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Prison Crowding Causing Health Concerns in CT

Earlier this month, The New York Times published “Prison Nation,” an article detailing the record high prison populations in the United States and significant amounts of funding spent nationwide on correctional facilities. Since then, two inmates in a Connecticut prison have filed a lawsuit alleging that insufficient access to bathroom facilities has left them with bladder problems.

The problem of overcrowded prisons in the United States is serious and widespread, but so politically charged that many states are facing simultaneous suggestions of opposing reform measures.

As the Times summarized, more than one in 100 Americans are in prisons, including one in nine black men ages 20-34 and one in 36 Hispanic men. About 1.6 million Americans are behind bars, giving the U.S. a higher incarceration rate than any other country with reliable figures, according to the Times.

In 2007, the states spent a reported $44 billion on corrections – an increase of $11 billion from 20 years ago. And sources indicate that five states spent the same amount or more on corrections than on higher education.

Some states, it seems, are beginning to address this issue by distinguishing between violent criminals/repeat offenders and nonviolent offenders, offering alternatives to jail time to the latter group. In New York, as Total Criminal Defense recently reported, such measures have led to a decrease in crime rates as well as lowered prison populations.

And the recent Connecticut lawsuit suggests that change is needed.

According to the Hartford Courant, the Cheshire Correctional Facility is so crowded that inmates are forced to stay in the recreation room – a space designed for leisure activities like reading and television viewing, not sleeping.

Sources report that inmates staying in the recreation room were given inadequate access to toilets, and had no choice but to relieve themselves in plastic bags. Ezekiel Scott and Raymond Hayles, two convicts who brought a civil suit against the prison, allegedly suffer bladder problems because of the restrictions on bathroom use.

Despite these conditions, prison reform can be a difficult measure to pass.

For one thing, building and operating prisons has apparently become a major industry in the United States. Decreasing the number of prisoners – and even the number of prisons – would mean financial losses for those involved in the industry.

For another, many Americans evidently equate decreased crime rates in the past ten years with increased rates of incarceration. Many states implemented “get tough” criminal policies in the 1970s, which often meant longer sentences and stricter punishments for certain crimes (like drug crimes).

But, as the Times reports, the relationship between prison populations and crime rates is muddled at best.

And a third factor plays into this already complex issue. High-profile crimes like the Cheshire slayings last summer, in which two paroled convicts murdered a mother and two daughters in their home, garner attention for stricter sentencing laws.

The father/husband who survived the Cheshire incident has actively supported proposed three-strikes laws in Connecticut, which would require life sentences for those convicted of a third felony. Obviously, such measures would further strain already thinly-spread corrections resources.

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