Government Technology

A New Trend: Inmates Rate Jails on Yelp


April 30, 2013 By

For most of us, Yelp is about restaurants and local businesses -- we can hop on the site and instantly see other peoples' experiences with various service providers, both good and bad. We also can share our own experiences, giving detailed accounts of what went right or wrong, and rate the restaurant or business on Yelp's star scale. 

But the site is now being used to rate an entity some consider a tad unconventional: Increasingly, inmates are using Yelp to rate their stays in various jails, which has garnered both confusion and support, The Washington Post reported.

“At no time did the officer violate any of my constitutional privileges and even gave me a juice box after I said I was thirsty,” reads a review of the Arlington County Detention Facility. “Yes, you heard right, they have juice boxes! ... So if you’re going to get arrested, do it in Arlington County.”

While waiting for his clients in Southern California, private defense attorney Robert Miller said he began reviewing jails on Yelp to pass the time. “I think the reviews are actually helpful for bail bondsmen, attorneys, family members — a lot of people, actually,” he told The Times. In his review of Orange County's Theo Lacy Facility, Miller complemented the facility for its cleanliness and “very nice” deputies.

While it can be nearly impossible to ensure the legitimacy of an online review, David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, did note that Yelp is offering a unique outlet. “Prisons and jails are closed institutions, and the lack of outside scrutiny and oversight sometimes facilitates mistreatment and abuse,” he said. “So anything that increases public awareness of prison conditions is a positive thing.”

Among the negative conditions that often go on unnoticed at these institutions, Fathi said, are racial tensions, threats of violence and rat infestations. In New York, one Yelp user wrote that officers pressure inmates into lying about their medical symptoms as they go through drug withdrawal, so the jail wouldn’t be required to provide treatment.

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SG    |    Commented May 2, 2013

Trend or not, this is absolutley disgusting. Jail is not a spa or vacation resort. It is a detention center with a purpose. Its not a holiday as this is being portrayed. I agree there should certainly be a mechanism of review of jails and inmate concerns, but not in a public joking manner. Sure, make it a public viewing site, but reviews should not be tabled in a manner similar to actual restaurants, resorts, businesses, or otherwise. What if there was an actual issue at the same prison one inmate said was heaven and another said was hell? - There cetainly needs to be some serious oversight on jails as they are typically centers for serious power abuse of prisoners, and guards alike. There is more violence and rape in jails than on the streets. Gangs are run from behind bars and within the jails themselves. Drugs are rampant and more readily available than they are on the streets. Jails are a criminals paradise and this just feeds more into the egos of those running them, those in them, and those supporting them. Few jails are respectable at all. And what the hell is an inmate doing on the internet....really??? Internet access is a dam priveledge, not a right! They have it better than many people who actually abide by the laws of our nation...they have more freedom than you realize. What the hell is wrong in North America when I have to go to work and pay monthly for my internet and these yahoos in jail get it for free. Internet use in jail should be banned exceptfor the sole purpose of email access to family. Everything else can keep the postal service running. I can't believe we pay for this! Makes me sick!

TT    |    Commented May 2, 2013

Wow! This is bloody fantastic! Look at that: our democracy in action! Beautiful isn’t it?! Prison inmates rating facilities, we, honest taxpayers, are paying for, paying for pathetic little lives of parasites, providing them with everything and yet they’re the ones who “rate”. Freaking amazing! I’m loving it!

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