Prison and Jail Overcrowding

Prison and Jail Overcrowding

Week 5 Final Paper

SOC 205: Crime and Society 
Prison and Jail Overcrowding
Prisons and Jails in the United States are overcrowded and have been for years. Throughout the years social and political issues have added to the problems. The problem we are facing in the criminal justice system today must be transformed if there is going to be any headway made toward prison reform. Experts state there are many issues affecting our criminal justice system According to Williams, P (2012) one of these issues is bail amounts being set too high for non-violent offenses and non-violent drug offenses, so many people do not have money to get out while awaiting trial. Therefore, we have non-violent people taking up space that could be used for more violent offenders. Another issue facing the criminal justice system is the long sentences imposed on many Americans unnecessarily for non-violent offenses, and again especially non-violent drug offenses. These people are kept behind prison gates for most of their lives when they are not a threat to society or would not be a safety issue if released. “Many Americans are unnecessarily incarcerated and much of the United States prison population is behind bars without being a threat to society” (Eisen, L., & Chettiar, I., 2016, para. 5). Furthermore, according to Miles, K., (2016) “the number of people convicted of non-violent drug offenses has been on the rise since 1980.” So, essentially, we have been adding to the prison population at an alarming rate for the last 30 years, filling our prisons full of people who are not a danger to society and could probably benefit from rehabilitation services or other forms of punishment.Additionally, the public defender programs are not up to par to address all people who lack the funding for legal representation, which means public defenders and their clients end up agreeing to guilty pleas for a more lenient sentence. “The public defense is funded by and managed by judges who decide the fate of the defendant” (Patton, D., 2017, pg. 2, para 1). The public defender program is also of great concern for the United States. To say the public defender program in the United States is even sub-par would be exaggerating. The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees everyone the right to legal counsel whether they can afford it or not through the 6th Amendment. Although, people are afforded this right, this does not mean the system is not flawed. Public defenders have so many cases, people basically become numbers to them, and they are rushed to the process by the public defender for him or her to make any financial gain from it. Also, the process must be hurried along due to the amount of people who need a public defender. This means that many people are taking plea bargains and pleading guilty for a more lenient sentence just to avoid prison, or at least less time incarcerated.Finally, rehabilitative and re-entry programs need an overhaul to lower the recidivism rates and stop the incessant revolving door of mass incarceration. There are programs being conducted in some states to help combat the recidivism issue. For instance, in 2004 there was a prison program at a correctional center in Illinois that was made to model a “national therapeutic prison and re-entry program, which had programs such as education, vocational training, employment placement programming, job readiness program, release planning and transition, employment opportunities, and job support and resources programming” (Hicks, J., 2004). Addressing all these issues will help people when the re-enter society after lengthy prison stays.

The one-way society can combat some of this problem is to take a long hard look at our rehabilitative programs and re-entry programs. Without these programs the recidivism rate in the United States will continue to rise. Prisons and Jails will remain overcrowded and the revolving door to mass incarceration will forever be opened. The programs with in the prison must be just as functional and goal oriented as the programs available outside of prison. There has been some legislation brought up in the past few years about bail reform, such as letting non-violent offenders be released on the own recognizance, overhauling the bail system in place now, and offering innovative alternative strategies other than incarceration. Some of these strategies could be using the probation system more, such as placing offenders on house arrest, electronic monitoring, and community service.

The issues within our criminal justice system are systematic, there is not one state, county or city without problems of overcrowding. However, there are some alternatives to these issues. For one we can focus on bail reform. More and more states are looking closer at their bail policies and making changes to further correct the problem. As far long prison sentences being imposed there have been strides made to change this, such as changing some of the sentencing policies on certain drugs. One way to address this is to overhaul the “war on drugs” and look at some other alternatives instead of incarceration such as the probation system and the services it offers. Some other alternatives maybe looking at our rehabilitative programs in the United States and building more facilities geared to intense programming for education, vocation, employment etc. Also, our public defender programs need to change, so they are not run by the very judges who impose the sentences.

In conclusion the way to reduce overcrowded prisons and jails is to dig deeper into our bail policies, the long sentences imposed on non-violent offenders, overhaul the war on drugs, change our public defender system, and focus on rehabilitative service upon re-entry and while incarcerated. Bail policies need to be reformed. Court systems need to give bail amounts based on severity instead of what someone can afford, which is how is seems to end up. Also, the issue of racial disparity plays a part in bail sentencing, which really needs to be looked at and researched by our courts. The “war on drugs” needs to be re-evaluated also, many of prisoners with long sentences have those sentences for non-violent drug offenses. These offenders should be offered rehabilitative services and drug counseling. Also, more programs should be imposed to allow for people with felonies, who are actively trying to turn their lives around, to be able to get a decent paying job so they do not return to street crime. Finally, our public defender system needs a complete overhaul. Each state needs to adopt a policy that allows people to have public defenders who are paid well for their services, more funding for resources necessary to argue a case. We may be giving people the right to be defended, but the way we are doing it is an injustice.


Eisen, L., & Chettiar, I., (2016) 39% of prisoners should not be in prison. Retrieved from

Hicks, J., (2004). “Employment upon re-entry: Prison-based preparedness leads to community-based success.” Corrections today, no.6: 104. Retrieved from

Miles, K., (2016). Just how much the war on drugs impact our overcrowded prisons, in one chart. Retrieved from war-on-drugs-prisons-infographics.

Palermo, G.B. (2011). Jail and Prison overcrowding and rehabilitative justice programs. International Journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology, 55(6), 843-845. Retrieved from

Patton, D.E. (2017). The structure of Federal Public Defense: A call for independence. Cornell Law Review, 102(2), 335. Retrieved from

Williams, P., (2012) State legislatures Magazine. Law makers in more than two dozen states are changing the rules on bail. Retrieved from justice.