The consequences of overcrowding in prisons and in trains taking detainees to prison include the rapid spread of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, disease-carrying vermin and human rights abuses. A prisoner in the USA is legally entitled to 8 square metres, whereas in Russia a prisoner is entitled to 3.9 square metres. However, there is no funding to provide Russian prisoners with the space that they are entitled to. Overcrowding is exacerbated by the Russian practice of detaining suspects awaiting trial in prison for an average of 10 months.
County jails in the USA were running at 85% capacity in 1983, at 101% capacity in 1988, and at 108% capacity in 1989. The Federal Government undertook in 1991 to double the capacity of federal prisons by 1996. In 1991, 1,500 prisoners were admitted each day. In Moscow in 1998, a prison cell built for 30 housed 100. They shared beds, sleeping in three shifts.
The incidence of tuberculosis in Russian prisons is 20 to 60 times the rate in the Russian population at large, where it is 24 times more prevalent than in the USA. Half the prison population is thought to be infected. The spread of disease is worsened by the promiscuity encouraged by overcrowding.
In 1996, prisoners in El Salvador, who were obliged to sleep in shifts because of overcrowding, threatened to murder fellow inmates selected by lottery to force the government to deal with the crisis – following a pattern set in Brazil. In the whole country 8,225 inmates were held in prisons with a maximum capacity of 3,800. Many had already been held for longer than the maximum time for the crimes of which they were accused.