Effects of prison overcrowding

Written by natasha parks
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Effects of prison overcrowding
Prison overcrowding can cause serious mental health problems for inmates. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

An overcrowded prison is known to cause psychological damage to the inmates. Having more prisoners than a correctional facility can really accommodate means that some of them will develop patterns of antisocial behaviour, which may lead to violence. Some prisoners are affected differently. They can become increasingly stressed, suffer panic attacks and even lose their ability to form healthy relationships once released. Social rather than spatial factors contribute most to the problems associated with prison overcrowding.

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Violation of Rights

A very overcrowded prison may violate the prisoner's rights, as described by the University of Phoenix. This happens because there are less resources to go around, limited space for each inmate and a strain on resources such as education, rehabilitation programs and even food. It can also mean that prisoners have to be released before they have served their full sentence. For the individual prisoner, overcrowding means there are only limited activities in which he can participate. Prisoners become frustrated and angry that they are not receiving their fair share of resources.

Antisocial Behavior

A recent report dated March 2011 by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission discusses prison overcrowding. It states that the Ohio prisons are 31 per cent over their intended capacity; this can create problems. Keeping prisoners in an overcrowded facility can cause them to become more aggressive, antisocial in their behaviour and violent. Because overcrowded prisons are not required to have a proportional number of staff, any increase in poor behaviour will not be effectively dealt with. With more prisoners and less staff, there may also be a rise in drug-trafficking, abuse and new gangs. Prisoners with violent histories can take their frustration and anger out on other inmates or prison officials, creating a cycle of punishment, withdrawal of already restricted resources and more violence.

Staff Stress

It is not just prisoners who develop problems in overcrowded facilities. Staff has limited time to deal with bad behaviour, fewer resources to tackle crime and violence within the prison and less chance to screen potentially dangerous inmates, as explained by the website, Pantagraph. Staff also has less time to spend with individual inmates and cannot ensure they complete their rehabilitation and education programs. Staff subsequently becomes a target for angry prisoners; their working lives can be made much more stressful and dangerous as a result.

Problems On Release

Prisoners who have spent time in an overcrowded, understaffed prison are more likely to face difficulties adapting to normal life when released, as described by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). If prisoners who have not served their full sentence are released early and did not receive sufficient rehabilitation or drug therapy during incarceration, they will not be ready to re-enter the community and could quickly reoffend. Prisoners may leave angry and frustrated, which can lead to further violence or drug usage. They can also struggle to rebuild relationships with family and friends or to create new relationships, and this may lead them back to a life of crime.

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