Offbeat

Inmates are Reviewing Prisons on Yelp

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Even though Yelp has been around since 2004, the site has become a phenomenon over the last year. Yelp has become so popular that it logged 36 million reviews as of last quarter. And, while most people explore the site to read reviews on restaurants or small businesses, or to complain about these places, America’s correctional facilities are now also getting reviewed.

Since Yelp allows people to review a business with a physical address, it seems that these reviews from inmates are allowed, which is occurring across the entire country. Robert Miller, who has been a defense lawyer in Southern California for 18 years, stated that:

I think the reviews are actually helpful for bail bondsmen, attorneys, family members — a lot of people, actually.”

Because of a 1996 law called the Prison Litigation Reform Act, inmates are prevented from suing a correctional facility until administrative procedures are exhausted. This means that inmates have few options to report abuse, unsanitary conditions, and mediocre food, just to give a few examples. However, with Yelp, prisoners and their lawyers or families can now report on the conditions of a prison to the outside world.

For example, one review of Rikers Island in New York stated:

If the roaches & rats don’t mess with you the CO’s [correctional officers] will”

Previously, a report like that could have gone unnoticed, and conditions would never change. Of course, some people are also having fun with the Yelp prison reviews.

Another Rikers review stated:

Things you MUST remember: No matter what religion you (really) are/aren’t, say you’re ‘Jewish.’
Why? Because, you’ll get a box of Matzoh (‘crackers, as some call it), a bottle of grape juice (both weekly) and, you’ll get a trip to meet the Rabbi (A VERY nice man who lets you use his phone).
2nd thing to remember is say you’ve a medical condition, in which you NEED to have ‘double portions.’
Trust me on this. Otherwise – you’ll really starve.”

While it may be hard to filter out pranksters from people who have serious concerns about the country’s correctional facilities, it’s still interesting that current technology could alter the future of America’s prisons and detention centers. It may not change everything, or it could take years, but it’s an option that wasn’t available until recently.

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