, prison construction hardly provides a sustainable solution to the ever-growing increase in convicted inmates flown into a given correction facility (Lappi-Seppälä, 2010). Normally, such facilities tend to be filled up at the very time that they are fully constructed and pronounced functional. As time goes by, the number of convicted inmates, increases excessively leading to overcrowding yet these facilities are designed in a manner that makes their expansion almost impossible due to various reasons.

Impact of Overcrowding

Overcrowding in state penitentiaries is a serious concern not only in the United States, but also in various countries across the world. Overcrowding among prisoners is looked at from two critical perspectives, which include spatial and social density. Spatial density is defined as the space available per individual inmate while social density is defined as the number of inmates sharing a single housing unit (Gaes, 1985). Essentially, the environment in most correctional facilities poses adverse conditions to the inmates, which can be detrimental to not only their health but also their behaviors among others. In other words, overcrowding among the convicted inmates deprive them of the chance to undertake roles, such as self-improvement and take part in rehabilitation programs, such as education, employment, and career work out among various other activities. Indeed, overcrowding in prisons has been identified to be the main cause of inmate health problems, delinquencies, and the increasing recidivism among released offenders (Warmsley, 2005).

Firstly, overcrowding leads to excessive stress on the available prison resources, leading to scramble for the limited resources, such as washrooms, library books, television lounge seating, and entertainment facilities and materials among others (Gaes, 1985). Normally, this leads to the feeling of frustration, and aggression among inmates due to the fact that they will be fighting over the limited resources. In any institution, resources are limited such that they have to stretch them further in a bid to serve the people who solely depend on them. In the case of correctional facilities, the same case applies and in fact, resources are few compared to the population of inmates due to overcrowding. Therefore, this impels them to share rooms in a manner that a room designed for one person is forced to accommodate three to four inmates. Some are even forced to sleep on the floor without beds and other necessities. Even the food that is provided in prisons becomes less compared to the population in the sense that the served meals do not even satisfy them, and at in the long run, some inmates begin to suffer from malnutrition. As mentioned earlier, even the limited space available for recreational activities become very unaccommodating such that some do not even have a chance to involve in any recreational activity until the end of their jail term (Gaes, 1985).

Additionally, some do not get a chance to learn anything despite the availability of rehabilitation programs like education because of the overwhelming population and unavailability of resources, such as books, space, and even workshops where they can explore their talents, such as carpentry, welding, and masonry among others. The obvious risk in such a situation is the possible breakout of violence and riots among inmates because of lack of enough resources to sustain themselves (Gaes, 1985).

Overcrowding in prisons has far-reaching consequences as far as the health of the inmates is concerned (Gaes, 1985). In such overcrowded conditions, it is almost inevitable to experience lack of essential services, such as health care and lack of sanitation programs to ensure that the inmates have a well-maintained environment to stay. Besides, the spread of diseases among the inmates is highly encouraged (Warmsley, 2005). This does not only affect the inmates but also the rehabilitations officers and prison guards who may be exposed to the health risks. This is because with the many inmates confined in common rooms, there is a potential risk in violence due to inability to control the large overwhelming number of inmates. Violence may lead to injury and identifying such victims among many inmates may be hard. Besides, there is a potential risk in the transmission of infectious maladies in case of break out of a deadly infectious disease within the prison environment (Warmsley, 2005).

Additionally, overcrowding may pose severe psychological problems to some inmates due to too much stress. This could also encourage suicide, or other mental illness that affects them throughout their stay in the prison and even after being released (Lester, 1990). Another health concern as far as overcrowding is concerned is the possibility of overloading the sewage and wastewater systems, which has seen the discharge of waste products beyond treatment capacity leading to sewage spill over and thus environmental contamination. Besides, over-discharging of the waste could lead to possible contamination of drinking water, and this may jeopardize with the public’s health at a higher rate (Warmsley, 2005).

The overcrowding in correctional facilities also encourages misconduct among inmates, such as vandalism of electric wires, furniture, and other facilities that they are provided for training or other purposes due to lack of proper supervision, which come about due to the devastating numbers of convicted inmates (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). In particular, vandalism leads to power blackouts, which puts the inmates as well as the prison guards and officers at risk. Besides, some may optimize such an opportunity to engage in other malpractices that might endanger the lives of other inmates and the wardens. Additionally, overcrowding encourages other behaviors, such as homosexuality, which consequently puts others at a risk of being raped and in such instances, this automatically create avenue for the spread of deadly infectious diseases within the prison. Even if the prison guards were to contain such behaviors, it would be a waste of time because of the high numbers of inmates, and thus making it difficult to attend to individual needs and wants. The other impact of overcrowding in prison is the inability to provide proper treatment to the inmates in terms of their special needs and wants. That is, an inmate may go ill unnoticed and sometimes die unnoticed (Gaes, 1985).

