Prison Overcrowding Issue in California


A number of states faced the overcrowding problem in their prisons nowadays. Many prison facilities are too old to cope with the increase of institution inmates and changing justice system. The renovation of prisons would certainly resolve the problem; however, it needs financing from the state budgets and it is a substantial expense for the government. Budgeting issue is a topical question and it is needed to be solved as soon as possible.

The article found in The Economist informs that state prisons in California deal with more inmates than they can normally control. The author states that the whole United States prison system is not perfect and it needs different improvements. A while back California politicians have passed laws, according to which third-time offenders are almost immediately sent to jail even for such minor crimes as shoplifting (The Economist, 2013). Such legal implementation was one of the reasons for prison overcrowding issue. Also the author tells about the realignment in American incarceration policy, the consequences of its application in California, and additional ways to cope with the prison overcrowding issue in California. The article is timely and valuable because it details current and significant issue of prison overcrowding in California, relating it to budgeting issue for criminal justice administration.


This very article deals with only one way to solve the prison overcrowding issue in California, which is incarceration policy experiment: the state sends low-level offender to county jails instead of sending them into the one of 33 California state prisons. This improvement, like any other, has its own merits and demerits. For example, this policy of “realignment” has decreased population in state prisons by around 25,000, but still it is not enough. Furthermore, the author concludes that realignment policy must continue, it should use different alternatives to imprisonment, expand parole and probation, slightly soften the state’s three-strikes law, and keep decreasing the number of imprisoned citizens. The governor of California, Jerry Brown, tried to cut the number of prisoners by slowing the return of out-of-state inmates, adding capacity and speeding the release of elderly inmates (The Economist, 2013). All these efforts will likely positively influence on overcrowding prison crisis in California and resolve this issue in the near future.

Numerous state prisons faced overcrowding crises, which were caused by different converging factors. Such factors are too expensive and problematic new prisons development; obligatory sentencing laws, which force judges sending people to prison for a long time; the increasing number of drug offenders sent to prison (Smith, 2012). According to Pollock (2005), there are only two main types of offenders responsible for the majority of sentences to prisons such as drug offenders and recidivists (Pollock, 2005). Therefore, to resolve the prison overcrowding issue, one should start exactly from reforming the obligatory imprisonment for such crimes, for example, decriminalizing some drug possession crimes.

The reason why California’s prisons are so expensive is that the guards are overpaid and get a defined benefit pension of over 90% of their salaries with a retirement age below 60 (Malanga, 2013). Private prisons like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) do not have these issues, so California should incarcerate their overflow population in private prisons. Sadly, California’s legislature has a Democratic super-majority and the CA Democratic Party will not betray their Prison Guard Union friends.

Prisons capacity is highly restrictive and if you will exceed it too much it will cause some serious issues such as disease spread, increased risk of violence between inmates and guards, releasing potentially dangerous offenders into society, which had reduction in sentence given. Such problem will negatively affect the prisoners, their relatives, and the society in general.


It is clear that the current prison system in California is not efficient for its stated objective. Even if it was, the number of criminals would decrease. And since it is not working, it is obviously time to make reassessment of its function and search ways to alter the California prison system to serve the public more effectively (Smith, 2012). California, as an American leader in many things, is very valuable for the US, so such budgeting issue as prison overcrowding is of paramount importance in an area of criminal justice administration and it must be solved as soon as possible.

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