A Little Elbow Room Please – Сustom Literature essay

Written by: Jenlee

Imagine being cramped into a small room with barely enough space for two, where you and five others are squeezed in. The smell of sweat and urine wreaks havoc on your nose. Every time you try to move you touch the person next to you. You have no space to stretch. The air is heavy and hot from all the body heat. To make things worse you can’t leave the room for another twenty four hours. “How much longer can this last?” you think to yourself. Then you remember you still have six years left before your sentence is up. This is what many inmates go through on a day to day basis in almost every prison in the world; they feel the effects of prison overcrowding everyday! When the number of prisoners in a prison reaches over 100 percent capacity, it is known as overcrowding. This has become a major problem for prisons, many reaching up to 150 to 300 percent capacity. (Addressing Prison Overcrowding). Some people argue however, that these inhumane conditions are acceptable for prisoners. They believe that the inmates have done wrong and are being punished accordingly. This opposing side sees these conditions as fit for criminals, but are they really? Is it really reasonable for anyone to have to live in these conditions? Attorney Walt Sinclair from Boise Idaho makes a good point when he says, “It’s true my clients are in prison and not entitled to comforts, but we are not talking about comforts, we’re talking about minimum human decency.” (Judge Ponders, 1) When prisons are between 150 to 300 percent capacity no one can possibly have any privacy, one cannot feel safe in their environment. Sinclair also states that “Inmates get limited access to toilets and showers, get limited food and there are insufficient prison jobs to keep the inmates occupied with positive activities.” (Judge Ponders, 2). These inhumane conditions are not only a problem in the United States, but also in many countries; prisons in Thailand have reach 244 percent capacity, in Bulgaria they are at 197 percent capacity, and in Sri Lanka they are at 300 percent capacity. This problem of overcrowding causes more than just an uncomfortable night’s sleep for the inmates; they often get diseases, such as Tuberculosis, which can spread to non prisoners. (Addressing Prison Overcrowding). In Russia a recent out break of Tuberculosis was linked back to an overcrowded prison outbreak. The authorities estimated that between ten and twenty-five percent of the prisoners contracted the disease at first, and it spread to two million prisoners and non prisoner, thirty thousand of which are estimated to die this year from the disease. (Addressing Prison Overcrowding). Since there were too many people in the prison and the health care providers were not able to contain the outbreak. With the large number of prisoners there is also more violence that erupts between inmates and the outcome can often be deadly. In January 2002, a riot in one of Brazil’s prisons left about twenty seven inmates dead. This particular prison was meant to hold 360 people, but it was crammed with over 900 inmates, that’s 250 percent capacity! (Addressing Prison Overcrowding). Another prison riot in April 2000 in a Columbian prison broke out between rival factions within the prison; the riot left twenty five dead. This particular prison was holding 4,700 people, in a space meant for 1,900, that’s 247 percent capacity! (Addressing Prison Overcrowding). These out breaks occur when the prisons are understaffed, and therefore cannot control the large number of prisoners. Overcrowding makes it almost impossible for prison authorities to prevent or gain control of violent situations that arise. (Comer). Prison staff numbers are usually at the minimum of what the safety and health standards call for, simply because the prisons can not afford to hire any more than that. Instead of being able to pay for more staff members, the prisons have to dish out more food and clothes to the inmates. “Arguments have been made that if prison overcrowding is not properly managed, the security of prisons will be endangered, placing staff and inmates in unsafe, life threatening conditions, and jeopardizing public safety.” (Comer). Overcrowded prisons also “seriously undermine rehabilitation and reintegration programs.” (Addressing Prison Overcrowding). All of the extra space that was originally meant for classrooms, extra curricular activities, and treatment centers, are transformed into sleeping quarters. With no room for these important areas, the inmates end up leaving the prison with the same or worse tendencies toward violence, drug addictions, and educational deficiencies as they had when they entered. (Addressing Prison Overcrowd). One of the main purposes for a criminal to be sent to prison is to forget old habits and become a better person; with overcrowding this is not even a remote possibility. The inmates are forced to become closed off to protect themselves, and are so worried about surviving they do not focus on the rehabilitation and the reintegration aspect of prison. This causes the crime cycle to continue and the community as whole is damaged because of it. (Addressing Prison Overcrowding). Another major issue with overcrowded prisons is that the violent offenders are mixed with the nonviolent ones. People in jail for tax fraud are mixed with people in jail for rape and murder. Also, because of overcrowding “in cases of extreme brutality, the sentence served by criminals can be short. Since prison space in the city is tight, each offender can be accommodated only briefly.” (Comer). These light sentences that are granted to the criminals often results in repeat offenders. Overall prison overcrowding strains the prison’s medical services, maintenance, food services, and the outside community. (Judge Ponders, 2). Overcrowding affects the community when the inmates cannot serve their full term and cannot undergo proper rehabilitation or reintegration, and become repeat offenders. The prison staff is put in unsafe working conditions since they would not be able to contain a riot if one were to break out within the prison. The chances of disease increases dramatically because of the closeness the inmates are forced to live, and the unsanitary living conditions, in turn are unsafe for the community. Some thing must change to make a more humane environment for the inmates, whether it is a temporary solution such as building more prisons, or long term, such as rewriting the sentencing laws. The conditions in which the inmates are forced to live in are unacceptable for any person whether they are a criminal or not.

Works Cited

Comer, Dawn M. Prison Overcrowding. 15 August 2004. (Online) Available http://www. albion. edu/english/comer/prison. htm. 9 September 2005. "Judge Ponders Prison Overcrowding Lawsuit." The Associated Press State and Local Wire. 11 June 2005: 1, 2. (Online) Available http://www. lexisnexis. com 9 September 2005. Addressing Prison Overcrowding. Paris France: Addressing Comer, 2003.





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