Prison Overcrowding: Statistics, Causes & Effects

Prison Overcrowding: Statistics, Causes & Effects
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  • 0:01 Prison Overcrowding Statistics
  • 1:17 Causes of Prison Overcrowding
  • 2:28 Effects of Prison Overcrowding
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Janell Blanco
This lesson will discuss the statistics of overcrowding. We will also cover the causes and effects of prison overcrowding. There will be a quiz at the end of the lesson.

Prison Overcrowding Statistics

Have you ever heard the term 'prison overcrowding?' Maybe you read it in the news or saw it on TV. If so, you're not alone. Prison overcrowding, which is when there is more demand for prison space than there is available, has become a hot topic of conversation in America. But just how serious is this problem? Before we dive into some causes and effects, let's look at some hard stats on the issue.

  • According to the FBI, as of 2011, nearly 2.3 million adults were incarcerated in prisons within the United States.
  • California has some of the most severely overcrowded prisons. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Plata that the overcrowding in California prisons is cruel and unusual punishment, which is a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
  • The prison system in Illinois is capable of holding a little over 33,000 inmates, and in 2012 there were 49,000 inmates incarcerated.
  • Iowa prisons are overcrowded by 25% above capacity. Staff members were reduced in 2009 from 3,064 to 2,820.

Overcrowding occurs in several prisons in several states. The reasons for the overcrowding vary between states and prisons.

Causes of Prison Overcrowding

There are several causes for prison overcrowding. One occurs when offenders are released and then commit another crime only to become incarcerated again. The offenders also may have committed a new crime that was recently established by the penal code. The addition of criminal offenses to the penal code means that offenders can be sentenced for new crimes.

Inmates may also be sent back to prison for failure to complete community service. Another cause for the overcrowding is tougher sentences. Offenders are receiving longer sentences for their crimes. They are facing harsher penalties for certain kinds of crimes, such as those involving drugs.

Once in prison, many offenders are also spending more time incarcerated, and many states have the Truth in Sentencing Act, which requires that offenders serve the majority of their time incarcerated. The offenders are not given the option for parole and are not allowed credits for good time. Credit for good time would give offenders the opportunity to reduce their sentences. For every day they had good behavior, a certain amount of time would be reduced from the time they were sentenced to be incarcerated.

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