You’d think that being sentenced to prison should be the worst thing that can happen to an inmate; well, you are almost right. The worst that can happen to an inmate is not the sentencing, but the conditions of the prison and what they might have to endure within the walls of the prison- for a long while.
For some inmates, they are lucky to be in well-controlled facilities, where everything seems to work fine, and the inmates come out wholly rehabilitated – even if they spend 50 years in there. For some others, well, the idea of a 5-year sentence might make them breathe an air of relief, “oh, cool, by the time I will be out I will still have time to achieve a lot.” But serving out that five years might as well be An Introduction To Hell 101, where they go in and wish for death every day.
There have been a lot of buzz going on about the state of American prisons and the adverse conditions which their inmates are experiencing. With regards to human rights, it is almost impossible not to agree that the prison system needs a total overhaul geared towards a strategic fundament transformation for good.
While some individuals might argue outside the angles of fundamental human rights, to say that inmates deserve whatever they are getting in there; it is important to know that imprisonment while being a form of punishment, is also supposed to be a “correctional facility.” What this implies is that the inmates ought to come out as better individuals than they were when they got in, for a fluid reunion with the society. But, when the conditions surrounding their confinement does not encourage this concept, the purpose of imprisonment is defeated – and the society at large is at a loss.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems which prisoners in the United States face.
You know what’s an interesting fact? The raw truth that if put together, the population of inmates (at over 2.4 million) in the United States will make up for the fourth largest city in the country. Now imagine that!
What will it take to house these large number of inmates in the 7,442 varying levels of correctional facilities in the country? Jam them up? That seems like the only possible cost-effective solution, and that’s exactly what happened - instead of erecting new facilities. The correctional facilities in the country are populated, and those that suffer the most impact are the inmates. Being in a stifling environment doesn’t do the mental state of any individual any good. Plus, overpopulation directly affects the distribution of available resources, with a significant reduction in the allocated resource per inmate. It has gotten so bad that there have been records of mass inmate hunger strikes, prison riots and filing of multiple lawsuits by inmates who wish to have the issue of overcrowding properly addressed.
The issue surrounding overpopulation doesn’t get less disturbing when you think of all the individuals who are under the limits of correctional control. These will include those on parole and probation, which going by a 2013 report by Bureau of Justice, we will be estimating an increase to a population as much as 7 million.
Also, overcrowding leads to an alarming rate of medical neglect, which results in increased mortality rates among inmates. Attempts to ship prisoners to private prisons in other to reduce prison populations don’t really help, as private prisons are not any better.
Unjust Life Sentences and Sentences without Parole
Though the practice has been shunned by most states, the concept behind Three Strike Laws was quite disheartening. The harshness of the law, which inferred a mandatory life sentence for any offender who has been convicted of three felonies, was to the extent that an individual was sentenced for life when his third strike was an attempt to steal a pair of gloves from Home Depot.
Aside from that, inmates are at risk of earning a life or a ridiculously long sentence for non-violent crimes once they step out of prison – and reports have associated a high rate of mental issues amongst inmates who are victims of such sentences that are disproportionate to the severity of the crime committed.
Inmates, just like every other person out there, are prone to various health conditions with varying degrees of severity. But, that doesn’t mean that like every other person out there, they have a chance at receiving standard health care. While the law insists that inmates are entitled to proper health care, the extent of this “proper health care” goes only as far as the prisoner is kept alive. At this juncture, it can be said that it doesn’t matter if an inmate is so ill their body feels like a torture machine. The point is simple; they are allowed the adequate medication that keeps them breathing - you don't necessarily have to get better.
It is only in highly exceptional cases that attempts are made at offering standard external healthcare to sick inmates. Literally speaking, prisoners who find themselves in this situation of medical neglect can be said to have been subjected to torture – which is illegal.
This might sound ridiculous, but it is true. Inmates, especially females in prisons (overcrowded or not) are at risk of sexual abuse (both heterosexual and homosexual abuse), from their fellow inmates and the prison staff. This doesn’t mean that the males are left out, as there are cases of males, especially younger males, who have heterosexual orientation being homosexually abused.
When it comes to prison meals some inmates have it almost good, some others have it just good, while others just don’t have it good at all. The food treatment varies across facilities, but no matter how bad life might have been for one on the outside, it will still take some getting-used-to adjust to life with prison food.
The excuse might be that their meals are prepared in bulk, and well, such meals when prepared for hundreds to thousands and on a daily basis are bound to lack such tastes as one would have loved. This gets even worse for inmates in solitary confinement, who may get lesser proportions as a form of punishment.
Mental Health Issues
Inmates tend to feel alone, due to the lack of basic human interactions, most especially familial love. These included with the lack of other basics things, which would have ordinarily kept the body and soul together, makes the mind drift gradually. For inmates who are unable to become a part of a ‘crew’ or who are always in solitary confinement, things become even harder for them.
Over time, this might become an issue that escalates to a point where it even becomes very hard for them to survive in a prison system, and as well, hard for them to eventually integrate into the society after serving their sentence.
Life after Prison
No matter how tough an individual might be, life after prison is never an easy deal. First, reintegration into the society might come with low-key stigmatization which impacts the quality of the jobs open to them, ability to own a home in certain neighborhoods, their public benefits, voting rights, assets, earnings, etc. And if they happen to be a part of a low-income community, the impacts can become quite unbearable.
In all, the conditions which inmates face in the prisons and the impacts they have on them are things which only the inmates can describe, and which varies across facilities. But on the average, the conditions highlighted only give an insight into what happens within those walls.