U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Overcrowded Time - Why Prisons Are So Crowded and What Can Be Done

NCJ Number
K Krajik; S Gettinger
Date Published
50 pages
Overcrowded prison conditions pose multiple legal, financial, and moral problems to State leaders. Some States have designed comprehensive strategies to meet these problems by providing alternative punishments and encouraging law reform.
Increased fear of crime have resulted in tremendous pressure on legislators, judges, and parole boards to 'do something about crime.' The result has been a staggering growth in the prison population, particularly for those persons convicted of less serious crimes (public order and property offenses). Overcrowding has caused medical problems for inmates and has increased their stress and idleness. Most States cannot afford to build more prisons to handle the overflow but, instead, turn to alternative punishments to reduce the prison population. Alternative programs attempted include restitution, community service, and halfway houses. These are less costly and appear to be more rehabilitative than imprisonment. Another avenue for the States is decriminalization of certain offenses (private marijuana use, public drunkenness). In addition, Minnesota has established a sentencing guidelines commission recommending uniform sentence ranges for various crimes that is tied to the State's prison capacity. Other ways to reduce the population are through parole guidelines, emergency release mechanisms, and good time allowances, among others. States need effective leadership and public support to accomplish prison reform measures. Photographs, sample sentencing and parole guidelines, appended footnotes, and a resource list are provided.