Last Updated 07 Dec 2022

A Little Wiggle Room

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Today we will be looking at two articles written by University of California Psychology Director Craig Haney.  He specializes in the assessment of institutional environments especially the psychological effects of incarceration.

He has written several scholarly articles and is involved in many research projects mostly specializing in the effect of incarceration and overcrowding, making headway into the understanding of the effect an overtaxed system has on an individual.

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He looks at issues such as recidivism, prison violence, mental and emotional disorders and the long term effect of solitary or supermax facilities when inflicted on lower security inmates due to overpopulation.

In these two articles entitled “The Wages of Prison Overcrowding” and “Prison Overcrowding: Harmful Consequences and Dysfunctional Reactions” I believe Haney tries to not only explain the great toll that overcrowding has on an individual as well as the taxpayer, but offers solutions to ease out of the current trend spending more tax dollars converting facilities into sleeping quarters.

“There is a clear association between the restriction of living space and the occurrence of disciplinary violations.” (Haney 2)  Haney goes on to point out the fact that when a prison is filled beyond its capacity, there is less of everything to go around, causing hoarding, violence and tension between prisoners.

Prisoners are forced to do without basic necessities such as showers and toilets being forced to wait for availability increasing tension inside the facility.

Guards are left unable to control the already agitated population caused when people who may already be lacking social skills necessary to function in everyday life are forced to live in close quarters with others.  The current solution most prisons call for is more staff, better armaments for the staff, and better punitive measures with which to control the inmates, making the prison more painful and harmful to the inmates.

Areas normally reserved for recreational facilities make way for bed space with basic security contributing to inmate idleness and inactivity further worsening the problem.

The prisoners are left with less to do and less outlets for releasing tension, the rates of prisoner animosity towards each other rises, as well as towards the guard’s.

Facilities generally used to rehabilitate prisoners, such as education and prison work facilities are transformed into bed space, leaving prisoners with unfilled needs, adding to the problem of recidivism.

He has shown that a majority of prisoners read at or below a third grade level calling them “marginally literate” (Haney 5) and points out they leave prison in very much the same condition.

Unprepared and therefore unable to function as normal productive citizens with a lack of education and basic job skills, they return to their old ways and end up back inside the system in much the same condition they left prison in.

 In his articles Haney attempts to inform not just his fellow scholars, but also the individual states and penal systems on the effects they are having on the people theYincarcerate.

How being pushed through a system too overworked to notice a prisoner with special needs such as mental of emotional disabilities can have a serious effect on the people they are forced to live in close quarters with.  This eventually leads to a breakdown of the prisoner moral, leading to dissention, and prison violence.

These articles are a great starting point for any discussion into prison life, recidivism, prison overcrowding or assessments on how tax dollars should be spent.  I share the author’s belief that if nothing is done and eventual breakdown of the prison system is inevitable.

He points out that the current solution, bringing in more weapons and more brutal tactics by guards can have an even worse effect on the individual prisoner, causing low risk inmates into recidivism.  Tactics that enforce order and control over inmates rather than improving living conditions often worsen violence inside prison walls.

Rather than deal with the issues that caused the potential violence in the first place they fight fire with fire.   While (overcrowding) “is not the only cause of the sometimes dangerous conditions and potential for abuse that exists in many of our nation’s prisons, it is a central and critical issue that must be effectively addressed if these other problems are to be solved.” (Haney 12)


Haney, Craig. “Prison Overcrowding: Harmful Consequences and Dysfunctional

     Reactions.” 2 Nov 2008. Commission of Safety and Abuse in

Americas Prisons. 3 Feb. 2009 < craig.pdf>

Haney, Craig. “The Wages of Prison Overcrowding: Harmful Psychological

     Consequences and Dysfunctional Correctional Reactions.” 5

     Dec. 2008. Washington University Law School. 3 Feb. 2009.

     < p265Haney.pdf>

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