Yelp reviewers are now treating prisons like hotels, reviewing food service and staff friendliness. Some prisons may even receive a one to five star rating.
“Jail food may get a bad rap ... but jail employee food is off the chain!" read one review. Another suggested getting arrested in Arlington County, where officers supposedly handed out juice boxes.
Aside from being sometimes entertaining, the sudden interest in Yelp prison reviews comes from dissatisfaction with the prisoner grievance system, upheld by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The act makes it impossible for prisoners to sue over prisoner conditions until they have exhausted all administrative resources, and then allows for only minimal change in prison policy.
While some states, like Texas and New York, hire inspectors to watch for prison abuse, much of it goes unreported.
“Mistreatment is rampant,” said Jack Beck, head of the Correctional Association of New York. The association anonymously surveys about 55,000 inmates a year within the state and often uncovers serious issues within the system, such as mentally ill patients inappropriately sent to solitary confinement.
“Anything that increases public awareness of prison conditions is a positive thing,” said David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, who supports the Yelp reviews.
The website itself has made little comment, neither condoning nor dismissing the unusual reviews.