In what was once the gymnasium at California’s San Quentin prison, all you can see are men and bunk beds. Packed together from front wall to back, more than 360 inmates live here because there’s no room anywhere else, reports National Public Radio. A lone correctional officer, Michael McClain, sits on a riser in the middle of the gym, about 6 feet off the floor. “It can get ugly. It can go at any moment, just at the drop of a hat,” he says, watching the floor.
San Quentin has set up beds in every available indoor space except the chapel. All of California’s prisons are at twice or three times their capacity. More than 30 states house more inmates than their prisons were built for. Cramming all these inmates into aging facilities has had clear results at San Quentin: an increase in violence, filth, racial tensions, and the likelihood that inmates will keep coming back. Officials say they have no room for programs that help inmates stay out – meaning that overcrowding has led to more overcrowding. For the most part, the men in the gym are here not because of some violent crime, but because they violated their parole.