As noted, on Wednesday the GAO issued a report concerning federal prison overcrowding and its impact. Yesterday, Michael McLaughlin at The Huffington Post posted a story about the report that offers additional insight into the nature and extent of the problem:
Wardens may see a spike in violence as more inmates are squeezed into tight living quarters, researchers warned. The overcrowding contributes “to increased inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff,” according to the report.
“If you start cramming more and more people into a confined space, you’re going to create more tensions and problems,” said the GAO’s Director of Homeland Security and Justice David Mauer (sic). “It creates the possibility that someone’s going to snap and have a violent incident.”[…]
“Some of this sounds small and trivial,” Mauer (sic) told The Huffington Post, “but it adds up.”
Crowded cells and the loss of privacy increase the odds that inmates will lash out, threatening the guards keeping watch.
“Once they get frustrated enough, we’re looking at another riot. And that’s what scares me,” said Dale Deshotel, president of the Council of Prison Locals, which represents about 32,000 federal prison employees.
So far this year, 14 federal prison workers have been assaulted with weapons and another 45 were assaulted by unarmed inmates, according to statistics compiled by the union.
As the prison population boomed, Deshotel said the government in 2005 reduced the average number of guards stationed in prison housing units. “There’s no way that they can monitor that many prisoners,” he said of the guard-to-inmate ratio.
The hazards of overcrowding could eventually ripple outside prison walls. Unless prison budgets grow, inmates will have less access to job training, education and drug treatment programs, which could increase the likelihood that they’ll commit crimes again after their release.
“People will get out of prison, but they’re not being helped to reenter society,” said Inimai Chettiar, a director at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, who has reviewed the report. “People are going to recidivate more when they get out of horrendous conditions without job training and development programs to get their lives back together.”
The rise in the population is attributed to a rise in national crime, tougher sentences for convicted felons, and a lack of parole in the federal system. With more criminals staying in the system for longer periods of time, available space in prisons has dried up, according to David Maurer, a GAO spokesman.
“The problem is going to be that these guys are going to be there for a long time and they’re not building any new prisons for anymore. That’s why crowding continues to become a problem,” Maurer said.