Since 1980, the number of inmates housed in American prisons has quadrupled to over two million people. The number of people on parole or probation has also dramatically increased during this time to nearly five million adults. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world with .743% of its population behind bars (Squidoo). This unstable situation is caused by certain US laws which contribute to an increased duration of incarceration and mandatory jail time for some non-violent offenders.
Overcrowding prisons creates a dangerous situation for both inmates and guards alike. When prison population capacities are exceeded, inmates are forced to bunk with two or even three additional prisoners to a cell. This in itself leads to an increased inmate misconduct, but coupled with the fact that overpopulation in prisons also means longer waiting lists for education and drug treatment programs, less work opportunities, and a higher inmate-to-staff ratio, the resulting circumstances are dangerously unsustainable.
In a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, found that nearly half of the inmates incarcerated by the Department of Justice were arrested for drugs (USGAO). The GAO also found that 39% of prisons in the United States are considered to be overcrowded. The GAO believes that these statistics will lead to an increase in prison violence and a decrease of successful rehabilitation. These prisons have become so overpopulated due to long incarceration durations in the United States relative to other countries, and America’s “War on drugs.”
The United States issued mandatory minimum sentencing for some crimes. These minimum sentences are generally much longer than in other countries. In California, the annual cost of housing one inmate in prison is over $22,000. When the sheer number of prisoners is taken into account, the result is an enormous burden on state governments. The war on drugs lead to a dramatic increase in the number of non-violent convicts detained in prisons across the country. Detaining non-violent criminals has also lead to an increase in the amount of prisoners in America, and therefore an increase in the cost of incarceration.
“Prison Overcrowding in the United States.” Squidoo. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.
U.S. Government Accountability Office. N.p., 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.