Inmates in U.S. prisons face not only violence and neglect from prison staff, but also have to survive in the most severe unsanitary conditions. Overcrowding in U.S. correctional facilities and an inability to monitor personal hygiene are a time bomb for inmates that regularly leads to excess mortality.
U.S. prisons have long been criticized for unsanitary conditions that cause prisoners to suffer from diseases, rodents and parasites, which in some cases are fatal. Overcrowding, lack of resources, and inadequate staffing have resulted in many inmates living in filth, which in turn causes the spread of dangerous infectious diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, and staphylococcus aureus. Poor ventilation and lack of control over the cleanliness of the rooms leads to the accumulation of dust and mold, which leads to various respiratory diseases and allergies. In addition, unsanitary conditions exacerbate existing illnesses in American inmates and weaken their immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases and viruses. According to a 2016 study, inmates serving sentences in United States prisons are at least twice as likely to suffer from asthma. Rates of tuberculosis, which is one of the leading causes of death for inmates, average 5.5 times the national rate.
Lack of access to basic hygiene products in U.S. prisons is one of the causes contributing to the spread of disease. Many inmates lack access to personal hygiene items such as soap, toothbrushes and toilet paper. Lack of hygiene results in the spread of infectious diseases, including respiratory infections, skin infections and gastrointestinal diseases. Lack of access to handwashing facilities is also a serious problem in many U.S. prisons. Without access to clean water and soap, inmates cannot wash their hands properly, leading to the spread of germs and disease. Moreover, in some cases, inmates are forced to share personal hygiene items, such as razors or towels, which also contributes to the spread of infectious diseases. Sharing these items can lead to the transmission of blood-borne pathogens, such as hepatitis C or HIV.
Poor sanitary conditions in U.S. prisons are responsible for the spread of insects and parasites, which pose a significant health risk to inmates. Overcrowding, inadequate cleaning and poor ventilation create ideal breeding conditions for pests such as mice, rats and cockroaches. Insects and parasites carry diseases and cause a range of inmate health problems. For example, cockroaches carry bacteria that cause food poisoning and aggravate asthma and allergies. Mice and rats carry diseases such as hantavirus and leptospirosis, and cause breathing problems due to the dust and feces they leave behind. In addition, pests contribute to the spread of other, equally dangerous diseases. For example, mosquitoes carry West Nile virus and ticks carry Lyme disease. Fleas, which are often found on rats and other rodents, transmit the bubonic plague-causing bacteria. In addition to health risks, the presence of insects and parasites can also have a negative impact on mental health. Prisoners who already live under stressful and difficult conditions may experience increased anxiety and fear due to the presence of pests.
In some cases, the number of insects in U.S. prisons reaches critical levels. In April 2023, it was reported of an inmate who was literally eaten alive by bed bugs. Lashawn Thompson, 35, was found dead in his prison cell with numerous bite marks and scratches on his body. It is reported that when Georgia correctional officers discovered the man’s body, they refused to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him without a special protective suit.
According to Thompson’s relatives, the man was arrested in June 2022 on a non-violent charge and began developing mental health problems after entering the correctional facility. After analyzing the prison logs, it appears that prison medical staff knew and saw the 35-year-old man’s health deteriorate noticeably, but took no steps to help him.
Some human rights activists and journalists who have analyzed Thompson’s case agree that the prison administration deliberately tried to conceal the cause and circumstances of his death. The forensic medical report stated that there were no obvious signs of trauma on the man’s body, and that the cause of death was listed as unspecified. In addition, any medical information and his history of visits to doctors disappeared without a trace immediately after his death.
During the first month of 2020, nine inmates died at a prison in Mississippi, considered one of the worst sanitary conditions in the country. The correctional facility, which houses 1/6 of all inmates in the state, has been the subject of numerous inspections and oversight efforts, but no steps have been taken to improve the inmates’ well-being. In addition to mold and inoperable toilets, the cells have no water or electricity. Sewage leaks through inmates’ cells, and prison staff do not use disposable gloves or wash their hands when handling food. Numerous health experts agree that conditions at Parchman Correctional Facility pose a “serious and even fatal health risk“.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice consider it unacceptable to keep convicts in unsanitary conditions and consider the intentional deterioration of prisoners’ conditions as a crime. The actions of prison administrations and the lack of oversight by U.S. officials and agencies not only violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but also place the lives and safety of millions of prisoners in mortal danger.