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Prison Standards - Some Pertinent Data on Crowding

NCJ Number
V Cox, G McCain, P Paulus
Date Published
January 1981
7 pages
This article describes the results of past research on the effects of crowding in prisons in the hope that these data will have a positive impact on decisionmaking directed toward reduction in prison crowding.
Archival data from correctional institutions were reviewed, and onsite visits were conducted at over 40 institutions. The study focused on social and spatial density in the institutions, changes in prison populations without changes in facilities, the effects of institution size, and social disorganization. Findings indicate that both the amount of space and the number of residents must be considered in assessing the suitability of prison housing since negative reactions increase both as space is reduced and as the number of inmates in the housing unit increases. Moreover, double cells produce more negative psychological reactions than single cells. Also, double-decked bunks in these cells produce negative effects, which may be ameliorated by allowing choice of roommates. Although open dorms represent the least desirable housing quarters, they can be made more suitable by allowing single bunking, by making them spacious, and by segmenting the dormitories into small bays. Dividing open dorms into small cubicles is particularly effective in reducing some of the negative effects of open dorms. Data also indicate that substantial variation in total institutional population can have dramatic effects on health-related behavior. The larger an institution is in terms of total population the higher the death, suicide, and psychiatric commitment rates. Increases in population without parallel increases in facilities have the same type of effects. Thus far, the optimum amount of space required in inmates' living quarters has been difficult to determine. A design for an ideal prison would be one that is relatively small (less than 1,000 and preferably 500) and would consist of single rooms or cubicles. Graphs, nine references, and a table are provided. (Author summary modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1981