Correctional environments should reflect a commitment to human dignity. Carceral conditions—including the built environment, as well as the facility’s policies, procedures, and practices—should encourage supportive treatment. The environment should reflect the inherent value of all people and demonstrate that the agency’s priority is the health and wellness of all who live and work there. Equitable treatment and access to opportunities must include those who have disabilities or mental health conditions. All correctional settings must provide equal opportunities that comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility regulations and foster gender and racial equality.

Pathways to ensuring human dignity in carceral conditions

1. Establish a workgroup of corrections professionals and incarcerated people to review practices and policies with a focus on human-centered language and approaches to ensure that they align with this Human Dignity Principle.

  • a. Review all policies using administrative data to ensure that they are applied equitably, both racially and socioeconomically.
  • b. Review and update all policies to reflect people-centered language (for example, remove labels like “inmate,” and change references to “feeding” to “meals”).
  • c. Review and update procedures related to day-to-day correctional interactions that reflect the principle of normality, like searches and seizures, meal schedules, allotted eating time, community management that restricts movement, and appropriate language.
  • d. Review and update policies on personal hygiene that are unnecessarily restrictive and mandatory (for example, hair length and style) with a focus on racial justice, religious freedom, and gender identity or expression.

2. Increase wages or incentives, including work credits, for incarcerated people who are employed.

  • a. Strive for the state minimum wage for labor inside prisons.
  • b. Implement incentives to celebrate tenure milestones for incarcerated people working prison jobs.
  • c. Where possible, create paid opportunities for incarcerated students who have mandated educational requirements that do not allow employment.

3. Reduce barriers to adding money to and accessing commissary accounts.

  • a. Ensure that loved ones can make deposits to incarcerated people’s financial accounts with the use of any legal tender (cash, money order, government check, cashier’s check, or certified check).
  • b. Ensure that commissary account deposits can be submitted via mail, online, in person, or by phone.
  • c. Assess inequities within the commissary system and make adjustments based on assessment findings.

4. Provide adequate clothing.

  • a. Make undergarment items considered “seasonal” accessible throughout the year.
  • b. Create opportunities for incarcerated people to wear street clothing—for example, collared shirts. At a minimum, provide street clothing that supports human dignity for visits, meetings, court proceedings, and special occasions.
  • c. Provide clothing and undergarments consistent with gender identity and expression.
  • d. Eliminate costs related to clothing.
  • e. Provide space for people to store clothing appropriately (such as hangers in closets).
  • f. Provide tools to keep clothes clean and wrinkle-free (such as clothing irons).
  • g. Provide access to items that affirm people’s gender identities and expression (such as makeup).

5. Provide autonomy during menstruation.

  • a. Increase clothing options (including underwear and bras) and allowances, especially during menstrual cycles.
  • b. Ensure that people who experience menstrual cycles have access to and their choice of menstrual products, such as tampons, pads, liners, and other items.
  • c. Ensure clean and private bathrooms to manage menstrual hygiene discreetly and hygienically.
  • d. Ensure access to appropriate pain management options, as well as proper medical care and attention, as needed.

6. Provide everyone with nutritious meals three times daily.

  • a. Provide access to fresh, nutritious, and culturally relevant food.
  • b. Consider the quantity and sensory appeal of meals provided.
  • c. Meet recommended nutritional needs for young people, older people, people with illnesses, and those who have dietary restrictions.
  • d. Meet the medically recommended nutritional needs of pregnant people.
  • e. Meet individual needs regarding timing and amount based on autonomous and natural human interaction with food. Honor requests based on medical, religious, and ethical beliefs.

7. Involve incarcerated people in transparent discussion about physical design changes. Shift agency for decision-making to incarcerated people and groups wherever possible.

8. Increase access to natural light, quality air ventilation, and comfortable temperatures year-round.

  • a. Ensure that people held in alternative living settings (for example, restrictive housing or the infirmary) have access to the same light and ventilation as those in general population.
  • b. Routinely check all buildings for mold and all ventilation systems for dust and other airborne pathogens.
  • c. Allow people to see outside and have access to daylight by providing ample windows.
  • d. Provide regular and consistent outdoor time to all incarcerated people. Where possible, shift to a model of unregulated access rather than designated outdoor time.
  • e. Provide reliable heating and air conditioning. Where possible, allow for residents to have control over their own light, ventilation, and temperature control (for example, personal thermostats, desk lamps, and operable windows)

9. Increase opportunities for agency, allowing incarcerated people to have control over their spaces.

  • a. Allow people to personalize their living quarters with items such as bedding and blankets, musical instruments, materials that support personal hobbies, photos, art, and posters.
  • b. Allow people to select their own furnishings. Furnish housing units with soft furniture, mobility tools, mattresses (including double mattresses for people with physical challenges), pillows that are thick enough to be comfortable, and storage for personal items.

10. Review and revise policies and practices to provide incarcerated people with as much privacy as possible consistent with the security needs of the facility. Pay particular attention to all security policies and practices related to autonomy of movement, bathing, and bathroom use.

Human Dignity in Carceral Settings Principle resources