Will Prison Conditions Improve If Rikers Island Closes?

It’s no secret that prison conditions aren’t always state of the art, but does the public know how bad life really gets behind the walls of these institutions?

Rikers Island, one of the most famous correctional facilities with a reputation for violence, has the possibility of being closed down pending an October 17 vote by the NYC Council, due to the unfair and inhumane conditions that prisoners face.

Image by Pavlofox from Pixabay

Shutting down Rikers and replacing it with smaller, safer prisons would be a step toward better conditions for prisoners; however, Rikers is not the only place where such conditions occur. Plenty of similar facilities in America have the same internal environments but are simply less known. If these prisons can hide the violent, unsafe happenings from the public, then the issues will not be addressed and prisoners will continue to live in horrible conditions across the rest of the country, no matter what happens with the vote on Rikers.

For example, Scott Whitney, a prisoner at Martin Correctional Institution in Florida, leaked a secret video to the Miami Herald this week that he took exposing the horrible conditions that he and his fellow prisoners face daily.

The excessive mold, violence, drug overdoses, lack of security and horrible living conditions that are shown in the video are the reality of prisons in America.

Currently, there is a trend of challenging lawmakers to actually go visit a prison and see the conditions inside before passing any laws involving the criminal justice system.

This is a good attempt at educating the public and politicians about terrible conditions of prisons; however, it is ineffective as prison staff are most definitely going to put on a show if a politician walks through their doors and portray the prison in a false light (just like that school teacher you once had that never taught a thing, yet became the best teacher in the world on audit day).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Additionally, the overcrowding and violence in these prisons has negative impacts on mental health for prisoners. This creates an even larger problem because treatment for mental health behind bars is not all that it is cracked up to be. In fact, prisons attempt to dodge the “burden” of treating their inmates with mental health issues by refraining from acknowledging the seriousness of the issues.

By rating prisoners’ illnesses with a lower category of seriousness than deserved, these institutions avoid providing the necessary mental health care to the people that need it. This then creates a never ending cycle of more prison violence as those with very extreme, untreated mental illnesses often lash out at other prisoners.

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

Ultimately, in order to reform the criminal justice system in effective ways, internal prison conditions must be improved in terms of mental health evaluation and treatment, security and violence control, and the health codes of the physical space that prisoners must live in.

Advocate groups such as Cut50 and The Marshall Project are actively working towards finding ways to address these issues of inhumane prison conditions.