Prison overcrowding may pose safety risks

20 years after the riot at the Lucasville prison, issues that are said to have helped cause that incident, like overcrowding, still remain problems.

The Supreme Court has ruled that if a prison system is no more than 137% overcrowded, then it is not a constitutional violation of the 8th Amendment.

That's 370 more inmates per thousand than any given facility was built to hold. And when someone has a smaller space, it brings greater agitation.

"Imagine having to live in a space the size of your bathroom by yourself. That would be difficult enough. And then if you have to live in that space with another person," explains Renee Heberle, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toledo.

The potential for violence increases with those numbers, even for those who may not have a violent history due to the tension it may impose.

Many folks in the public express little concern for the treatment of criminals, but over-population may pose a risk to others involved.

"Corrections officers are constantly under some kind of stress or threat," explains Eberle. "They say in prison, nothing happens until everything happens."

Nine inmates and one corrections officer were murdered during the 11 day uprising at Lucasville Prison.

And while organized prison gangs carry out their share of violations, most violence related incidents have only individual involvement and are said to be mostly inter-personal disagreements.

Prisons deal with these issues on a daily basis. Places like Toledo Correctional Institute, where it was originally built as a one inmate per-cell facility, now has double bunks.

"I think, no matter what, in a prison, that overcrowding is going to impact on people's psychology and in relationships," says Eberle.

Though little can be done to reduce inmate numbers. The Lucasville riot tought the prison system a great deal about inmate and guard safety, as well as managing prison flow.