When someone is being tried for a crime, especially if it’s a felony charge, it’s normal to wonder about prison conditions. Are the horrific conditions many of us see on TV and in movies actually accurate for many prisons? That generally seems to be the case—sometimes conditions are even worse. Even if the person is completely innocent, unfortunately, it’s not completely unheard of for innocent people to end up in prison. It’s impossible to objectively define the worst, most dangerous prisons in America, but this list will outline some of the top contenders you should worry about if you or a loved one might enter the prison system in the future.
Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California
This prison is considered the one of the worst prisons in the US because 1,500 of its 3,500 prisoners are required to spend 22.5 hours per day in solitary confinement. The other hour and a half is also spent alone in bare concrete exercise pens. It’s California’s most notorious supermax prison. Prisoners aren’t allowed to have any phone calls, rarely are permitted to have outside visitors, and the only contact they have with other prisoners is by shouting through steel mesh. Two thirds of the prisoners who are required to be in solitary confinement are there because the corrections staff have decided that they’re gang members or associates—not because they’ve actually done anything wrong.
Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California
People going to prison often fear their fellow inmates, some of whom could have done violent acts that landed them in prison. But people don’t often expect that they will have to fear the prison staff members who are supposedly there to maintain order and protect prisoners from harm. At this Los Angeles facility, there have been widespread complaints of attacks, often completely unprovoked, of prisoners by prison deputies. These complaints include deputies taunting inmates using homophobic slurs, tormenting and beating handcuffed inmates, as well as kicking, punching, Tasering, pepper-spraying inmates, and more. The FBI is even opened a continuous investigation of this prison, as a result of the host of complaints lodged against it.
US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum in Florence, Colorado
Known as ADX and the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” this prison is one of the most secure and most isolated prisons in the world. Many cells have built-in showers and automated chutes that open onto private concrete “exercise yards,” making it so some prisoners never see a guard, prisoner, or visitor. Prisoners are usually assigned to this prison because of notoriety, politics, or escape attempts from other prisons, and many develop mental health issues there. Suicide attempts are common.
Tent City Jail in Phoenix, Arizona
Conditions in this jail are so abysmal that there isn’t even heat or air conditioning. Most of this jail’s some 2,000 residents are awaiting trial, and temperatures in the tents in the summer have been recorded to reach as high as 145 degrees. Its founder, warden and sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, has even called it a concentration camp. Most prisoners are sent out to work on chain gangs every day, and are only given two meals per day. Arpaio has even bragged that he saved taxpayers $20,000 by eliminating salt and pepper from meals. Prisoners are required to wear pink underwear and old fashioned chain gang striped suits to humiliate them, and the medical care is so awful that it was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
Time for Some Soul-Searching
As horrendous prison conditions come to light as a result of reality TV shows, government investigations, and prisoner testimonies, it’s time for America to do some soul-searching. What happened to the purpose of prisons being rehabilitation, so prisoners can go on to live healthy, productive lives when they are released? The US has the world’s highest incarceration rate, with nearly 2.3 million people currently locked up in about 1,800 prisons and 3,000 jails, and there’s no sign of a crime rate decrease happening anytime soon. Perhaps it’s time to consider alternatives to the “lock them up and throw away the key” policies of generations past. Improving prison conditions and respecting the humanity of every individual who enters the prison system is only the first step towards improving America’s policies. Whether each prisoner is innocent or guilty, they all deserve to live out their sentences without being abused at every turn.