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Prison Overcrowding Crisis Continues, Says New Report

Forty states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are under court order to reduce prison overcrowding and/or to remedy unconstitutional conditions, according to a new Status Report released Feb. 27 by the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In each case, conditions of confinement and /overcrowding in the facilities were found to violate the ban against cruel and unusual punishment of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In addition, the report shows an increase in the number of pending cases. At the time of the last Status Report in January 1990, litigation was pending in nine states. Since then, major statewide litigation has been filed against the Pennsylvania and Arizona Departments of Corrections and numerous suits have been filed against individual facilities in states where court orders are already in affect, bringing the number to 11.

Overcrowding lies at the root of most of these lawsuits as the nation's prison population swells by 1,160 inmates per week. The Pennsylvania system, for instance, currently houses 22,787 inmates in facilities designed for 15,516, rendering services such as medical care inadequate and contributing to a rise in the number on violent assaults.

According to Alvin J. Bronstein, director of the ACLU Prison Project, "This country continues to warehouse more and more women and men in unconstitutional prisons without any impact on the serious crime problems in our society. After treating these people worse than animals in the zoo, we wonder why they come out of prison more angry and more dangerous than when they went in."

The Status Report shows a slight decrease, from 43 to 40, in the number of jurisdictions under court order since 1990. The report shows that only five states - Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota and Vermont - are not currently involved in major prison conditions litigation.

Source: Corrections Digest

[Editor's Note : The report is available for $5 from the National Prison Project, 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20009.]

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