The U.S prison system is plagued with poor and deteriorated conditions that make inhabitation hard for incarcerated individuals. Poor prison conditions are a huge problem not for the prisoners, but they should also be a concern for society at large. The horrible conditions in the prisons make rehabilitation hard to achieve, and prisoners may end up being a more dangerous threat to society upon release. A study of the recidivism rates of released prisoners between 2004 to 2014 revealed that 68% of ex-inmates end up being apprehended for another conviction. The study also revealed that within nine years, 83% of released inmates were re-apprehended due to the commission of another offense.
Inmates suffer from violence and abuses, terrible facilities, and inadequate mental and medical health care in both federal and state prisons.
Notable conditions in the U.S prison system
Some notable factors have resulted in the poor conditions of the U.S system that are also consequences of these poor conditions of the prison facilities:
The surge in the prison populations due to mass incarceration since the 1970s is a significant cause of the deteriorating conditions of the prison system. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and state prisons house incarcerated inmates at total capacity or almost full capacity, causing overcrowded prisons. Inmates are serving lengthy incarceration sentences for non-violent convictions with little or no chance of making parole or probation. Such laws and policies also contributed to the spike in the incarceration population.
Overcrowding deprives inmates of basic things like privacy since they must share the prison facilities with more people than the original design intended. It also causes limitations to several helpful resources or programs. In the course of trying to survive, some prisoners suffer abuse and victimization from fellow prisoners and even prison officials.
Many prisons are usually understaffed, resulting in the poor supervisor of the activities of prisoners. Prisoners adapt to the prison situation through aggressive means to control or obtain the limited resources provided. This problem hinders the purpose of getting prisoners rehabilitated during their incarceration.
The overpopulation of U.S prisons and shortage of prison staff that properly supervise them caused widespread violence, which is now a norm in the prison system. There are reports of inmates killed, stabbed, beaten, and brutalized in prisons. For instance, Alabama prisons are infamous for violent activities among inmates. In an investigation conducted by the U.S Department of Justice, it was reported that sexual assault and homicide were common among inmates who also had access to dangerous weapons like knives and controlled substances. Many of these atrocities happened often and sometimes went unnoticed by correctional officers for days. The incompetence of the prison system has left many inmates vulnerable to violent attacks that may even lead to the loss of lives.
Insufficiency of basic resources
The prison authorities are responsible for providing basic amenities to inmates but fail to discharge their job efficiently. Inmates lack basic needs due to limited and inferior supplies given to them by the prison authorities. Limited necessities affect inmates’ general hygiene, food, and even prison uniforms. There have been reports of shortages of toilet papers, tampons, and sanitary pads.
More importantly, this also affects the prison food ration. Over the years, the daily number of meals given to inmates has reduced in many state prisons. The quality of the food and the unsanitary ways the prisons serve and store food causes illnesses among inmates. The food given to inmates lacks the necessary nutrients needed for an average person, and it hardly includes vegetables or fresh fruits.
Inmates are prone to unhealthy eating for the duration of their incarceration, and upon release, this becomes more than a prison problem. There will be an increased burden on the public health care system because ex-inmates tend to seek medical care from state health facilities.
Abuse from prison officials
While inmates regularly deal with violence and victimization among themselves, they also deal with such conditions from abusive correctional staff. Abuse from prison staff is often overlooked, and many inmates are victims of this incompetency. The lack of accountability gives the guards the power to enforce unconstitutional punishments on inmates. Many prisoners are excessively penalized for not following orders by solitary confinement. The conditions of solitary confinement are usually terrible as prisoners are kept in cramped-up cells with little or no access to any other room or facilities in the prison.
A human rights watch prison investigation reveals incidents of abusive conduct by California prison guards, including shooting of inmates and forcing them to fight for the guards’ amusement. Alabama Department of Corrections also faced criticism and was investigated after failing to tackle the issue of sexual abuse and harassment of female inmates by correctional officials.
Poor medical and mental health care
Mental health is a serious issue nationwide and many individuals incarcerated in U.S prisons with mental illness are not treated well or wrongly treated. The prisons fail to find suitable ways to manage prisoners with mental health issues that can exhibit difficult behaviors. Prison officials usually resort to unhelpful means as a way of dealing with prisoners experiencing mental health problems. Such prisoners may be physically disciplined or put in solitary confinement, which only worsens the inmate’s illness. Prisoners may not have access to mental health professionals, and the lack of treatment further aggravates their illness.
The approaches used by prison officials to engage prisoners with mental health issues can cause them long-term trauma and even result in suicide. Incarcerated individuals also have higher rates of PTSD compared to the general population.