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The current paper deals with the question of how the prison system has been experiencing challenges in recent times. With the increasing number of inmates, several prisons have been experiencing congestions. It also tries to discuss the causes and implications of prison congestions. Lastly, it deals with the question of how the system can be decongested, if only the appropriate policies are put in place with the right people, who have a will to see reforms taking place.
Overcrowding of Prison Systems
Prison numbers have been increasing for decades now, thereby increasing the total prison population. The ever growing prison population has been exerting much pressure on the entire prison system that has been experiencing overcrowding for decades. The organization that is responsible for undertaking a wide range of activities within the justice system reported an increase in work and work difficulties within the prison, due to continuous overcrowding that is undermining the entire process of the prisoners rehabilitation process. These cases presented by a variety of such organizations, including the members of the criminal justice alliance, indicate a need and urgency to take significant moves to limiting the inappropriate use of prison by ensuring that prison is a place for only serious offenders, for whom there are no other alternative sanctions that seem appropriate for the individual. Many departments have aired their views concerning this issue that has become urgent; some have gone to the extent of suggesting that the only answer to solving the problem of overcrowding by building more prisons with huge capacities, so that they can accommodate a greater number of people, who are alleged and those convicted.
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From the history, the government should learn that it is very difficult to create a way out of the problem of overcrowdment engulfing the prison system. In the last decades, new prisons were built to help solve this problem and in return, the state incurred many expenses as expenditure in the process. Despite the fact that the government is fighting relentlessly in these expansion programs to try as much as it can to avert the overcrowding omen, overcrowdment in prisons has remained a persistent and stubborn feature of the prison system in nearly 60 percent of all the prisons. It has inextricably been associated with the prison overuse. Overcrowding of prisons and their overuse remain two interlocking crises that need immediate and urgent attention.
Causes of Overcrowding
There have been a number of hypothesized reasons as to why prisons have been overcongested with inmates for many decades. The relevant institutions responsible for prisons in an attempt to reduce overcrowding and its impact need first to understand precisely what the causes leading to overcrowding in the prison system are, so that they can develop chances of coming up with effective countermeasures to overcrowding. Most people think that the increasing rate of crimes and longer sentences that have been imposed by courts are the major causes that result in growing prison population. The contribution of these two factors cannot be underestimated either; they play a significant role in adding up to the problem. The causes of prison overcrowding are multi-factored and multi-layered. Statistics has helped in forming a better understanding of the effect caused by different factors (Mcdowall, 2010). Causes of increased prison population include:
Increased Imprisonment and Crime Rates
There is no absolute connection between the increasing imprisonment and crime rates. However, there have been increasing numbers of imprisonment cases fairly due to increasing in the degree of gravity of some cases, as well as a common tightening up of laws and order concerns.
The number of those in remand, custody, anticipation of trial, or those on trial has been growing. This number also adds up to the total number of prisoners straining the system.
Overcrowding in the prison system and the pressure due to the increasing prisoner population are not well and uniformly spread across all prison systems. This problem in particular has been caused by the management system used by the prison system. Most prisons are controlled through decreased involvement with others.
More crime, seriousness of offenses, offenders attributes, alternative to imprisonment, law and order politics have been identified as the contributing aspects at the sentencing period, leading to a rising population of prisoners.
The release rate of prisoners and those getting paroles to the rate, at which they are sentenced, is low. At any time, the number of people being imprisoned automatically exceeds the number of those being released and these piles up the pressure in the system.
Effects of Overcrowding
The prison environment has many factors that are considered to have adverse effects on an inmate. Crowded conditions are chronic and unavoidable in any prison setting. There is the absence of personal control in prisons and people prone to anti-social behaviors are gathered. Inmates are idlers and hence, the boredom is a common phenomenon. According to various researches conducted, overcrowding results in different types of issues in the prison environment observed on a daily basis. First, there is less of room to go around and do personal stuffs. The opportunities that the inmates can engage in are curtailed. There is lack of work and work opportunities leading to idleness that can cause disruptive behaviour due to its discontent. In addition, some prisons even lack resources for the prisoners to use, such as books, television lounge, and recreational materials (Pitts, Griffin & Johnson, 2014).
