Unbelievable Conditions At Federal Prisons

It’s interesting to see the disparity between inmates and staff. The line between has a clear demarcation that shows who is afforded the basic necessities and rights, as well as who isn’t. Currently, I am incarcerated at a Federal Prison Camp. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have tennis courts and get to sit around playing games all day long. In fact, this facility is considered a working camp. Every inmate is required to work and we do a majority of the work for the entire facility: food service, warehousing, transit, maintenance, facilities, vehicle repair and service, and janitorial services. All of this at the rate beginning at $0.18 an hour. We don’t have any days off except for government holidays and weekends and can not miss work for any reason. Missing work is considered a refusal to follow an order and results in a 100 series infraction, which is in the same classification, surprisingly, as murder and escape.

Camp conditions, at least at my facility, are less than ideal. Summer has arrived and it is hot here in New Jersey. One thing we lack as inmates is access to air conditioning. Staff offices, correctional officers’ offices, and the visiting room, where family can visit with you for an hour behind a plastic screen while wearing masks, have AC units. Our living dorms, laundry rooms, cafeteria, library, gym, and TV rooms do not have AC. The only exception is the classroom, where staff from outside the prison come to teach. What exacerbates issues further, at the time of writing this, two ice machines are not operational and the other is only partially operational. This is one room we have had access to during the summer when class isn’t in session. On a hot day, as many as 50 inmates, especially our older population here, are packed in there after hours. We have several inmates well over 65+ in our camp who are subject to the same work and conditions. Access to medical care after hours is non-existent and the response time is often over 30 minutes after something has been called in. What exacerbates things further is that, at the time of writing this, two ice machines are not operational and the other is only partially operational.

As with any prison facility, the correctional staff likes to maintain a tight control on contraband. This often includes cigarettes and cell phones, but at my facility, there is hardly ever any violence and weapons are pretty much never found. I also haven’t heard much about drugs ever being found, with the exception of cigarettes, which most state prisons allow. Now, I agree that contraband should be limited and that the safety of staff and inmates should come first, but I have to question why in all the shakedowns and raids they do here, the only concern is finding chargers and cell phones along with occasionally cigarettes. This is what SIS (BOP’s equivalent to a SWAT team) looks for when they come in on raids and shakedowns. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with anyone breaking the rules in a prison institution, but I have to question why this is such a huge concern. Most inmates here use cell phones to stay in contact with family. We are limited to 500 minutes a month, and two 1 hour visits behind a solid screen. Once those minutes are used, that’s it. You can’t use someone else’s minutes or keep in contact with family with the exception of paying to use the messaging service on the computers at the rate of 5 cents per minute – which adds up quickly for someone only making $0.18 per hour. We don’t have internet or other access to information from the outside.

Last night, staff claimed they discovered several cell phones and chargers stored in the educational room. As our punishment, for all inmates within the entire camp, we are not allowed access to AC for at least a month as summer comes around here. That is especially dangerous for the older population as it puts their lives at risk. On top of that, as punishment, all FSA classes are effectively cancelled. FSA stands for the First Step Act, which allows us to get time off our sentence for completing programs that will ultimately benefit society at large after we leave the institution. It was huge for us, as sentences within the Federal system are often 2-3 times greater in length than State sentences. What I was charged Federally with, in Texas, is considered a misdemeanor which is punishable by not more than a year in jail/prison. I am currently serving 6.5 years of a total sentence within a federal facility. This is greater than six times what my own State would charge me with! So having a chance to ‘work off’ some of your sentence is a huge opportunity. Congress clearly felt this was important as well when they passed the bill.

Now, I am not 100% certain if the BOP or administrative staff can refuse programming as a punitive measure, but nonetheless, programming has been cancelled by the education staff. And of course, our access to any A/C is cut off, unless in educational programming, which has been cancelled. Last year, in the living areas of the dorm, the temperature reached 98 degrees in the summer early afternoon. As I write, I hope this doesn’t come off as a bitching session about poor prison conditions. Many in the general public would agree we prisoners should experience hardship as part of our sentence. However, I believe this is to such an extreme that lives are actually in danger. What is worse, medical care is extremely limited. Last year, the initial response by the camp manager was to spray cleaning chemicals in an inmate’s face from a distance, whom he believed was infected. The inmate was of course treated for the reaction to the chemicals and medical care was given, but not until at least an hour later. Heat stroke is extremely dangerous and if not attended to quickly, the individual can eventually die.

