It seems inevitable that the population naturally increases. Along with this, the scarcity of food, land, and financial resources increases, which translates into an increase in criminal acts. In an attempt to get a quick buck with their own hands — but illegally — or to steal food from the store, individuals commit illegal acts. That said, if a country’s law enforcement system works effectively (which is generally true in the U.S.), the number of criminals caught is also increasing. As a result, the trend toward prison overcrowding is becoming more evident, with inmates having to stay in cramped, stressful conditions for the duration of their incarceration.
Prison overcrowding is a critically important problem in contemporary criminology because it poses several threats to both the individual and society as a whole at once. First and foremost, overcrowding places individual inmates in a more compressed environment where they have to share their room with other individuals and generally have less space during walks and meals. This creates adverse effects on inmates’ sanitation and mental health (MacDonald, 2018). As a consequence, impaired mental wellbeing affects the effectiveness of the prison correctional system. Second, overcrowding is particularly relevant to the current agenda, where the close association with others puts inmates at increased risk for COVID-19 infection (UN, 2021; Burki, 2020). Third, because of overcrowding, prisons can experience a severe threat of uprisings and riots among prisoners dissatisfied with management policies: more criminals are more challenging to contain, and thus the likelihood of escapes increases. Finally, the problem of overcrowding itself leads to a shortage of vacancies, rendering the country’s judicial and law enforcement system ineffective.
There are several helpful solutions to eliminate the threats from this problem. One is to invest in building additional detention facilities. On the other hand, it is permissible to develop a methodology for new forms of correction of criminals since prison cannot be seen as the only form of social treatment for abusers (Bonta & Gendreau, 2019). In addition, a review of current retention policies and amnesty for political prisoners or mild offenders (while maintaining supervision) may reduce the threat of overcrowding. Finally, the state should encourage the active development of psychological and psychiatric therapies in the country that allow for a preventive deterrence of crime.
Bonta, J., & Gendreau, P. (2019). Coping with prison. In P. Suedfeld & P. E. Tetlock (Eds.), Psychology and social policy (pp. 343-354). Taylor & Francis.
Burki, T. (2020). Prisons are “in no way equipped” to deal with COVID-19. Lancet (London, England), 395(10234), 1411-1412.
MacDonald, M. (2018). Overcrowding and its impact on prison conditions and health. International Journal of Prisoner Health, 14(2), 65-68.
UN. (2021). Law and crime prevention. UN News.