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The Effects of Overcrowding in Prison

Gerald G. Gaes
Crime and Justice
Vol. 6 (1985), pp. 95-146
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1147497
Page Count: 52
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The Effects of Overcrowding in Prison
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Abstract

Prison crowding is often identified as the cause of inmate ill health and misconduct and of postrelease recidivism. Crowding can be measured objectively in several ways: in terms of floor space per prisoner, prisoners per living unit, and institutional population relative to stated capacity. Whether an inmate perceives conditions as crowded depends on objective crowding conditions and on the relative differences in crowding within a prison's housing accommodations. Research on prison crowding has not, however, convincingly demonstrated many adverse effects of crowding. The major findings on which most researchers agree are (1) that prisoners housed in large, open bay dormitories are more likely to visit clinics and to have high blood pressure than are prisoners in other housing arrangements (single-bunked cells, double-bunked cells, small dormitories, large partitioned dormitories); (2) that prisons that contain dormitories have somewhat higher assault rates than do other prisons; and (3) that prisons housing significantly more inmates than a design capacity based on sixty square feet per inmate are likely to have high assault rates. The relationship of crowding to the distribution and availability of prison resources has not been investigated. Crowding may act as an intensifier of stressful conditions that have been precipitated by other causes. Under extreme conditions, crowding can itself induce stress reactions. The limited number of research findings that can be asserted with confidence is the product of inherent difficulties confronting efforts to conduct well-controlled research studies in prison.

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