Overpopulated jails in America

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The American prison system has been getting increasingly overcrowded for the past few decades. This overcrowding has come with its own multiple problems. The jail system in the United States of America is the most overpopulated in the world, boasting of more than 22 percent of prisoners in the whole world (Pifer, 2016). This is an alarming situation for the world’s most democratic nation. This paper will scrutinize the status of jails in America, the rate at which they are overcrowded, the reasons for the overcrowding and the results of the overcrowded situation. It will also provide solutions for the condition. Information used in this paper has been derived from credible sources and has been cited accordingly.

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Incarceration Rates

The incarceration rate of the USA in October 2013 was at 716 per 100, 000, the biggest in the world. For a country that represents 4.4% of the world’s population, habiting 22% of the world’s population is too much (Pifer, 2016). Drugs and racism have been a problem in the United States society, and they are the leading factors of this state of things. Although the government has tried to regulate capital punishment, some states are still practicing it, and instead of reducing the number of prisoners, capital punishment is actually increasing them. Results of overpopulation are mostly felt by the inmates. Overpopulation often comes with other multiple social problems. The government should try to regulate the number of prisoners by other means, not by building more prisons. Building more prisons only make the United States more overpopulated in terms of prisoners. The USA correctional system is the most overcrowded in the world, but if the right measures are taken, the issue can be corrected.

The state of Prisons in the United States

It is hard to determine the exact number of prisoners in the United States, since many walks in and out of prisons each day. However, some statistics are still available and applicable. By the end of 2012, the number of prisoners in the US was two million. Currently, more than seven states are at over 25% in terms of exceeding capacity in their prisons (Pifer, 2016). The highest state is Alabama, which is at 200% (Pifer, 2016). This means that the prisons in Alabama have a capacity of three times of what they were constructed to hold. In 2007, the state of California declared a state of emergency with regard of overcrowded prisons.

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Presently, from the available data, prisons hold more than 2.4 million inmates. This shows just how the number is increasing considering it was at two million in 2012 (Pifer, 2016). There are 102 federal prisons, 1,719 state prisons and roughly 2260 correctional facilities for juveniles (Pifer, 2016). There are also Indian country jails and military prisons. This makes the United States the country with the highest number of correctional facilities in the world. Despite the United States being the holder of the most prisons, it still experiences a problem of overpopulation, a very saddening state of affairs.

The poor population of America is the most affected when it comes to representation in terms of numbers in prisons. Minority communities in America also tend to be the poorest, and they include Hispania and blacks. Over the years, the pace of incarceration of minorities in the United States prisons has been rapidly rising as compared to other groups. Harsh penal prices, therefore, seem to fall more harshly on poor and minorities in the United States on America. This results to the population of minorities and poor people being the main prisoners in the correctional systems.

Reasons for Overcrowding

High rates of recidivism in United States prisons are among the reasons why the United States prisons are highly overcrowded. Most of the prisoners in the prisons are not first-time offenders. Some have even been to prison three or four times. This means that the correctional systems are not serving their primary objective, to correct and rehabilitate wrongdoers. The judicial system of the United States is also causing overcrowding, by introducing harsher penalties for offenses. Tougher penalties mean more time spent by inmates in prison.

The war against drugs and gun violence are also a significant contributor to overpopulation in the jails of the United States of America. Ever since the war against drugs was initiated, back in the seventies, the number of inmates imprisoned for drug-related crimes has been on the increase. This is contrary to the expectation that setting up harsh penalties for drug offenses was supposed to reduce drug offenses in the United States. Today, drugs are the main single contributors of inmates, followed by immigration cases. Most of the recidivists in the United States jails are drug related. Gun violence in America is also one of the biggest contributors to overpopulation in the United States prisons. In a country that owns more than 300 million guns, there are over 30 gun-related murders each day. Assuming all these killings lead to an arrest each, this, therefore, means every single hour; one or more people are arrested due to gun violence. All these arrests result in one thing; overpopulation in jails.

Racism has been another great cause of overpopulation in the American prisons (Guetzkow, et al. 2015). The black American has been the victim in this case. Police brutality is mostly towards the black man, and that reflects to the jails. The judicial system has also been reported to judge some cases based on racial bias. A black man is more likely to be convicted to jail for more years than a white man who has committed the same crime, and with the same amplitude. Today, more than 60% of inmates in the United States are black by skin color. One in every three families of the people of color has a relative in prison.

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Results of Overpopulation

The correctional facilities in the United States have been unable to maintain peace with the inordinate number of streaming inmates who flood into the correctional facilities in hundreds each day (Guetzkow, et al. 2015). The government has added more capacity for the rising number of convicts, but this does not seem to work. The ever-rising number of inmates puts both the prisoners and the guards in danger. Efforts to rehabilitate prisoners are held back by the problem of overpopulation. Overpopulation comes with inadequate social amenities especially in such an enclosed institution such as a prison. Communicable diseases are more likely to spread faster in an overpopulated prison. Overpopulation in the jails has also led to social problems such as increased rates of homosexuality. As much as homosexuality is not a crime in the United States, it remains considerably socially unacceptable. Homosexuality in prisons comes with diseases other problems such as rape in prisons. Sexually straight inmates are forced to adapt homosexuality due to pressure from the fellow inmates. Jails in the United States have become an economic burden. The taxpayer is being cost more and more each year. Including substantial social costs that come with overpopulation in jails, the budget to maintain prisons is at a staggering one trillion dollars.


To sort the problem of overpopulation in prisons, very many things ought to be corrected. For one, the drug-related penalties should be revised. The government should realize that installing huge penalties is just making matters worse and should, therefore, embark on other methods. Instead of building more prison facilities, the government should invest more in other methods. Gun laws should also be revised. Gun violence is not only a leading cause of overpopulation in prison but also a cause of deaths. Another cause of overpopulation is the capital punishment. Capital punishment instead of reducing the number of inmates is increasing them. Most victims of capital punishment spend more than three years on the death row, and most are not actually executed. This is because of the complexity o the laws regarding capital punishment and the critical nature of the cases.

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Racism should be discouraged; it beats the logic of humanity and causes overcrowded prisons, which are not good for anybody. Generally, the government should stop treating imprisonment as the only way correctional services can be delivered. Other methods such as house arrests can be applicable and release of petty offenders by bonds. Ways to deal with recidivism should also be crafted. For example, the government should come up with laws curbing recidivism such that two-time offenders should be subjected to other correctional methods.


The United States of America is the world’s superpower, and that means political and economic supremacy. However, when it comes to prison facilities and overcrowding, it is probably the most pitiful and worst affected. Holding 22 percent of the word’s inmate population in a single country is a matter of great concern. The state of American prisons has been caused by many factors among them gun violence and the war on drugs. These issues have had very negative impacts on the prisons. However, these problems can be addressed, one of the ways being revising the judicial systems. Penalty policies have with time been made very tight, bringing a range of unnecessary social and economic costs. The targeted reduction in the magnitude of crime is however very uncertain.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Guetzkow, J., & Schoon, E. (2015). If you build it, they will fill it: The consequences of prison overcrowding litigation. Law & Society Review49(2), 401-432.
  2. Pifer, N. A. (2016). Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America.
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