Abstract for: To Legislate or not to Legislate? That is the Question: How Legislative Inflation Boosts Prison Overcrowding

Prison overcrowding in Colombia has increased (following a growing oscillatory pattern) over the last decade in spite of plans to increase prison and penitentiary capacity and thanks to a sustained increase in the prison population. The increase in prison population has become a result of legislative inflation, a large control mechanism that creates and modifies a great variety of norms that strengthen sanctions to criminal conducts, as well as an increase in criminality. The overcrowding problem is worrisome; among other negative consequences, it hinders the systemís capability to accomplish some of the purposes of prison sentences and preventive retention including re-education and social reinsertion of detainees. Here we present and discuss a systemic approximation to the jail and penitentiary overcrowding problem as a result of legislative inflation. We introduce a simulation model and explain possible feedback consequences of legislative inflation on the prison and penitentiary system of Colombia are explored. Finally we suggest the design of policies that may counteract jail and penitentiary overcrowding both from punitive and preventive perspectives. Legislative inflation is a perfect example that shows why policy makers need to challenge and improve their mental models in order to develop a dynamic understanding of feedback driven systems.