Jail bloating is a common condition that is often missed by county commissioners faced with what to do about jails that are bulging at the seams. Building more jail capacity is very costly and should only be undertaken after less costly options have been explored. The options raised in this article are sometimes not explored and, if they are, they may be undertaken halfheartedly with an “Itoldyouit–wouldn’twork” attitude. However, the success of those who earnestly explore the options has been impressive. Because resistance may be encountered when someone asks if bloating is the cause of local jail overcrowding, this article provides more documentary evidence,
i.e., references to articles and studies, than is typical of a nontechnical article. The purpose is not to impress the reader with the author’s scholarship, but to show that the ideas and recommendations are shared by some of the best minds and forwardthinking leaders of local criminal justice systems. The purpose of this article is to define jail bloating, explain what produces jail bloating, provide indicators that will help diagnose its existence, and offer a variety of strategies for remedying jail bloating. Also, “before” and “after” examples from several criminal justice systems are provided to illustrate that bloating can be successfully reduced. Research has indicated that overcrowding has three types of effects on the daily prison environment. First, there is less of everything to go around, so the same space and resources are made to stretch even further. The opportunities for inmates to participate in selfimprovement and rehabilitative programs, such as academic, employment and vocational training are curtailed.
The lack of work or work opportunities leads to inmate idleness, often reinforcing the maxim that idleness breeds discontent and disruptive behavior.
In addition, lack of resources can apply to anything an inmate might need to use, such as washroom availability, library books, television lounge seating and recreational materials. The unavailability of resources can have twofold consequences. One is the frustration or unpleasantness of being limited or denied a resource, and the other is the fact that competition and conflict over limited resources often lead to aggression and violence. Crowding creates stress and this, in conjunction with other factors in a prison setting, can heighten the adverse effects of crowding. National Center for State Courts (NCSC), which provides through its Institute for Court
Management (ICM) a variety of educational seminars, such as caseflow management. The
American Bar Association (ABA) has established standards for the speed of case processing.
Following that lead, about two thirds of the states and the District of Columbia instituted time
standards.5 The Bureau of Justice Assistance and the NCSC also has supported research on reducing delay. On the nonattorney side of criminal justice operations, the National Institute of
Corrections (NIC) provides publications on how to reduce jail populations. In addition, a number of criminal justice consultants specialize in criminal justice system studies and technical assistance. Thus, the resources exist to assist in reducing jail bloating caused by inefficiencies within the local criminal justice system. The challenge facing the county commission is that of identifying inefficiencies, breaking the wall of local noncommunication, reluctance to talk about inefficient practices, and bringing together the resources and key criminal justice decisionmakers so that change can be pursued. California’s 13yearold threestrikes law, which doubles sentences for secondtime felons, and reserves life sentences for even nonviolent thirdfelony offenders like Mr. Foroutan, has also increased the