Reducing Prison Overcrowding through Alternative Sanctions

A major issue in the current US prison system is overcrowding and excessive costs. Ever since the national war on drugs in the early 1970s, the number of inmates in the prison system has grown tremendously. Because of this overcrowding, the US spends upwards of $74 billion a year on prisons.

This shows the average cost of incarcerating a prisoner for each state.
This shows the average cost of incarcerating a prisoner for each state.

A solution to this issue is to implement methods of punishment other than incarceration. Prisons are necessary for violent, “career” criminals because treatment would not necessarily be effective and they would keep free citizens in society safe. However, using alternatives to incarceration for low level and first time offenders would drastically decrease the costs of prisons. Alternative sanctions such as drug courts, mental health courts, domestic violence courts, community service, fines, probation, and parole can be cost effective and have been proven to lower recidivism rates (reverting to criminal behavior after receiving sanctions from previous crime). Alternative sanctions can be more effective because they focus on ending criminal behavior. On the other hand, prisons serve as severe punishment for a crime but do little to prevent the convicted criminal from committing another offense in the future.

Although, research has shown that alternative sanctions are effective in reducing recidivism rates, states should not blindly implement all of them. Instead, they should base their decisions on their prison populations, if they have people with the right training who could run these alternative programs, if they can be afforded, and if other criminal justice partners would accept them. A balance between prisons and alternative sanctions is ideal for reducing the costs, reducing recidivism rates, and keeping citizens safe.


2 thoughts on “Reducing Prison Overcrowding through Alternative Sanctions”

  1. This topic is interesting to me because it can be related back to my topic. Both of our topics deal with prisoners and the economics of prisons. As the number of prisoners increased during the seventies, it is possible that this was one of the factors that lead to the creation of private prisons. The people at the CCA saw the need for more room and thought they could make a profit out of it. Also, the intent of these private institutions is to make a profit, so this may have lead to an encouragement of more arrests for lesser crimes. I think that some of the solutions to your topic could be implemented with the reduction of private prisons.


  2. Thanks for the comment! I agree with you that private prisons increase the chance of low-level criminals being sentenced to jail. There is definitely an incentive to put more people in jail when an opportunity for profit is present.
    The criminal justice system should fairly try accused people and either acquit or administer necessary punishment to them. Economics has nothing to do with this process. Adding an economic factor such as privatizing prisons takes away many rights that should be given to defendants and prisoners. Making prisons private creates an incentive to put more people in prison in order to make profit. This violates the fundamental rights of accused people because it denies them fair treatment and justice in court.
    Hopefully states will agree to implement alternative sanctions that effectively reduce prison populations. This would take away the need for private prisons and thus improve conditions within prisons.


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