Prison Overcrowding

Prison Overcrowding

Prison overcrowding has become a serious problem in America. There is currently not enough space in prisons for all convicted criminals to fully serve their sentences. This leads to the early release of offenders who are not ready to successfully reenter the community. The emergency release of offenders out the back door, in an effort to free up space for those at the front door, threatens the public safety of communities. This is neither effective nor efficient policy.

See below for state-by-state prison overcrowding statistics

See below for state-by-state prison overcrowding statistics

The problem grew during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when state and local governments passed tough-on-crime legislation. For example, California passed the “three strikes and you’re out” law which called for mandatory sentencing of repeat offenders, and New York adopted the “Broken Windows” strategy that called for the arrest and prosecution of all crimes large and small. Policy such as this led to reduced crime rates, but increased populations in jails and prisons.

However, steps are being taken to reduce state and federal prison populations and keep our communities safe. The precedent was set in August of 2009 when California was federally-mandated to release over 40,000 prisoners in two years.  In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld rulings for the state to continue to implement programs that safely reduce the state’s prison population–an ongoing goal for the state. The next step is for policymakers to pre-empt such action by implementing effective policy that will alleviate the situation and keep local communities safe.

Cutting Crime and Budgets

Keeping dangerous criminals off the street is a core government responsibility. Due to tough economic times, cutting budgets is demanded of almost every legislator. Yet corrections is the second fastest growing budget item of state spending behind only Medicaid at more than $50 billion a year—and nearly one out of every 100 adults is now behind bars. To help state legislators respond to budget demands, while protecting public safety in their communities, ALEC has approved sound model policies to help control crime and budgets in your state.


Prison overcrowding is a problem affecting our states and the safety of our local communities. In our efforts at the American Legislative Exchange Council to provide a solution to both alleviate and eventually end this problem, we have created a clearinghouse of information on the issue, specific to each state, and available to all interested parties.

Click on your state below to view state-specific prison overcrowding statistics.

Additional Resources

Listen to the audio recording of the presentation given by Senator Alan Cropsey (MI), former Rep. Jerry Madden (TX), and Mr. Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship Ministries: Getting More Safety on Smaller State Budgets at ALEC’s 2009 Annual Meeting.

See also,

Alabama Prison Overcrowding