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Reasons For Prison Population Increase

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2218 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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Prisons all over the world are experiencing an increase in population each day. This can be blamed on the increasing rate of crime especially non violent crimes. The recent advancement in technology has led to increased crimes especially since criminals do not need to leave their houses to commit a crime. The internet has become a widely used utility for cyber crimes that just require an internet connection, as well as hacking skills. Such criminals are encouraged to commit such crimes by the fact that they do not need to hurt anybody, or murder anybody to steal. Drug offenders comprise of the biggest percent of the prison population especially in the US.

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According to D’Amico (2013), the US houses the biggest population in its prisons compared to other nations. The growth in the population over the last 40 years can be attributed to the war on drugs. Drug prohibition leads to an increase in violent crimes through the formation of cartels and gangs. The impact of high population growth in prisons presents a rising incarceration budget in all countries. This paper will discuss the causes of population increase in prisons and outline measures that can be taken to incarceration.

Increases in expected time served

Increase in the time that offenders serve in prison is one of the major causes of population increase in prisons all over the world. Changes in the time served by drug offenders contribute to about of the total increase. Authorities have revised the prison terms to include longer time as an effort to deter other people from committing the crime (Carrabine, 2004, p.23). The loss of freedom, in addition to monetary fines that are imposed on offenders serve to discourage prisoners from committing the crime again. One of the ways of making this method effective is to increase the term for a specified crime. Such an increase has resulted into longer stays for prisoners thus leading to an increase in the population.

High conviction rates

Conviction rate refers to the number of convictions that a government or prosecutor makes compared to total number of cases that are filed. In a majority of nations, an arrest is usually followed by a court proceeding against the person arrested. Arrestees are aligned in court in order to determine whether or not the person should be convicted. The conviction rate thus represents the frequency of arrests that lead to conviction in relation to the total arrests during a specific time.

Conviction rates vary from one country to another or from one judicial system to the other. Some countries publish different conviction rates for drug offenses, kidnapping, traffic offenses and cyber crimes among others. Over time, conviction rates have increased in most nations. Increase in conviction rates occurs as a result of an increase in budgetary allocations to judicial systems. Sufficient budget allows for an increase in staff resulting in an increase in the number of cases presented to court for sentencing. This increases the number of successful convictions. As a result, the population of prisons increases. High conviction rate accounts for about a quarter of the total increase.

Higher rates of sentencing contribute to an increase in prison population. Sentencing rate refers to the rate at which arrested persons are sentenced by a court compared to the number aligned before the court. In most judicial systems, the proportion of offenders who received court imposed sentences has increased. The increase pertains to most offenses such as fraudulent property offenders, drug offenders and non regulatory property offenders.

Increase in law enforcement

An aggregate increase in law enforcement activities has also contributed to the expansion of prison populations. Enforcements trends vary across the various types of offenses, and the duration. Authorities all over the world have stepped up their enforcement activities in order to enforce law and order. This factor contributes to about 5 percent of the total increase. In countries such as the US, the heightened immigration authority has contributed heavily to the increase. Weapon offenses such as possession of a firearm illegally have also led to higher number of inmates. This is as a result of a higher investigation rate, as well as federal arrests.

High recidivism rate

Recidivism refers to the act of a person repeating a behavior that is undesirable or illegal after efforts to train the person on how to extinguish such a behavior, or after the person has experienced negative consequences as a result of that behavior. In criminology, the term refers to the re arresting of offenders after committing the same crime that got them in prison.

Criminal recidivism is related to psychopathy. The psychopathy refers to an uninhibited gratification mostly common in criminals, aggressive or sexual impulses, as well as the inability to learn from ones past mistakes. Studies have shown that individuals suffering from this disorder gain gratification from antisocial behaviors and often lack remorse for such actions.

Recidivism rate thus refers to the rate at which offenders who have gone through the prison correction system are arrested again for the same offense. The most common cases of recidivism involve cases related to drunk driving, drug offenses and cyber crimes among others (Haugen and Musser, 2009, p.120). Increasing rates of recidivism has contributed to the increase in prison populations.

Violating or unsuccessfully completing community supervision

One way of correcting offender is by imposing community service correction method. This method involves offenders reporting to a given community service task for a specified period of time. This method is intended to keep the offenders occupied, as well as deter them from committing the crime again. This method is lenient compared to prison sentences since the offender is not denied the freedom of movement. The offender can either serve a specified time in prison before serving the community, or serve the entire term serving the community depending on the age of the offender and the offense. However, serving community does not guarantee ones freedom since the offender is expected to attend to the duties at the specified time without failure.

