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Latest U.S. Prison Atrocities Highlight Dire Need for Intervention, Oversight

One of the most heartbreaking stories to hit media outlets in recent months involves the treatment of mentally ill prison inmates at various U.S. penal institutions.

Reports have surfaced that mentally ill inmates at four different prisons located in Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and New Orleans were found subjected to dire treatment and conditions. Some have labeled the discovery one of the most “darkest periods on record in the history of the American penal system.”

The revelations show the public that more resources, oversight and accountability of our jails and prisons are needed, particularly as the nation’s prison population continues to grow.

Florida Escambia County Jail

This past May, the Escambia County Jail near Pensacola, Florida received widespread attention for the treatment of inmates. Specifically, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department determined that the facility violated inmates’ civil rights by a “grossly inadequate” failure to provide staffing levels needed to ensure inmate protection from themselves and others, and a failure to provide mentally ill access to adequate and appropriate medication and treatment.

Department officials also discovered the institution was employing discrimination practices such as separating housing units by race.

Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution

The Justice Department also released information discovered about the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution located at Cresson, Pennsylvania, regarding the treatment of mentally ill patients.

Officials determined that inmates were not given adequate medical treatment, proper staffing for protection, and suffered excessive force by prison staff. More alarmingly, authorities determined prison officials were, in some situations, routinely housing the mentally ill in solidity confinement for years.

East Mississippi Correctional Facility

Reports surfaced this past May that revealed the East Mississippi Correctional Facility is yet another institution found violating the civil rights of mentally ill patients. According to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, mentally ill inmates were allegedly locked in dirty cells often infested with rats and unworkable toilets.

Louisiana Orleans Parish Prison

More recently, a lawsuit was filed against the Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans, Louisiana, as a result of civil rights violations as well.

Court documents outline insufferable conditions including widespread incidences of sexual assault between inmates, prevalent use of contraband, and minimal staff and supervision.

A Commonality

A basic lack of care and decency to the mentally ill is the overall commonality that runs rampant in all four of these instances.

It proves that meaningful prison reform is desperately needed on both the state and federal level to combat the problems with U.S. correctional facilities, particularly as the U.S. prison population continues to skyrocket.

Since 1970, the U.S. prison population has grown a whopping 700 percent.

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