In a recent article for the New York Times, Solomon Moore writes: "Overcrowding has been a problem in prisons for decades, and the country's prison and jail population has never been higher, rising 2.8 percent from July 2005 to July 2006 to reach 2,245,189 ... the prison population will grow by another 192,000 in the next five years." But what are states doing to alleviate the problem?
Those states with the most overcrowded prisons are shipping off their extra inmates to correctional institutions elsewhere. California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Alabama transfer many prisoners to extra beds in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee. Most of these prisons are run by private companies and cost far more per bed than a publicly run, in-state institution. And guess who's shelling out the dough? But with prison systems at 127 percent of their capacity like Arizona's, what else should the state do? They simply can't build prisons quickly enough to keep up with the steady influx of new inmates.
The Prison Society's suggestion? Don't just move the problem. Solve it!
Arizona has some of the toughest sentencing laws in the country -- laws that keep inmates in the system or keep them coming back for nonviolent parole violations. But what do these harsh sentences really achieve? They do little more than compound already horrendous overcrowding. Such sentencing is supposedly a deterrent, but in states with more flexible sentencing laws, where judges have more discretion and there are more alternatives to incarceration available, crime rates are lower.
Transferring prisoners out-of-state also puts an unhealthy strain on inmates who are trying to rehabilitate within prison walls. Several recidivism studies have found that prisoners who are able to maintain contact with family via telephone calls and visits are less likely to violate parole or re-offend. Placing inmates in institutions hundreds of miles away from home (or in the case of Hawaii, approximately 2,000 out-of-state prisoners, thousands of miles from home) unnecessarily inhibits contact with family.
The frequent shuffling between prisons can also disrupt educational programming for prisoners, which also helps keep prisoners from violating parole upon release. Not only do these transfers disrupt education but also basic medical care. The Times reports: "Moves were found to be inhibiting the ability of inmates to receive health care and draining resources."
To read the article, go here.