- Politics and Social Issues
Salt Lake County Jail Conditions
Food for thought.
Have you ever thought about the conditions faced by inmates in your local county jail?
Yes, you're right, they probably deserve whatever horrible conditions they are facing for the crime they committed. Right?
Consider this, a large number (some researchers have suggested as much as 25%) of inmates in the county jail are, in fact, innocent. Those wrongly accused men and women and doing everything they can in the courtroom to prove that they are innocent, yet they don't have the means to post bail and get out of jail.
So, do those people deserve the harsh conditions of jail life?
It's definitely something to think about when you're condemning all the inmates of your local county lockup.
Going to jail is a very traumatic experience. Especially for a first-timer. The whole environment and experience is a shock. Especially for an inmate who has been wrongfully accused and has lived a moral life. Being suddenly surrounded by 50 or more criminals, with no one who can even understand your viewpoint is traumatic enough, but then being faced with the treatment one receives in jail can be extremely damaging. Even in a "safe" jail environment.
The Salt Lake County Jail is very safe, comparatively speaking. Many county jails can be dangerous places, much like the vast majority of prisons.
Unfortunately, the only way for a room full of (potentially) violent criminals to be safe is to take away their freedom of movement. In a jail setting, this means lockdown. A lot. Even in the minimum security areas, this can mean less than 7 hours per day outside of their tiny, 8'x10' cells. That may not sound so bad, but just imagine being stuck in that tiny cell with someone who has a mental illness and is constantly muttering, gibbering and pacing, or even worse, someone who is verbally abusive and threatening violence at every turn. That's a lot worse. And that's the scenario in minimum security.
In the higher security areas, things can be a lot worse. In some parts of the jail, time out of cell can be limited to as little as one hour three times a week.
Well, at least the jail is clean, right?
In truth, not really, no. Inmates are expected to clean their cells at least once every day or two, yes, that much is true. But what about the rest of the jail? One jail worker who wished to remain undisclosed stated, "this whole place is just one giant cesspool of bacteria and infection. The only thing that surprises me is that [we] all, staff and inmates alike, aren't constantly picking up one illness after another after another." that doesn't really sound like a clean environment to me.
At least they are fed adequately, right?
Well, technically, yes. A slender adult can maintain their weight on a 1,500 calorie/day diet. according to medial research, the amount needed is 12 times a person's body weight in pounds. So that 1,500 calories could feed a 125 pound adult. A 150 pound adult requires 1,800 calories, while a 200 pound adult would require 2,400 calories. According to an article written for the Salt Lake Tribune in November of 2010, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/50598724-76/allgier-jail-guards-mail.html.csp, the Salt Lake County Jail provides it's inmates with 2,800 calories per day, but this is false. That 2,800 calorie per day intake is undoubtedly the jail's policy, but it's practice is quite different.
According to a veteran housing officer at the jail who wished to remain unnamed, the actual amount is closer to 1,700 calories per day, and it is at a minimum level to skate beneath the legal requirements for inmate meals. As such, inmate weight loss is a constant. Especially with those inmates who come in to the jail overweight and do not have money for commissary food to supplement the tiny meal portions they receive. The clear exception to this are the meth and coke users who come into the jail severely underweight. Naturally, because of the ravenous hunger they suffer from coming off the drugs, they still feel as it they are starving to death, but in reality they gain weight, sometimes a lot of it, depending on the severity of their malnourishment at the time of incarceration.
Inmate Kory Larsen told me that "I would rather be in prison. At least there I was comfortable, had my own TV, was respected and able to be out of my cell all day long and I got plenty to eat."
A bold statement, but one that was repeated to me numerous times by a large number of inmates in the Salt Lake County Jail.
Well, they get clean clothes to wear, don't they?
Ostensibly, yes. Although many inmates tell a different story. There are many claims that the new clothes they get on clothing exchange days (socks and underwear every day except sundays, and pants and shirts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday) smell of urine and feces and are frequently visibly dirty or stained. In addition to the state of many of the clothes being nearly unbearable to some (rips and tears, sometimes going all the way up a pant-leg to high thigh, or fraying and/or holes making them nearly unwearable), and being told by the guards managing clothing exchange that "they can just deal with it." There is also much thought by the inmates that clothing exchange is little more than an excuse for guards to come in and tear their cells apart looking for contraband. For most, this in and of itself is not a severe problem, what is frustrating for inmates is that after their searches are complete, the majority of officers do not make any attempt to put things back where they were. Inmate John Hoffman described the affair as "a gross invasion of my privacy."
Well, they at least have shelter and a warm bed to sleep it, don't they?
Sure they do. Except in the winter. During the 2013 summer, numerous complaints were made, and grievances filed, about the extreme heat in the cells, especially at night. Inmates estimated the temperatures to be running at between 85 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and much more than that during the days. Most of the grievances were torn up by the housing officers right in front of the inmates, often with taunts and belittling to go with it. And during the 2013-2014 winter, numerous inmates made countless complaints about the cold in their cells. The consensus of the inmates was that the nighttime temperatures in the cells at night was between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, nearly all of the filed grievances about the cold went unsubmitted.
Inmates Eddie Garza and Kory Larsen noted that "all during the summer, there was no airflow whatsoever from the vents in our cells, but as soon as the weather turned cold, there was suddenly extremely cold air blowing at high velocity from the vents. Many of us [inmates] took to covering our vents with whatever we could (usually writing paper, tacked to the vent with pencils) to keep the cold at bay, but disciplinary action was always threatened by the housing officers if such covers were not taken down. A few inmates chose to keep them covered and suffer the consequences. they seemed to feel it was better than spending the entire night huddled under the threadbare blanket shivering so violently that our teeth chattered all throughout the night."
Well, they at least get medical care, don't they?
Again, ostensibly. The ultimate problem with jail medical care is that the default attitude about any reported medical problem, especially one treated with medication, is skepticism. It often takes numerous instances of seeing the nurse (at $5 a pop, which can mean a large debt upon release for those who do not receive commissary money from family or friends) before anything might be done about it, and then an inmate must see the doctor (another $20 charge) for another analysis. Again, this usually takes several attempts before anything may be done to correct the problem. And, in certain extreme cases, all the waiting to be taken seriously can have serious consequences for an inmate who is only trying to take care of a legitimate medical need.
More than one inmate has died (or committed suicide) waiting for proper medical or mental health attention.
Consider the facts
- Large number of inmates who have committed no crime
- Severely damaging and traumatizing environment
- Poor nutrition and caloric intake
- Unfair treatment by officers
- Unclean living conditions
- Difficulty in obtaining quality healthcare
- Inhumane environmental situations