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Prison Overcrowding, Inmate Violence and Cruel and Unusual Punishment

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Journal Volume: 13 Issue: 1 Dated: (Winter 1991) Pages: 81-99
K Ellis
Date Published
19 pages
Prison overcrowding has been linked to a variety of institutional problems including an increase in violence between inmates. Prisoners looking to the Federal courts for relief from overcrowded facilities invoke their eighth amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment as well as Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act which provides inmates with a procedural method for bringing their constitutional complaints to court.
In 1976, the Supreme Court broadened the traditional prohibitions of the eighth amendment against torture and barbarous treatment to include a ban on punishments inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering as well as punishment without penological justification. Today, the eighth amendment rights include a prisoner's right to a healthy, habitable environment and the right to be protected from the violence of other inmates. As a result, the courts have had to consider a variety of issues to determine whether they fall within these parameters: double celling, a totality of the circumstances, pervasive risk of harm, and reasonable conduct on the part of the prison staff. Despite the enormous costs of eliminating unconstitutional prison conditions, it is imperative that the eighth amendment protection of the dignity of man be preserved for our nation's prisoners. 151 notes