The United States Supreme Court has held that overcrowding in California jails constituted "cruel and unusual punishment." Those who commit small or nonviolent offenses face severe jail terms. Recidivism is high due to a decrease in the use of rehabilitation programs. The court's decision was prompted by a lawsuit filed by attorney Charles H. Tamony on behalf of three inmates at San Quentin State Prison. They had been detained for more than 100 days without being given an opportunity to go before a judge.
Prison populations have increased dramatically over the past few decades. In 1970, there were about 1 million people incarcerated in prison facilities across the country. That number had increased to nearly 2 million by 1990 and almost 3 million as of 2004.
Since the 1980s, crime rates have been falling across the country. This decline has had a major impact on how many people are going to jail. The number of prisoners per 100,000 people was below 5 in 1980 but now stands at more than 7 in some states.
One reason behind this increase is the growing number of people convicted of drug-related crimes. Drug abuse is a large problem in the United States; it affects everyone from children who try drugs for the first time to older people who suffer from memory problems related to medication used to treat Alzheimer's disease. Because of this, there has been a rise in the number of people imprisoned for drug-related offenses.
For some, prison overcrowding may appear to be a positive. They may believe that this indicates that the judicial system is functioning well and that offenders have been removed from the streets. Overpopulation, on the other hand, is a very other story. After the Supreme Court declared that overcrowding in prisons was "cruel and unusual punishment," California was forced to lower its jail population. The same thing happened in Florida when courts ruled that conditions were unconstitutional there as well.
Judges across the country have also ordered counties to reduce their incarceration rates. Some say this is wrong because it violates individuals' rights to free speech, freedom of association, and due process under the Constitution. Others argue that we need more effective ways to deal with crime and that imprisoning people who would otherwise be able-bodied and willing to work will only make things worse.
There are two sides to every issue like this one. It's up to you to decide what you think about prison overcrowding.
Overcrowding in prisons can result in unsanitary, violent situations that are damaging to prisoners' physical and emotional well-being (UNODC, 2013). They face higher risk of aggression from the inmates, the risk of infection, and increased stress and mental health difficulties. Crowding also affects the ability of guards to provide security in facilities with limited resources.
Prison overcrowding has adverse effects for individuals even before they are incarcerated. For example, studies have shown that homeless people and others who are arrested but not charged or convicted have higher rates of incarceration later in life because they cannot afford an attorney or other factors make it difficult for them to avoid returning to jail (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002; The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2013).
Once inside the prison system, prisoners face additional challenges due to overcrowding. Crowding leads to reduced access to education and employment opportunities, less effective treatment programs, and lower levels of care. It also puts those already suffering from mental illness at greater risk of being harmed by their peers or staff members.
Finally, overcrowding impacts the cost of housing inmates. When facilities are full, they must often turn away new arrivals, which means fewer opportunities for rehabilitation and less chance of reducing recidivism.
In addition to these direct effects, overcrowding also influences crime patterns by altering community attitudes toward punishment.
The California jail system is now operating at more than double its allotted capacity. How do jails handle such overcrowding? They increase the number of beds. Prisons are designed to house a specific number of convicts, with one bed for each prisoner. When conditions become intolerable, however, prisons must find ways to house more people. One solution has been to give some inmates multiple cellmates - known as "double bunking" or "triple bunking" - but this also can lead to problems.
When prisons reach their maximum capacity, they must make room for additional inmates. This may involve placing inmates in holding cells or tents, sometimes called "bucklered cells," or it may be necessary to release certain inmates so that others can be held in safer facilities.
In California's San Quentin Prison, for example, the population has exceeded 930 men and women, nearly twice its intended capacity of 450. The prison has no way to accommodate more inmates, officials say, so it releases people who don't pose a threat to public safety.
People released from prison are not out of danger yet because they may be seeking treatment for addiction issues or other problems that would best be addressed through counseling or medication-assisted rehabilitation programs.
Furthermore, prisoners have a right to be free from sexual harassment.
California's Jail Crime Statistics Are the Worst Pelican Bay State Prison has a high rate of violent gang crime, according to crime data in California prisons. Crimes against other inmates, staff, and even prosecutors are on the rise. San Quentin Prison is one of the most hazardous prisons in the country. More than 24/7 security staffing is required just to keep the prison under control.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports that there were about 14,000 incidents of inmate-on-inmate violence in 2012. The number of assaults by inmates on staff members more than doubled from 3,100 in 2002 to 6,650 in 2012.
There were also 1,175 sexual attacks against women prisoners in 2012. Nearly half of these attacks involved force or threats of force. About one-fifth were committed by other inmates who received sexual favors in return. About 10 percent were reported by victims who were not in custody but were still being held for trial.
Women account for nearly one-third of all state prisoners. Most come from poor families with little education who become addicted to drugs after being prescribed painkillers by doctors in response to injuries suffered while working long hours at low-paying jobs. Many women end up serving longer sentences because they were unable to pay fines or restitution requirements as they tried to get back on their feet. Others fall victim to drug dealers who use them as mules for transporting illegal substances from one city to another.
According to the Los Angeles Times, California accelerated the release of 3,500 offenders last year to relieve overcrowding as COVID-19 expanded throughout the state's jails. Republican legislators have regularly chastised the state's attempts to lower its jail population, claiming that early release makes communities less safe.
The news comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called for the release of nearly 50,000 inmates across the country because of fears that coronavirus will spread more rapidly within prisons. President Donald Trump has also advocated for states to release low-risk inmates to ease crowding on local jails and free up resources for those who need it most during the pandemic.
In California, officials said early releases were helping them deal with an influx of people seeking medical care during a public health emergency. The Los Angeles Times reports that nearly half of those freed had been diagnosed with some form of addiction or mental illness and many were reoffending soon after their release.
Prison reform groups have criticized the releases as unsustainable and warned that increasing numbers of people on the streets will only lead to more crime. "We're seeing the same thing play out again and again around the country," Phil Kline, director of government relations for the group Just Detention International, told the Los Angeles Times. "People are going to be more likely to commit crimes when they see others being released without any consequences."