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Overcrowding & Suicides In Our Jails



What is prison like

There were two new reports about our jails this past weekend. The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines jails as follows:

“Jails are locally-operated short term facilities that hold both inmates awaiting trial or sentencing or both, and those sentenced to a term of less than 1 year, typically misdemeanants. Prisons are longer-term facilities run by the state or the federal government typically holding felons and persons with sentences of more than one year. Definitions may vary by state.”

The differences between jails and prisons should be important to the many Americans who are just not concerned with the deplorable conditions that exist in many of our jails and prisons. Jails hold citizens that go to trial and are found innocent. For the citizens who are concerned about our prisons and jails, the following news stories will not be a surprise.

First, overcrowding in the Oklahoma jails have led to violence and other problems. In Woodward, a small town in northwestern Oklahoma, the jail held 64 inmates. The jail's maximum capacity is 41. One cell held six inmates despite a maximum capacity of three. A female guard brought a new inmate to the cell and was told by the other prisoners in the cell, “That they would beat up (the victim) if she put him in the cell with them because the cell was already overcrowded,” as noted in a state investigation of the incident.

Despite the warning and the conditions of the already dangerously overcrowded cell, the new inmate was place in this tiny cell. Within moments, the new inmate was beaten badly and suffered injuries consisting of a concussion, broken cheekbones, and “a blowout fracture of the orbital bone,” as described in the state inspection report.

During the 2011 annual inspection of the 128-bed Ottawa County jail in northeast Oklahoma, an inspector found inmates sleeping on the floor, some on torn and dirty mats, and others without mattresses. The inspector was informed that the conditions at the jail were caused by overcrowding.

The Bryant county inspection report in 2012 described how, “Inmates are not given more toilet paper when they run out.' “They are required to wait until the next time toilet paper is handed out.” As a former inmate in the Maryland Correctional system, we often ran out of toilet paper and were told by the guards just don't go to the bathroom. This was posted last April in our article, “Mutual Respect and Toilet Paper.”

The second story, Erie County in New York, agreed to a historic settlement regarding its county jails that arose out of a high number of inmate suicides. Erie County has agreed to hire two independent experts to monitor its jails and file progress reports with the U.S. Justice Department. However, the reports will not be made public. With secrecy, it will be hard to confirm progress.

Prisonpath will continue to post articles every month about our dangerously overcrowded prisons and jails as well as the important issue of suicides in our correctional facilities.