The unavailability of such social resources increases the severity of consequences. Secondly, the effect also influences the behavior of an individual inmate. Stress originated from prison crowding, in conjunction with other factors, heightens the effect resulting from overcrowding. Different inmates respond and adjust differently to stress, irrespective of the adjustment process, and it does not act to benefit the inmates health. Thirdly, the failure of the prison system and the corrections system failure to address the increasing demand for more space in prisons results in the harm of an individual inmate. There has been a tendency to mis-classify offenders that have been due to an attempt to cope with the limited space that is available and the ultimate result of overcrowding.
A vicious cycle for the inmate results from the effects of overcrowding. It starts with overcrowding, then the assignment of a facility that is appropriate, followed by a stress reaction from an inmate due to lack of appropriate services and programs, no progress in the system being labeled as a failure, and no parole and rule infractions, so that no transfer is permitted. At this point, the cycle begins. Crowding has been related variable that sometimes results from some other factor, or sometimes causes an impact or even exaggerates an impact of the condition. In a prison setting, overcrowding affects more than just the few selected inmates and thus, its effects affect all prisoners (Wallace, 2012).
Strategies to Reduce Overcrowding
Implementation of Fair Policies and Crime Prevention Laws
The major cause that leads in the imprisonment and overcrowding of inmates in prisons can be adequately addressed and comprehensively tackled when right policies concerning criminal justice and crime are comprehensive and address all relevant factors. It is paramount for the prison system to comprehensively analyze the particular causes leading to overcrowding and the factors that lead to criminal acts and imprisonment, if long term success is to be realized. The achievement of such success requires fundamental strategies that are aimed at reducing imprisonment and overcrowding rates.
Governments and the necessary stakeholders are being encouraged to develop adequate and comprehensive national strategies that rely on the database, while the strategies should respond to the local needs and circumstances that are meant to foresee other alternative approaches to criminal activities and imprisonment should be regarded as a measure to be taken as the last resort. Other relevant elements of these strategies include fair and supportive social policies and access to education. Other practices regarded to be good include collaboration that entails a partnership between relevant departments and other state agencies and civil groups in the society. For such strategies to succeed, there is needed a political will for the implementation and sustenance of the reforms that get endorsement from the necessary services (Franklin, Franklin, & Pratt, 2006).
Greater Political Will and Complete Strategies in Criminal Justice
It is extremely challenging and difficult to achieve real change. For such changes to take place, the political will spearhead the entire process of change needed in the system. Without the desire and necessary will to introduce the policies and programs to change the punitive approaches, the system will have to continue with its traditions, and this will not change the problem at hand.
Rely on Evidence-Based Practices
Criminal justice reform policies have to address to a specific need and the realities of a society, so that it can be regarded to be effective and relevant. Reforms and policies to be instituted in place need to be founded on the precise reason behind the specific problem of prisons. Criminal justice may choose to include revision on its sentences, improvement of practical coordination, depending on the specific cause resulting in overcrowding in prisons.
Seeking and Gaining Public Opinion and Support
The way, in which policy makers decide on how they will respond to a given criminal offenses, depends mainly on the public opinion. However, in most cases, the public is not viewed as a solo entity with a rigid point of view. It is regarded to be made up of many different opinions and changing from one individual to the other. Many people hold their thoughts and believe that most often courts are too soft; they also believe that prisons are damaging and inexpensive at times. When the level of ignorance about crime and crime control is low, the stronger fears and the higher the demands for harsh punishments are. The media plays a significant role in passing information and informing the public. Therefore, in addressing any issues, the strategies that aim at developing better public opinions must always look at how to cooperate with the media.
Solutions to Overcrowding in Prisons
In many countries across the globe, the overall proportions of total people being held in pretrial detention facilities are high and the time they are detained is always prolonged beyond any legal limits. In countries with low incidence of imprisonment, high levels of overcrowding are reported in the initial stages of the criminal justice process that is, arrest and detention. Therefore, when implementing and developing such policies, aiming at reducing overcrowding levels, much considerations are set in assessing whether the use of arrest and the pretrial detainment have been excessively and appropriately used.
Reducing Pretrial Detention: Pre-Charge
Many countries laws recognize that there is observed certain vulnerability of the accused during the time immediately after an individual has been arrested. Knowledge of the situation is that once the courts decision has been made, the person is either released, or transferred to a facility for a longer stay. Practically, individuals stays in the facility for a longer period in police custody before charges are made. This happens in many countries. Reduction of the time spent in the pretrial stage, helps in reducing the congestion in prisons.
