Prison Conditions

Prison Conditions

The ACLU National Prison Project works to ensure that conditions of confinement are constitutional and consistent with health, safety, and human dignity. Our goals include substantially reducing the existing incarcerated population, especially among people of color, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable populations; ending cruel, inhuman, and degrading conditions of confinement; increasing public accountability and transparency of jails, prisons, and other places of detention; and expanding prisoners’ freedom of religion, expression, and association.

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Know Your Rights: Medical, Dental and Mental Health Care (2012 resource): Prison officials are obligated under the Eighth Amendment to provide prisoners with adequate medical care. This principle applies regardless of whether the medical care is provided by governmental employees or by private medical staff under contract with the government.

Know Your Rights: Publications Sent by Mail (2012 Resource): Restrictions on prisoners’ access to publications cannot be arbitrary; they must be “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” That said, in practice, courts often will accept the judgment of prison authorities in deciding whether censoring a publication is reasonable.

Know Your Rights: Legal Rights of Disabled Prisoners (2012 Resource): Statutes exist under both the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to protect the rights of prisoners with disabilities.

LA County Jails: The ACLU has served as a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. Country jails since 1985. During this time, the ACLU and the ACLU of Southern California have documented overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and extreme abuse of inmates at the hands of deputies. The ACLU is working to expose and put an end to the unconstitutional conditions and ongoing climate of violence the nation’s largest jail system.

Stop Solitary - The Dangerous Overuse of Solitary Confinement in the United States: Over the last two decades corrections systems have increasingly relied on solitary confinement as a prison management tool – even building entire institutions called “supermax prisons” where prisoners are held in conditions of extreme isolation, sometimes for years or decades. But solitary confinement jeopardizes our public safety, is fundamentally inhumane and wastes taxpayer dollars. We must insist on humane and more cost-effective methods of punishment and prison management.


Cruel and Usual Punishment — How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls L.A. County Jails (2011 report): This report details a pattern of severe and pervasive abuse of inmates at the hands of deputies and an ongoing climate of violence that has been allowed to exist for years under Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who the report says has covered up and ignored the claims of savagery.

Broken Promises – 2 Years After Katrina (2007 report): A comprehensive report documenting the terrible conditions and dangerous lack of planning at the Orleans Parish Prison, increases in police abuse, racial profiling, housing discrimination and other civil liberties violations, and the ACLU's continuing response.

Abandoned & Abused (2006 report): A comprehensive picture of what the men, women, and children at Orleans Parish Prison endured before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.


Orleans Parish Prison - Photographs of Conditions After the Storms (2006 resource) Photographs of one Orleans Parish Prison building show the damage caused by inmates desperately attempting to escape the dangerous conditions within. These photographs were taken in the Community Correctional Center approximately six months after the storm; the Community Correctional Center is one of the buildings that has not yet been reopened by the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff's Office. These images strongly rebut Sheriff Gusman's claims that deputies remained at their posts throughout the storm and its aftermath, and that prisoners in the facilities were never abandoned, but rather were regularly provided with food and water.


Graves v. Arpaio: In 2008, the ACLU joined an ongoing lawsuit against corrections officials in Maricopa County (AZ) over conditions in the five Maricopa County Jail facilities that house pre-trial detainees – people who have been arrested but not yet tried or convicted.

C.B, et al. v. Walnut Grove: A lawsuit charging conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, where children were subjected to brutal conditions and solitary confinement, were unconstitutional. As a result, children will no longer be housed at Walnut Grove, operated by the for-profit GEO Group.

Henderson et al. v. Thomas et al.: In 2011, the ACLU National Prison Project and the AIDS Project, along with the ACLU of Alabama, sued the Alabama Department of Corrections for discrimination against inmates living with HIV.

Rosas et al. v. Baca et al.: A federal class action lawsuit charging Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top command staff with condoning a longstanding, widespread pattern of violence by deputies against inmates in the Los Angeles County jails.

Brown v. Plata: A Supreme Court case considering a court order to reduce California’s prison population.



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