The escape from New York state’s Clinton prison highlights the little-noticed fact that many U.S. corrections institutions are falling apart, Christopher Moraff writes for Al Jazeera. The New York escapees stole the power tools they needed to cut through their steel cell walls from contractors who were doing repairs at the deteriorating 170-year old institution. The Government Accountability Office has warned that deteriorating prison facilities lead to “increased risk of escape, inability to lock down cells and violence over inadequate living conditions,” while other research points to a higher degree of recidivism among inmates housed under poor conditions.
This month the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court to force improvements on Baltimore's 159-year-old City Jail. The motion describes the jail as “a dank and dangerous place,” with broken toilets, inadequate ventilation, extensive mold and a propensity for flooding. Also this month, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs issued the findings of a study of D.C.'s Central Detention Facility, calling the conditions there “appalling” and citing structural and mechanical problems that are “serious to extremely serious.” David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project says those are increasingly common characteristics of the nation's correctional facilities. “Much has been said about America's crumbling infrastructure, but nowhere is that problem as acute as in our prisons and jails,” he says. Fathi said that in many cases deteriorating prison conditions raise constitutional issues relating to the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.