Change existing drug laws in the United States so that traffickers and dealers are punished as opposed to casual users. There is no evidence that imprisonment decreases addiction rates, and a large percentage of those in prison today are for non-violent drug offenses. We can adopt policies which readmit these people into society with the possibility of treatment as opposed to incarceration and save billions in the process.
Many states are simply giving early release to prisoners convicted of crimes of a more minor or non-violent nature. Certainly a monitored house arrest type of situation would help to eliminate prison over-crowding in addition to reducing prison operating costs. Halfway houses, with prisoners paying for their accomodations, would be another solution. Deportation upon release of non-U.S. citizens is also a practice used extensively in some states.
I think that we need to make some decisions about our sentencing laws and when we are imprisoning for punishment and when we are imprisoning for rehabilitation. If the goal is rehabilitation is prison really the answer? There should be counseling and work programs, as well as monitoring as sentencing for these (particularly non-violent) offenders. I don't truly believe that prison is rehabilitating anyone. IF we want to help and change the lives of offenders we have to offer them more than a jail cell. We have to put to work. We have to educate them. We have to show them another way to live
On the flip side, I also believe there are violent offenders who will never be rehabilitated. Thats who belongs in our prisons.
Why not consider helping people help themselves? One of the biggest reasons people are in prison is because they have gotten involved with the wrong people, were only trying to support their families, or make a quick buck to get out of a bad situation. Welfare and poverty are the quick track to prison. If our country did away with welfare and instead, put in place a work program involving community work, soup kitchens, community gardens, etc. to help people step up and feel proud of the work they are doing on a daily basis, there would be fewer people in prison. Instead of giving people food stamps and free money, give them well-being and worth. Allow them to work for what they get, and to help others with a hand up as well. Together, we will create a community that bonds and looks out for one another instead of the "what can you do for me today?" attitude.
I don't actually think that prisons as they exist now really work. This is a bit contraversial, I know, but there are a lot of thinkers out there who would argue the same. Therefore for me, one of the biggest ways we can change overcrowded prisons is to explore other ways of punishment and rehabilitation, and consider which of these two goals is actually going to be our main priority.
Because of the political pressure to get tough on crime, lots of politicians have helped to create tough sentencing laws and the result is massive over-crowding of prisons with people that shouldn't be there. So I think one of the quickest and best ways to reduce the insanity of the current over-crowding and terrible conditions in prisons would be to work at making sentencing laws make sense.
A crazy solution would be to actually try and base a prison system on trying to rehabilitate criminals rather than basically creating an entire population of institutionalized and recidivist men and women who will never be able to exist for long outside the prison system.
I think the best strategy is to move non-violent offenders to different situations. They may be monitored with ankle bracelets or in half-way houses. Those sentenced for drug possession or mental illness should get help. Our current system just throws everyone in one barrel. There are better ways to deal with some of these non-violent offenders.
To see a good discussion of a number of alternatives to prison, please follow the link below and look at the other essay titles on the right.
I would argue that drug treatment would be one strategy for dealing with crowded prisons that could actually work. There are many people in prison for simple possession of drugs (as opposed to dealing drugs). These people would surely benefit more from being treated for their addiction (I assume many are addicted) than from being in prison. At the same time, even a good drug treatment program is surely cheaper than keeping a person in prison.
Moreover, I think that this would have a chance to be politically feasible. People are very worried about government spending these days and less worried about non-violent drug crimes. If drug treatment programs could be proven to be cheaper and more effective than imprisonment for helping prevent offenders from committing more crimes or otherwise burdening the state, I think that people might be willing to support that as an alternative to prison.