Suspects brought before a judge for trial may be ordered to be detained or continue to be detained while he or she awaits further trials. Pre-charge detainment is the leading cause of overcrowded prison in many countries, and this happens mostly when an individual has been arrested without any supportive evidence and, therefore, put in pretrial as he or she awaits investigations. If this number is reduced, ultimately there will be a remarkable decrease in the total number of prisons, hence reducing the prison congestion.
Diversions from Criminal Justice Systems
It is paramount to creating criteria for deciding upon the appropriateness of ordering either a discharge or determination in a court proceeding. The police and the judge should divert cases away from the criminal justice to help in trying to offload the burden imposed in the prison system. Diversion may be used at various stages in various systems for different types of offenders. It may be premised on the acknowledgement of responsibility for the offense, and the suspect makes an agreement to make a correction by doing community service to compensate for the crimes committed. Sometimes, the offender may be sent to a set program to correct the decision of the court or rehabilitate him or herself from a particular problem.
Measures Taken to Reduce Overcrowding in the Prison System
A cautious statistical analysis should be reflected in the measures taken by the respective departments in the pursuance of the necessary strategies that are aimed at reducing the extent of overcrowdment of prison with respect to the exact reason as to why overcrowding represents a serious problem for the prison department (McDowall, 2010).
Measures should be put on the inflow mechanism to help in tackling the problem of the number of prisoners getting into prisons. This entails the use of bails, though this is inhibited by the political reality that tries to restrict the use of bail and focus on the law and order by giving less weight to the presumption of the innocent. Other ways, through which overcrowding can be avoided, include the exploitations of other options, such as the use of a bail hostel or the electronic monitoring and trying to use bail coordinators in the prison system to help people with meeting their bail conditions.
Using Community Based Sentences and Prison as the Last Resort
Judges should use realistic and modern methods as an option of sentencing inmates in cases where the use of prison is regarded as the last option. Though in many countries, this does not look practical, many courts seem to be acting within the framework of very slim options available, such as probations and fines. Fines in most cases are not realistic and the use of probation is always mistaken with imposing rather than sentencing the suspect.
The government should spend much in putting up corrective administrative structures to help with offering support to the sentences that are community based. Debates have been rising occasionally on whether it will be appropriate to locate such services (a) in the department of welfare, which should be separate from the prisons, and this has been the case of many other probation services for long or (b) it should be set in an integrated department mainly dealing with correction services covering both, the corrections meant for community and prison. The best option is the latter; it is preferred because of its ability to offer recognition to some sentences that are community based and represent not just measures dealing with the welfare. It should be aimed at ensuring that a continuum of services is established in some systems in the prison department.
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The adoption of a statutory hierarchy system of sentencing should be done within the prison system. This will help in preventing judges from imposing sentences to imprison suspects anyhow, unless he or she exhausts all other available options. The judge must rule out the other options as invalid before sentencing any suspect for imprisonment. The legislators should put some jurisdictions to help with abolishing shorter sentences in prison. This will assist in preventing judges from sentencing inmates for imprisonment by encouraging them to use other available alternatives. This system, however, has not been welcomed in many countries. In addition, it has proved to be problematic.
Prosecutorial and Police Discretion
To reduce overcrowding, the suspects who are considered minor offenders should be put out of the main criminal prisons and a great effort is needed to divert this. It will help to greatly reduce the contamination risks and overcome problems that have chances of resulting from the formal records of criminals and the costs spent, as well as pressures that are arising from the old system in the prison department. There are many typical options that can help to create a discretion, including formal cautioning and financial penalties.
Offering Paroles to Inmates and Other Forms of Early Release of Prisoners
Parole system is offered to help reduce the sentence period of inmates. It has recently come under great criticism throughout the globe; many countries have shown their objection to the system of parole. People think that the parole system has come to weaken the inmates sentence and makes the entire prison system look too soft and weak. It is believed that sentenced people have committed crimes in the society, and when such individuals are given paroles, it is very hard to ascertain that they will not commit the same crimes in the society again. The decision making and parole system should, therefore, be set by the legislation to help with minimizing the risks for the community.