Does the Government Ever Investigate Prison Living Conditions?

Does the Government Ever Investigate Prison Living Conditions?

Yes. The government does look into prison living conditions. But unsafe or unsanitary conditions can still exist.

How does the government manage prison living conditions?

The government has a few ways of managing conditions in prisons.

  • Setting standards. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ). They work with agencies to develop standards for jails and prisons. Each state has its own standards. The BOP also has its own set of requirements.
  • Inspections. The NIC helps train staff at prisons to carry out inspections. They work with different agencies to educate them on how to recognize problems. The DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) regularly inspects prisons. They also publish public reports about these inspections.
  • Complaints. The government also relies on both people in prison and their loved ones to alert them of problems in prisons. They will look into complaints and decide if they need to step in.

What happens if a prison doesn’t meet standards?

The government has a few ways of dealing with prisons that don’t meet standards. How they handle it varies depending on the state and the agency. It also depends on how bad conditions are. But there are a few common responses.

  • Written report. This is usually the first step. An agency will write a report and point out problems. They will ask the prison to fix these problems.
  • Board meeting. The agency that oversees this prison could call a meeting to address the problems. If so, they would ask officials from the prison to answer for themselves. The board or management group can issue an order for the prison to comply.
  • Reduction. If problems continue, the board can order the prison to reduce the number of incarcerated people within the facility. They can also demand that the prison close parts of the facility that don’t meet standards. This can result in less funding, too.
  • Closure. If issues are bad enough, the government might order the prison to close. Incarcerated people would be transferred to other facilities.
  • Lawsuit. The government might decide that conditions are so bad that they violate civil rights. In that case, they may decide to sue. This can force the prison to improve its standards.
If living conditions are bad enough in your prison, the government might sue.
Image courtesy of Cameron Casey from Pexels.

How can you report poor conditions in prison?

Most prisons prefer to handle these issues internally. Your facility probably has a form or process for handling complaints. But that might not go anywhere. Thankfully, you have other options — although you may have to complete the internal process first.

If you are in a federal prison, you can call write the OIG at (202) 514-3435. You can also write to them at the following address:

U.S. Dept. of Justice

Office of Inspector General

950 Pennsylvania Avenue

NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) allows the DOJ to look into state facilities. Therefore, you can contact the DOJ about problems in a state prison, too. But you will need to contact their Civil Rights Division. Their online form gives the fastest response. You might able to ask a friend or family member to file the complaint for you. If you can’t, you can call the toll-free number at 1-855-856-1247. You can also send them a letter at this address:

U.S. Dept. of Justice

Civil Rights Division

950 Pennsylvania Avenue

NW, Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

The Takeaway:

The government does look into prison living conditions. They set standards, inspect prisons and enforce regulations. You can report problems in prison. To do so, you can contact the DOJ, even if you are in a state prison.

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