In order to ensure that offenders perform the duties as directed, each offender is assigned a supervisor who ensures that the community service is done as directed. Any violations are reported to the court, and the consequences go as far as imprisonment. An increase in the rate of violations regarding to community service mainly results in imprisonment (McShane, 2008, p.86). This in turn results to an increase in the population of inmates.

Harsher penalties for certain types of offenses

In a bid to decrease the rate of certain offenses, judicial systems have opted to impose harsher sentences on offenders. Such crimes include drug offenses, immigration offenses and homicide among others. Offenders committing such crimes stay longer in prison as a measure to deter them from committing the same crime in future, as well as discourage others from committing the same crime. The longer stay in prison means that at any one time, the number of inmates will always be high.

The war on drugs has been intensified in most countries around the world. The police have received higher budgetary allocations in order to curd drug offenses among others. They have also increased their investigations on such issues, as well as the number of suspects arrested for the same. The judicial system has contributed to the war by imposing harsher sentences on offenders.

Convicted inmates serving a greater portion of their sentences in prison

Reforms in the criminal justice system have also contributed in a significant rise in the number of prisoners. This especially refers to the reforms that have resulted in prisoners serving a bigger portion of their sentence term in prison. Under such reforms, the offender spends more time in prison as a measure to deter them from committing the same offense again in the future. The time spent on community service is relatively small. As much as this has led to efficient correction systems, it has resulted in population increase leading to overcrowding in prisons.

Poor planning and inaccurate population projections

Inaccurate projection of inmates’ population has resulted in poor planning that has seen population in prisons increase. Lack of proper planning has resulted in overcrowding in prisons, one of the major impacts of population increase. Poor planning has also provided inaccurate data on community correction options. Policy makers have failed to make effective policies on community correction so as to distribute the number of offenders in both systems depending on the offense. This has caused a big proportion of offenders spending their entire term in prison, whereas they could be corrected by use of community correction methods.

Measures to reduce incarceration

Incarceration refers to the detention of an offender in prison as a punishment for a crime committed. Different judicial systems have different laws that govern the process of incarceration. Incarceration serves four significant purposes. First, it isolates criminals in order to deter them from committing more crimes. Secondly, it serves as a punishment for committing the offense. Thirdly, incarceration serves to deter other people or criminals from committing the same offense. Lastly, it rehabilitates the criminals into productive members of the society. Increase in incarceration impacts directly on population in prisons, which on the other hand has a direct effect on congestion.

Reduce laws governing nonviolent crimes

According to Treadwell (2006) the current treatment of non violent crimes has greatly increased incarceration in most countries. In some states such as California, the penalty for both minor and non violent offenses ranges from 5 years to life imprisonment (Clear and Cole, 1990). The result is a big percent of prisoners are minor offenders who can use community correction measures. These laws are extremely strict on minor offenders and lead to increasing number of inmates. The best way to handle such crimes is to devise effective community correction methods that do not involve imprisonment.

Employment policies

Studies have shown that more than half of the prison population consists of people earning below a dollar. Most countries especially the developing countries are characterized by high rates of unemployment. This in turn leads to increased crime as a way of sustaining oneself. Studies have shown that about 70 percent of offenders admit that they were unemployed at the time of the arrest (Guess and Farnham, 2000, p.117).

The contribution of high rates of unemployment can be addressed through effective policies on employment. The policies should aim at creating jobs for all citizens in a country, as well as providing incentives for self employment opportunities. This will reduce the rate of unemployment buy providing jobs to would be offenders. This in turn will reduce incarceration.

Eliminate profit making prison companies

In some nations, US for instance, the criminal justice systems use the services of privately managed prisons, in addition to the government managed prisons. Such companies rely on high incarceration rates for higher profits. The demand of such private facilities is caused by among others, high crime rate, relaxation of law enforcement efforts. All these factors are beyond the control of the private prison facilities. Reducing the demand of these facilities can reduce the rate of incarceration (Petrella, 2013). This can be achieved through a change of sentencing patterns to reduce the number of prison inmates through alternative correction methods.

Prison education programs

Research has shown that effective prison education programs can reduce the rate of recidivism. In the previous section, recidivism has been identified as a cause of population increase in prisons. An effective education program can reduce the rate at which offenders are re arrested for the same crime. Such an educational program equips inmates with skills that can be applied after they are released from prison (Jacobson, 2005, p.76). This will be effective in reducing recidivism in prisons, and thus reduce incarceration.


Most countries have been experiencing an increase in the population of inmates mostly due to the nature of their criminal justice systems, increase in conviction rates, an increase in recidivism and increase in law enforcement activities. This has resulted in overcrowding and a strain of facilities and budgetary allocations for the prison departments. Curbing the increasing incarceration can reduce the population burden in many prisons. This can be achieved by implementing effective prison education programs, reducing sentence for minor offenders and enforcing effective employment policies in order to increase employment opportunities.


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