Overcrowding in prisons and jails has been a widespread problem for over three decades, and it doesn’t seem like any country, regardless of economic success, wants to fix the problem. Penal Reform International, which looked at overcrowding in African prisons, concluded that overcrowding was a major factor in health issues inside prisons. 22 national prison systems double their capacity, which increases mental health issues and the spread of disease. Based on these findings, preventing overcrowding will help motivate inmates and improve their well-being, but what are the solutions to this problem, if any?
Why Current Solutions Aren’t Working
When discussing the negative consequences of overcrowding, there are two responses: reduce the number of prisoners or build more prisons. Neither of these solutions works in the long term. When new prisons are built, we scramble to fill them, which leads to more incarceration.
Reducing the number of prisoners is made possible through fewer prisons, but institutions that staff prisons have to put their money towards rehabilitation, not reincarceration. Prisons and jails should include more prevention measures, like educational programs, to see an improvement.
How to Tackle the Overcrowding Problem
Prison overcrowding leads to reduced staff morale, security and control difficulties, increased levels of conflict, and increased health issues. Here’s how we can fix the problem.
1. Speak to Your Loved One Directly
Since the overcrowding issue can’t be solved overnight, try to speak to your incarcerated loved one directly to improve their overall well-being.
Sites like PrisonFinder, which offer an inmate locator, will give you the information you need to locate your loved one in the prison system.
2. Reduce Inmate Idleness
Overcrowded prisons are more difficult to manage and often escalate to violence. Reducing idleness in narrow halls or stairwells inside the prison is one way to mitigate this problem.
If inmates have more opportunities to be active through exercise, they’ll feel less stressed.
3. Classify Prisoners Based on Risk
When movement is restricted, it’s harder for security staff to break up the confrontation. When security guards are able to classify prisoners, they’re able to keep an eye on problem inmates. This improves the well-being of low-risk groups who often receive the brunt of violence.
4. Train Empathetic Staff Members
It can be difficult to motivate inmates if they’re constantly suffering from abuse levied at them by staff members.
However, when staff members are trained with basic relational skills, like effective communication and humane relationship building, it will improve overall morale.
5. Invest in Mental Health Intervention
Of the 4 million prisoners released every year, 23% suffer from a major depressive disorder. It’s not uncommon for prisoners to rejoin society in a worse mental shape than they were before incarceration. With the proper care, prisoners could leave with improved well-being.
6. Improve Sanitation Requirements
With a growing prison population, sanitation isn’t keeping up with demand. Institutions should either hire sanitation workers to clean the building, train prison staff to maintain cleanliness, or teach inmates preventative health care, including personal hygiene and basic sanitation.
7. Increase Sentencing Alternatives
Several inmates don’t represent a real threat or danger to society, but so many of them are placed in maximum security due to lack of space.
Alternative community-based punishments are a better option for non-violent offenders who aren’t likely to offend again once they leave.
8. Use Furloughs for Non-Violent Prisoners
A furlough is a temporary leave of absence. Commonly used in Norwegian prisons, furloughs could be used to permit trustworthy prisoners to leave the premises for the day or over the weekend. Furlough prisoners could spend their time working, with family, or volunteering.