The Problems behind California’s Prison Overcrowding


By: Ashley Hurtado •

Together we will explore overcrowding of the American prison system. We will also understand how the Three Strikes and Marijuana laws contribute to this problem. Many of us are aware that our prison system is facing a population crisis, but we don’t understand why. There are many reasons why the prison system is overcrowded. However, one law that is significantly responsible for the crisis in California is the Three Strikes Law. According to a legislative analyst’s office, under this law: “If a person has two or more previous serious or violent felony convictions, the sentence for any new felony conviction (not just a serious or violent felony) are life imprisonment with the minimum term being 25 years.” When this law was first passed in 1994, many people believed that its harshness would reduce violent crimes. Yet, many citizens and lawmakers failed to see that keeping people in prison for longer periods would inevitably lead to a crisis.

They failed to see that more inmates meant more money would have to be spent on the prison system. Money that many agree could have gone to better uses, such as education and health. Today we are aware that we are unable to financially support the ever-growing inmate population. We have crowded prisons because we decided to adopt the Three Strikes Law. By doing so, we closed the door to rehabilitation and open the door to an unsustainable population.  If this law actually worked, our prisons would not be overcrowded, they in fact would be emptier than before the law was enacted.

Marijuana laws also affect our prison system.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “nearly 45,000 state and federal prisoners are behind bars for having committed some type of cannabis-related offense. This means that U.S. taxpayers are currently spending over $1 billion annually to incarcerate Americans for pot.” 1 billion dollars! 1 billion dollars could mean better education, especially in this current economic crisis.  In addition, Marijuana offenders are non-violent offenders, yet they share prison cells with violent offenders including abusers and murderers.

Many believe that incarcerating marijuana users is detrimental to society.  They believe that while in prison many non-violent offenders learn dangerous behaviors from violent offenders. This translates to more violence not only in the prisons, but also in the communities once they are released.  Therefore, I invite you to reconsider your position in regards to the legalization of marijuana. Inform yourself about the benefits and disadvantages of the substance. Keep in mind that our current prison system does not rehabilitate inmates. The Three Strikes Law and the criminalizing of marijuana have lead to the overcrowding of our prison system. The only way to eliminate overcrowding is to remove the Three Strikes Law and to change marijuana laws. Get involved and vote for laws that reduce the overcrowding of prisons and that benefit our community.


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