When a person is sentenced in court, there is a possibility they will go to prison, and many prisons in the country today are overcrowded. A government study showed that between 2006 and 2011, overcrowding affected all security levels in prisons. Inmates sleep on the floor, there isn’t enough food, and there aren’t enough guards to protect those who are incarcerated. In September 2011, it was estimated that 39% of federal prisons were over capacity. There are a few reasons as to why prisons as so overcrowded.
Some judges like to flex the legal power they have and will sentence people to prison for crimes that others would offer probation for, such as drug charges or probation violations. When judges can see crimes need to have different and varied punishments, then there could be a little more flexibility in the way of sentencing. This could reduce the number of prisoners in the legal system.
One of the main reasons as to why prisons are so overcrowded is the war on drugs. More states are cracking down on drug violations and locking people up instead of offering the rehabilitation that they need to defeat their drug problem. Judges could place these people in rehab facilities instead of putting them in prison, but a prison sentence often seems like the better option as it’s a way to keep them off the streets for at least a short time. Over 50% of the people who are in prison are there because of a drug violation of some type. The costs associated with keeping these drug offenders in prison adds up to about $51 billion per year.
There is often a lack of money in states to either expand prisons, or to build new facilities. By continuing to add people to a prison that is too small, many states develop issues with funding. A solution has been to use funds from lotteries in states to build more prisons if crime is an issue. Bail bonds are also becoming an issue. Some judges set bonds at higher amounts than people can afford, even if it’s for a minor crime. And according to Absolute Bail Bonds, if someone can’t pay the bail amount, they stay in prison until the court date. This can make the burden on prisons even greater.
Many prisons today are made of repeat offenders. Some even rely on the prison system for a way to achieve shelter and food. In some ways, life inside the federal facilities is preferable to surviving on the street or under threat of incarceration. A solution is to open more shelters and to offer classes so that offenders can get their life back on track, instead of going back to prison. But with overcrowding becoming such an issue, many classes and in-prison rehabilitations have been cut and don’t offer repeat offenders a good way out.
What’s Being Done?
Today there has been a crackdown on drug sentencing and judges are actively reducing time served for drug charges and being given more discretion for what kind of sentencing they can use. Prisons are also working to expand rehab programs and offer more credit for good behavior. The president even addressed this issue and pardoned quite a few drug offenders in the past few years.
The prison system today has many problems and overcrowding is top of the list. Hopefully with gradual change on all levels, solutions can come about and make life a little easier for prisoners and federal employees alike.