Mitigation Strategies

Certainly, because of the adverse effects of overcrowding in correctional facilities, the prison authority does need strategies to create space for more inmates. This will significantly help to reduce the dire consequences of overcrowding and allow proper treatment of inmates through increased efficiency within these correctional facilities. Primarily, the effort to reduce overcrowding in prisons requires significant changes in terms of altering the designs and functionalities of the whole prison environment in attempt to create enough space for each individual inmate (Hough et al., 2008). The best solution to mitigate prison overcrowding is to expand the prison capacity in terms of new prisons as well as the conversion of various reserved areas into prison space to provide enough space to accommodate as many inmates as possible. Indeed, construction of new prisons is a much better approach to reduce overcrowding in prisons because of the fact that excess capacity in some prisons will be transferred to new prisons where there is enough space and available rehabilitation facilities to increase the effectiveness of these correctional facilities. Additionally, it could be ideal to convert some idle or reserved rooms to accommodate prisoners and therefore reducing social intensity, which consequently may reduce other effects, such as spread of infectious diseases due to closeness (Hough et al., 2008).

Reviewing and reforming of the criminal justice process as well as investing in crime prevention and cut is another ideal approach to reduce the rate of overcrowding in prisons and other correctional facilities (Hough et al., 2008). This would mean devising a wide range of alternative means of combating crime through various situational and social measures to resolve disputes without necessarily involving the court. Indeed, some disputes can successfully be solved through various means, such as informal approaches and still ensure that justice prevail without necessarily sending the offender to jail. Such systems if well utilized could minimize the number inmates sent to prisons leading to overcrowding.

The war on crime has reportedly led to an inevitable increase in the number of convicted inmates sent into prisons for drug crimes. Consequently, the rate of overcrowding in these prisons continues to escalate at an alarming rate. In a bid to reduce overcrowding in these prisons, it would be ideal if the numbers of prisoners sent to jail due to drug crimes were reduced significantly. In the United States penitentiaries, one in every three inmates was imprisoned due to drug crimes (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). This would mean that offenders who are found guilty of non-violent drug crimes are considered for alternative punishment without sending them to jail. Besides, this could also be achieved by reducing the jail term for inmates convicted of drug crimes (Hough et al., 2008).

Another approach to reduce overcrowding in correctional facilities would be to send foreign prisoners back to their home countries (Hough et al., 2008). For instance, the federal government of the United States of America is using millions of money holding behind bars thousands of foreign inmates who not only put strain to the financial resources but also on the available space to accommodate native inmates. Accommodating foreign inmates apprehended in the United States soil has also increased the rate of overcrowding in state prisons (Farrington & Nuttall, 1980). This problem can be solved from the perspective that because the U.S. has evidence incriminating many of the convicted inmates, it can be relieving to send such inmates back to their home countries and hand them over to the criminal justice system of their countries. These would on the other hand significantly reduce the rate of overcrowding in prisons and create enough space for offenders of the United States’ origin. Additionally, it would be ideal to release elderly prisoners in large numbers as well as those who have been vetted and found to have successfully changed their behaviors (Hough et al., 2008). This will create more space for incoming inmates rather than holding elderly inmates and lacking enough space to accommodate new offenders.


In conclusion, this paper has extensively explicated the case of overcrowding in correctional facilities through various angles, including the various causes of overcrowding, its effects to the inmates and other people including prison guards as well as the public, and the solutions to curb or reduce overcrowding in these facilities. The paper argues that indeed, overcrowding has the effect of increasing inefficiencies among correctional facilities and therefore unable to provide appropriate correctional measures. The paper identifies war on drugs and the increasing rate of recidivism as the key contributors of overcrowding, which leads to increased health risks among the inmates, prison guards, and the public as well as putting much strain on the available limited resources. Overcrowding in correctional facilities has the effect of increasing the vulnerability of the inmates and the wardens into greater health risk due to adverse conditions that are inevitable in such environment because of increased population over the available resources. The paper concludes by providing practical solutions that can help to avoid overcrowding and create enough space for convicted inmates because of the fact that despite them being sent behind bars, they too are humans and they deserve to be treated as humans.



Farrington, D. P., & Nuttall, C. P. (1980). Prison size, overcrowding, prison violence, and recidivism. Journal of Criminal Justice , 221–231.

Gaes, G. G. (1985). The Effects of Overcrowding in Prison. Crime and Justice , 95-146.

  1. M. Hough, R. A. (2008). Tackling Prison Overcrowding: Build More Prisons? Sentence Fewer Offenders? New York: Policy Press.

Lappi-Seppälä, T. (2010). Causes of prison overcrowding . National Research Institute of Legal Policy, Finland , 1-22.

Lester, D. (1990). Overcrowding in prisons and rates of suicide and homicide. PsycINFO Database , 250-274.

Warmsley, R. (2005). Prison health care and the extent of prison overcrowding. International Journal of Prisoner Health , 3-12.


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