Examining Crime Rates In The Correctional System Criminology Essay

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The first component of the United States correctional system that this paper has chose to discuss is the problem caused by overcrowded prisons. This is an important topic because overcrowded facilities are a huge problem in America and are very detrimental to society. Prisoners who have been convicted of murder, but have shown good behavior while in prison, are being released with not even serving half of their sentence. The parole board is releasing these prisoners because space is needed for other prisoners coming in. What if, that prisoner that was released early because of overcrowded prisons had killed a member of your family and might now go kill someone else? Wouldn't that make you a little upset with our system? (Adams, 1994, 136)

There are many reasons why prisons in the United States are so overcrowded. To understand over crowdedness one must first understand how expensive it is to build and maintain these correctional facilities. In 1993 the average cost to keep just one inmate incarcerated for a year was over $14,000. (Barclay, 1990, 54)

State courts convicted 872,217 felons during 1995 and one-third of the convictions were for drug offenses. 26% of all convicted felons were sentenced to local jails, usually for less than a year, and 45% were sentenced to state prisons. The remaining 29% were sentenced to probation with no jail or prison time to serve. (Kensey, 1997, 321)

Felons sentenced to state prison in 1994 were sentenced to an average of about six years but were most likely to serve just two of those six years, under the current release policies. There are many reasons why prisons became so overcrowded between 1985 and 1998. These factors include a 12.3 average annual increase in the number of Hispanic inmates, a 91% rise in admissions, a decline in the annual release rates, and a sharp rise in violent offenders among white inmates therefore keeping them in prisons longer. A lot of the increases were due to drug convictions. From 1985 to 1992 there was a 33% increase in the number of blacks sent to state prisons for violent offenses compared to a 27% increase in the number of whites. A similar increase in both incarcerated blacks and whites occurred for property crimes. However, for drug crimes, 94% more blacks were sent to prison from 1988 to 1992, while only 35% more whites were incarcerated. (Kenya Human Rights Commission, 1996, 34)

Felons were sentenced to an average sentence of 71 months in state prisons in 1994 but actually served about 38 % of that sentence. The danger in releasing inmates to make more room for new admissions is that some prisoners are violent offenders and should not be let out yet. (King, 1994, 90)

Another way to deal with overcrowded conditions is for the government to save money by allowing private businesses to perform some government functions (privatization). This policy has largely affected the corrections system, especially as state and federal government face an increasing number of prisoners and , as a result, a growing need to build more prisons. People that are for the privatization of prisons believe that private firms would both improve the quality of services and reduce the costs. A National Institute of Corrections survey in the mid 1980's found that more than 30 types of services were provided by the private sector. The services most frequently supplied by private enterprise are health services, community treatment centers, facility constructions, educational programs, drug treatment, staff training and counseling. (Adams, 1994, 136)

There is a major question whether prison actually helps these drug users. They can usually find drugs in prison and if not they obtain drugs when they get out. It would be better if drug users were put into mandatory treatment programs on top of doing community services. This would help the situation of prison overcrowding while at the same time help those people who are involved in these treatment programs. There is a major problem when drug addicted people are put into prison and cannot get help they help. Prisoners sentenced for drug offenses made up the single largest group of federal inmates, 60%. This is a problem and inmates who are convicted of drug offenses should be made to participate in these programs. Most of these drug treatment programs at federal institutions have been ineffective and poorly run. (Barclay, 1990, 54)

The third major issue deals with the problem of drug trafficking in prisons. It is a major problem when inmates can easily obtain drugs in prison. Many inmates, who are constantly in and out of prison, see prison as a vacation from the rough streets. This is because prisoners get three meals a day, free room and board, and are able to purchase drugs. Prisons should be drug free and inmates should not be able to get high. It is hard to regulate drugs in prisons because in order to do so you would have to search everyone going in, keep all packages out, and lock inmates in their cells for 24 hours a day. With more and more inmates in prison for possessing and dealing drugs there is already a market and it is hard to keep drugs out. There are also too many corrections officers that go to work every day and do all the drug pushing, making it hard to find the dealers. (Kensey, 1997, 321)