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

Prison Overcrowding the Eighth Amendment's Prohibition Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment

NCJ Number
S Gillen
Date Published
6 pages
Courts tend to regard violence as endemic to prison life, but they may find overcrowding to be cruel and unusual and in violation of the eighth amendment of the Constitution if the violence increases at a significantly higher rate than the growth in the prison population.
The eighth amendment provides prisoners with limited rights of protection against cruel and unusual punishment during the course of confinement. These rights extend to the existence of humane living conditions, adequate medical care, and protection from violence by other inmates. All of these may be jeopardized by an overcrowded condition, although past United States Supreme Court decisions have made it clear that harsh conditions and strict disciplinary measures are part of the price that convicted individuals must pay for their offenses against society. Specific cases include Trop v. Dulles, Rhodes v. Chapman, Bell v. Wolfish, Berks v. Teasdale, Tyler v. Black, and Cody v. Hillard.