One of the first things I noticed when I first went to jail and then prison was the odor. Not hospital antiseptic but of unwashed bodies and filth. In jail the water in the shower was ice cold and the lack of clean clothes to change in to meant that body odor stayed with you. In the higher security levels of prison, showers were only offered every other day while you could exercise every day. In the lower levels showers were accessible every day. This is where hygiene becomes the distinguishing characteristic and could make or break your relationship with your bunkie or cubemates.
Poor hygiene goes beyond access to showers. In a place where no one feels at home, many will make messes and simply walk away leaving them for others to take care of. Plugged toilets, hair trimmings in the sink, clogged shower drains, malfunctioning chemical urinals all contribute to making the bathrooms foul, disgusting, smelly places that don’t get cleaned nearly often enough.
An underlying issue is aging infrastructure. Many jails and prisons are more than 25 years old and some are more than 50 and in need of significant repairs and renovations. Coupled with prison populations that are double the original design specification there is significant pressure on sewage pipes. In one case these issues made the newspaper. Inmate maintenance crews were used to clean up raw sewage that had overflowed and one of the inmates on the cleanup crew contracted hepatitis due the lack of personal protective equipment.
At one of the prisons I was at there were problems with the drain pipes in the Level II chow hall backing up. Grease had plugged the pipes and overflowed all over the kitchen floor. The kitchen was closed for a day while the sewage pipes were snaked out and the kitchen cleaned thoroughly before food preparation could begin again.
Another time raw sewage was bubbling up out of the ground from a broken pipe coming from the Level IV housing unit. They had sewer problems there on a regular basis. To reduce pressure on the sewage system they installed controls on the toilets that prevented multiple flushes. In a unit where the toilet is in the two-man cells they used to do what was called a courtesy flush so that the smell of your waste would not be inflicted on your cell mate. With the controls in place limiting the number of flushes in a 5-minute period this practice could no longer be performed. In Level I the flush urinals were replaced with chemical urinals. These created a whole different set of headaches and after a couple of years they were removed, and low volume flush urinals were reinstalled.
In a place where the residence will purposely break or sabotage the facility, anything and everything will get flushed down the toilet. In the kitchenette there isn’t a garbage disposal so lots of food waste is poured down the drain. The result is a constant struggle by maintenance to keep the drains flowing, a losing proposition.