Here are the clear cut facts without any of my bias:

  • No A/C is provided for inmates at our Federal Prison Facility
  • Temperatures can get to at least 98 degrees
  • The inmate population has many older individuals, including several over 65+ years
  • Medical response can over 30 minutes once a CO calls it in
  • All inmates are required by prison administration to work, almost all of which climate control does not exist
  • All staff areas have A/C which is not accessible to inmates unless called by a member of the staff
  • Most inmates will go through the entire day, including several hours in the sun, without access to cooling
  • Ice machines are broken
  • Showers are the only way we can cool off, and there are roughly 250 inmates to 12 working individual showers

While I believe our position is less than desirable and even dangerous, there will always be others with more hardships. In the sister prison facility here at Fort Dix (the low security prison and the largest Federal Prison by population size) the conditions get even worse. Since I can not speak to them personally, I will leave on this note. This is America, the country that sets the precedent for most of the world in many matters. We are a wealthy nation, even with our current economic distress. Our rights, within this great country, are guaranteed in origin by our forefathers. I believe that means that no individual, regardless of what they are accused or convicted of doing, should be subject to forced manual labor in harsh conditions, especially where their life is endangered – not least by our own Federal government. Unfortunately this is what’s happening. In law school, they teach us that there are two different kinds of law. One on the books, the other in action. There is a wide disparity between what occurs and what is actually guaranteed. The average law abiding citizen can be charged with roughly three felonies per day on average, as determined by scholars (I recommend the book “Three Felonies a Day”). Anyone can end up in a similar position with our current legal system. Would you want a loved one to be subjected to similar conditions? Would you be comfortable accepting these conditions yourself if accused of a Federal crime?

7 Responses

  1. In my opinion, no one should have a special treatment when in jail. These are normal circumstances, especially in some countries. Their jails are too much. Perhaps these conditions in jail should be addressed properly to the government. More than that, this is a good read.

  2. My thoughts are these: Humane conditions is very different than “special treatment”. As climate change becomes a true bone of contention, The BOP as well as the department of corrections have a moral obligation to address concerns that endanger health and wellbeing of all offenders. Temperture readings in excess of 90F does in fact, create such a situation which does indeed endanger both physical and mental health, as well as contributes to an envirionment of hostility.
    This issue must be addressed as quickly as possible.

  3. This is really sad. I am by no means one of the typical liberal, “no incarceration” types … I do believe that violent crimes deserve prison, for sure. Some others as well, like ridiculous repeat offenders etc. That being said, I am human, and I do believe in humane conditions. I don’t know what types of crimes that people in this guys prison camp, have committed, but if they are relatively minor non violent offenses, I don’t think conditions should be so harsh as to deprive people of AC, heat, food, or force work upon those with TRUE medical conditions that that work would be harmful to (I am a nurse, My mind reels with the potential medical complications that might arise in these conditions while working in humidity and heat while also having multiple medical conditions like diabetes, CKD, heart conditions, and so so many more)…. Now if some of these people are convicted violent offenders, murderers etc…. I feel a bit differently. If you take someone’s life intentionally, things are different. But with how the current legal conditions are, with the government making questionable choices with regards to prosecutions, etc…. I think there need to be investigations into conditions at many locations and then revisions to bring the facilities that don’t meet standards, up to par. People who have particularly heinous, horrible, violent convictions, guilty without doubt, THEY can go to the sub par facilities and be subjected to hell.

  4. My husband is in federal prison a federal medical center prison in Fort Worth FMC with no air conditioning and they told him it could be out for days you cannot open a window you just sit in your cell and swelter he is 60 years old diabetic and just had his foot amputated what and I repeat what is he supposed to do to cool down and not die of the heat I am pissed

  5. My my husband is human he deserves to be able to breathe inside his cell it is hot and it only gets hotter when you’re locked in a room that cannot even open a window how is he supposed to breathe this is ridiculous

  6. I have visited that prison( my boyfriend served time there. ) when former governor Edwin Edwards was there. It at least does have a/c it’s just broken. Texas state prisons are not air conditioned at all. Many federal prisons/camps do not even have ac. He is fortunate to be in a FMC there are not that many in the system

  7. I spent time in the same facility as Mr. King, from May 2022 to January 2023. This is 100% accurate. Last summer, during a major heatwave that affected the nation, there was no access to AC at all, and all three of the ice machines were broken. The Fort Dix camp sits in a single building, constructed like a giant oven, so the heat swelters, lingers and then continues to rise as the temperature increases throughout the day. During this time, all inmates are required to wear dark long pants and long sleeved shirts, which obviously do not breathe. Access to medical care is scarce, with sick calls only allowed between 6 and 630am, Monday thru Friday excluding Wednesdays. All FSA classes and programming were cancelled at the time of my incarceration, which means there was no rehabilitation occurring. Also, several times the hot water broke and it took several days to fix, thus not allowing anyone to take showers. Breakfast is at 6am, lunch at 10am and dinner at 3pm. The conditions are not inhumane, but they are wretched, and the BOP is more concerned about optics than actually changing things. Their system of doing things is archaic, despite being well-funded. (All requests must be submitted via paper forms – not electronically, so many times they get lost with no trail of the original request; all meals are served in a styrofoam container – with over 350 inmates, served three meals a day, this is over 1000 pieces of styrofoam, which is desecrating the environment). Nothing will change unless the public is made aware of the problems and conditions inside federal prisons.

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