Are We Inmates or Sardines?

By Sean Shively

The suspense in the courtroom is thick enough to cut with a knife. I am waiting for the jury to come back into the courtroom with their decision on my case. A door opens and the twelve jurors start filing towards their seats. My stomach starts to cramp and I feel nauseous. The jury takes their seats and a deathly silence permeates the courtroom. The absence of sound is so deafening that when the judge's gavel hits his desk, the reverberation causes my heart to palpitate.

The judge turns to look at the head juror and asks, "Has the jury reached a verdict?" The head juror responds, "Yes, Your Honor, we have." The judge then asks, "What is the verdict?" The head juror states, "We find that the defendant is guilty on all counts." The judge turns his head and looks into my eyes. I feel sweat starting to bead on my forehead as the judge states, "You have been found guilty of Forgery, a class C felony." He then asks me, "Are you ready to be sentenced at this time?" I respond, "Yes, Your Honor." He looks down at his papers for a moment then he looks back up at me and states, "I sentence you to six years in the Department of Corrections."

At this time, I realize that I have lost everything in my life. By the time I get released from prison, my fiancee will most likely be with someone else and my newborn child will not even know me. My chin drops until it touches my sternum. I feel tears start to roll down my face.

Six months later, I arrive at the prison. As I proceed through the intake process, I hear the guards talking about the prison being overcrowded. I walk into the clothing room to receive my prison issued khakis and my bedding. The guard looks at me and says, "Due to the overcrowding, you will only be receiving two pair of pants and two shirts." Then he states, "We do not have any blankets available, so do not ask for one!" I turn to the inmate beside me and I say, "Do they realize that it is the middle of February?" I cannot believe that we are not going to be issued blankets.

The first night in prison is very cold. As I lie shivering, I realize that our society has a big issue that needs to be addressed. The problem of overcrowding in our prisons needs to be scrutinized very carefully and a solution must be found.

The problem of overcrowding in prison started back in the 1980's when President Reagan initiated the "zero tolerance" philosophy for the sentencing of drug offenders. These strict guidelines in sentencing would quickly cause our prisons to become overcrowded. Our prisons soon began to fill up with drug cases.

Due to the stiff penalties that our courts started imposing for driving offenses such as driving under the influence and driving while suspended, the problem of overcrowding continued to escalate into the problem we are facing today.

The overcrowding of prisons is affecting the Department of Corrections because they have to hire enough staff to control the prisoners. The more inmates sent to prison, the more guards it will take to do the job. Overcrowding also affects the taxpayers. The more inmates sent to prison, the more money taxpayers will have to pay.

The inmates are also affected by the overcrowding. They are not being issued the amount of clothing and bedding that they need to stay warm. These inmates are having trouble getting into "time cut" programs because of the long waiting lists for these types of programs.

The overcrowding in prisons is a direct result of our judicial system enforcing these strict sentencing guidelines. Our society is putting people in prison for non-violent offenses. Judges are imposing lengthy sentences for drug cases and driving offenses. The inmates are being warehoused instead of rehabilitated. The issue of overcrowding is not being addressed because the mentality of the judicial system is to "lock them up, and throw away the key", rather than try to rehabilitate and educate these offenders. Statistics have shown that rehabilitation and education are crucial in decreasing the recidivism rate among these felons.

We have tried warehousing inmates as an approach to dealing with crime and this has caused our prisons to become overcrowded. If we do not solve this issue of overcrowding, then we will be forced to build more prisons. This will result in more money that taxpayers will have to pay.

Also, overcrowding will eventually cause inmates in prisons to riot because they are being denied items that should be issued to them. The problem of prison overcrowding is an ongoing issue that demands a solution.

The first step to solve the problem is to propose a bill in Congress that will change our strict sentencing guidelines. A law needs to be passed that will set the sentencing guidelines to a new standard. This new standard will only allow our courts to send violent offenders to prison. If an offender is charged with a non-violent offense, then he or she will be sent to an alternative sentencing program, rather than going to prison.

The next step is to start building more facilities for the non-violent offenders. Once we build enough facilities, we transport all the non-violent offenders that are in our prisons to these facilities or programs. These alternative sentencing programs would include work release, probation, daily reporting, and home detention.

This will solve the problem of overcrowding in our prisons because the prisons will only contain violent offenders. It will cost a lot of money and take a few years to pass this law, build these facilities, and to move these inmates, but the overcrowding issue will be solved.

The benefits of the proposed solution far outweigh any costs. It will take a lot of money to build these facilities and also to transport these felons to the facilities, but taxpayers will save money in the long run due to the decreased population of the prisons.

The most important payoff of my solution is these non-violent offenders will be paying money to participate in these alternative sentencing programs. The money will be automatically deducted from the offender's paycheck and given to the alternative sentencing program in which the non-violent offender is participating. Instead of taxpayers paying money to warehouse these offenders, these felons will be giving money back to society.

Another approach that is currently being used in attempting to solve the overcrowding issue is to introduce more time cut programs into the prisons, but this solution is not working. These time cut programs are costing our taxpayers a lot of money to run and the waiting lists are way too long for the offenders to get into these programs.

My approach is clearly the most beneficial and efficient for solving the problem of overcrowding in prisons.

As you can see, we have a big problem in our society that needs a solution. Our prisons are overcrowded and the inmates are being denied basic necessities such as clothing, health care, bedding, hygiene, etc. These shortages are a direct result of the overcrowding issue we are facing. Taxpayers are paying a fortune to warehouse these prisoners. A law needs to be passed that will send only violent offenders to prison and non-violent offenders to alternative sentencing facilities and programs.

The non-violent offenders will be giving money back to society, rather than taxpayers paying to warehouse them. My solution is not an overnight remedy, but it will solve the overcrowding problem within a few years. My solution is the most cost effective and practical solution available to us. From the inside looking out, I truly believe that my proposal is a solution to the overcrowding in prisons.

AUTHOR Sean Shively was a commercial framer in the Indianapolis metropolitan area. He received several college certificates from Purdue University while in prison. Presently, he is incarcerated in the Department of Corrections and works as a prisoner tutor.