Overcrowding of U.S. prisons raises cause for concern in CO

The United States tops the charts for incarcerating more prisoners than any other country in the world. Currently, 2.3 million prisoners are being held in American prisons according to the International Center for Prison Studies. Although China houses a population of more than four times that of the U.S., they come in behind America with a mere 1.6 million prisoners. Colorado alone has seen a four-fold increase of prisoners within the last 20 years. While criminologists in other industrialized nations are amazed at the large number of American prisoners, the U.S. is left to deal with a growing prison population and the amount of money it is costing its citizens. Criminal law reform is being implemented in many states across the country.

To many onlookers, the sentencing policy of the United States judicial system is overly extreme. Crimes, such as bank fraud, minor property crimes and other nonviolent crimes, are unlikely to receive prison sentences in other countries. For example, the crime of burglary in the United States comes with an average 16-month prison sentence, where in Canada the same sentence receives a 5-month sentence.

Overcrowding of prisons

Near Tallahassee, Florida, the Gadsden County Jail is equipped to hold approximately 150 inmates; however, it currently houses 230 inmates, and the numbers are continually increasing. The U.S. Supreme Court has deemed the overcrowding in California prisons so extreme that they ruled it as "cruel and unusual punishment". The situation is the same for prison locations nation-wide. This overcrowding epidemic in the United States is caused by many factors, including:

  • The American perspective that criminal offenders should by locked away from society, no matter the severity of the crime.
  • Severe prison sentences are imposed on those who committed minor or nonviolent crimes.
  • The recidivism rate is high due to decreased use of rehabilitation programs.

Lawmakers are determined to carefully review current policies and make changes where they can to decrease the overcrowding situation.

Cost of incarceration

The Center on Sentencing and Corrections released a study claiming that each inmate incarcerated in 2010, cost taxpayers $31,307 a year. Colorado specifically averages $30,374 for each inmate. In states, such as New York, Washington and Connecticut, the cost rises to $60,000 per inmate. In total, the 2 million prisoners incarcerated in United States prisons costs American taxpayers $63.4 billion annually. Colorado residents paid in excess of $600,000 in taxes allotted to state prisons in 2010 alone.

What's being done?

Many states are enacting policy changes in order to reduce the prison population, as well as to control costs spent on maintaining prisons and controlling inmates. The focus is turned to reducing prison costs by adapting programs to leave incarceration options for the most severe criminals, and finding an adequate way to deal with the rest of the criminal population that doesn't involve being incarcerated. Here are just a few ways that states are taking control of their prison population:

  • Prisoners are able to reduce their sentence time by earning credits from completing programs that are created to reduce recidivism.
  • South Carolina and Kentucky have revised their policies regarding crimes involving controlled-substance use for first-time offenders, and have reduced prison sentences in those cases.
  • For specific felony property crimes, some states have increased the threshold dollar amount in order to adjust for inflation.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prison has enacted a plan to release old, disabled and sick inmates who are unlikely to pose a threat to society. Known as the "compassionate release" of prisoners, offenders who are terminally ill or are needed to take care of family members who have no other guardian, may be released from prison early.

As the issue of overcrowded prisons continues to plague many states, state and federal legislation is being carefully considered for change.

If you have been charged with a crime, it is crucial to partner with a reputable criminal attorney that can help you with your case. The knowledge and expertise of a Boulder County criminal law attorney may be able to help you maximize your results and ensure that your rights are carried out to the fullest.