Living Conditions in Prison


Prison conditions will vary depending on whether it is a federal or state prison, and whether it is a government or privately run prison. Federally run prisons tend to have more white-collar criminals and fewer violent criminals. Federal prisons also tend to be better funded than state prisons and state prisons tend to be better funded than privately run, for-profit prisons.


  • Prison food is designed to meet certain reasonable standards for nutrition at the best possible price. Jail food tends to be canned, frozen, freeze dried or instant and made in very large quantities. In some cases, such as at Florida's Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in 2008, large outbreaks of food poisoning have been reported. In other cases the break down of kitchen equipment required prisoners to eat only cold food for months at a time.

Medical Care

  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, medical care is severely lacking in U.S. institutions to the point where it frequently violates Eighth Amendment protections against "cruel and unusual punishment." Of the roughly two million inmates in U.S. prisons, an estimated 800,000 suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancer. Mental health issues are widespread in prisons, 69 percent of prisoners have histories of treatment for mental health which go largely untreated in U.S. jails.

Crime and Violence

  • While statistical data is scarce on the rates of crime in federal and state prisons, crime, violence and gang activity do take place in U.S. prisons. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have called for investigations and reforms to reduce the crime rate. In 2000, 34,000 assaults were reported in U.S. prisons. Violence in prisons include prisoner-on-prisoner violence, prisoner-on-staff violence and staff-on-prisoner violence. Crimes include theft and physical and sexual assault.

Daily Life

  • Prisoners spend most of their time in cells. These are typically eight feet wide and eight feet deep, contain two wire-frame beds, a toilet and a sink. Most institutions offer some form of religious service leisure and recreational opportunities vary widely. Job training, volunteer or work duties are often available and in some cases required. Other activities may include visits to the library, television, game rooms, team sports and workout rooms. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, all prisons allow mail with the outside, visits and regulated phone calls.


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