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Crime File: Prison Crowding

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This video cassette, number 6 in the Crime File series, provides an overview of the problem of prison overcrowding and considers various strategies for addressing it; three panelists discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various remedial strategies.
In presenting background material, the moderator notes that crime rates are down while prison population rates have soared to 1.5 inmates per 1,000 persons in the general population. Maryland is cited as an example of futile efforts to deal with the problem through new prison construction, as a new prison in Jessup houses twice the number of its design capacity. Panelist Al Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University explains prison overcrowding as the result of population demographics and the public's demand for tougher punishment of criminals. Panelist Thomas Reppetto of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York argues for prison expansion as a principle means of dealing with the growing number of violent and career criminals. He believes the dropping crime rate is a reflection of the increased use of imprisonment. Panelist Mark Corrigan, Director of the National Institute for Sentencing Alternatives, views prison expansion as only one aspect of a strategy to deal with prison overcrowding. Early release, shorter sentences, and the use of community-based alternatives to prison are mentioned as other aspects of a strategy to reduce prison overcrowding. He cites the importance of research that can develop a risk assessment instrument that will aid in the selection of low-risk offenders for community-based punishment. Blumstein is hopeful that research can produce such an instrument but advises that public safety can never be guaranteed when offenders are supervised in the community. Reppetto comments that nonviolence in itself should not be a major criterion for determining who should be supervised in the community, since nonviolent drug dealers, burglars, and white-collar offenders pose significant threats to the community.

Date Published: January 1, 1985