By Amy Milshtein

How to Clean a Correctional Facility
Interior of a correctional facility.

Knowing how to clean a correctional facility is critical to public health. Of course, correctional facilities, jails and prisons face the same cleaning challenges as any other large, densely-populated facility. But their unique characteristics make the job harder and more crucial. 


Living and/or working in a prison is difficult to start; add in issues like overcrowding and underfunding and that difficulty compounds exponentially. Let it go long enough and there may be a big price to pay. Academic research confirms that ignoring overcrowding, maintenance issues and poor sanitation practices can actually lead to an increase in the likelihood of violence within prisons.


Correctional facilities do have one advantage over any other large institution. Labor, one of the biggest costs in professional cleaning, is not an issue in jail.  Inmates can—and do—much of the expected cleaning. Training programs can leverage that work; teaching the population a valuable technical skill they will take with them after release. 


A Prison Population Boom

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that there were 6.7 million persons supervised the U.S. adult correctional systems in 2015, compared to 1.8 million in 1980. Overcrowded interiors provide ideal conditions to spread a variety of illnesses to the entire population: prisoners, employees and visitors alike. 


The problem gets worse after considering that newly incarcerated inmates have an increased prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus infection, hepatitis B virus infection, hepatitis C virus infection, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection than the rest of the population, according to Clinical Infectious Diseases


Once incarcerated, inmates are at an increased risk of acquiring blood-borne pathogens, sexually transmitted diseases, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, and infection with airborne organisms, such as M. tuberculosis, influenza virus, and varicella-zoster virus.


Foodborne Illness: A Growing Prison Problem

According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) correctional inmates are 6.4 times more likely to suffer from a food-related illness than the general population. Reasons for this are varied and nuanced. They include inmates storing stolen food improperly in their cell and poor food quality to start. 


But the main reason, according to an article in The Atlantic is likely more mundane. "…many correctional facilities aren't equipped to execute the food-handling protocols observed in restaurants and corporate cafeterias," writes Joe Fassler and Clair Brown. "And when mistakes are made, there are inconsistent processes in place to ensure improvement.


Cleaning Standards: A Must in the Correctional Environment

With the risks of bad cleaning practices in prisons and jails so high, putting clear protocols in place is paramount. A written cleaning plan lays out expectations for both inmate labor and employee supervisors in a detailed and formal way. It should cover what cleaning tasks need to be performed, when, where and how often to perform them and what tools and products should be used. A good cleaning plan should also include ongoing training.


Devoting resources to creating a cleaning plan has multiple payoffs. A checklist-style plan helps ensure cleaning goals, like reducing the spread of infections, will be met. It can foster communication and education about different tasks and why they should be completed a certain way. Most importantly, formal cleaning standards increase buy-in from inmates and their supervisors, creating a sense of ownership and boosting morale


Corrections Interiors: Designed for Easy Cleaning

Jail and prison designers use specific, robust materials for interiors. Vinyl composite tile, sheet goods and carpet are inappropriate choices as they use water-based adhesives. This allows the material to be lifted off and possibly shaped into a weapon


Flooring systems that bond permanently to the concrete substrate are the preferred choice. The materials are seamless and resistant to harsh cleaners. They don't absorb urine or other fluids. Floor-to-wall cove bases reduce corners so moisture and microbes can't accumulate. Antibacterial protection, often imbedded into the material, also helps. 


Fixtures like toilets and sinks are also extra durable. Heavy gage stainless steel is a more reliable choice than porcelain. Seamless welding removes voids or crevices to conceal contraband. It also removes places for water or other liquids to pool. 


Slips, Trips, and Falls are Still a Concern

Wet floors, from leaky sinks or incomplete cleaning, can cause expensive slip and fall accidents anywhere…even in prison. And the results can be expensive. "Back in February 2017, an ex-mob boss filed a lawsuit against Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center, asking for $10 million, because he slipped and fell while playing ping-pong in prison," writes Robert Kravitz, president, AlturaSolutions in an article in Corrections.com. 


Kravitz lays out a protocol for dealing with wet messes: 

  1. Make sure the person cleaning the mess, be it inmate or employee, is wearing non-slip shoes. Dress shoes with a smooth sole are inappropriate. 
  2. Remove any solid waste or debris
  3. If the spill is liquid a a wet/dry vacuum will remove it
  4. If oil or grease are present, use an autovac or SUV machine


Chemical Program: Green Choices May Be Better

Three different kinds of cleaners should be available to inmate cleaning crews: all-purpose, sanitizers and disinfectants. Each product is uniquely formulated to perform a specific job and supervisors should train crews on their attributes and uses. 


All purpose cleaners are just that; appropriate for a variety of surfaces like counters, floors and more. Sanitizers, formulated to kill or reduce surface pathogens, are appropriate for kitchen surfaces. EPA-registered disinfectants kill 99.99% of pathogens, germs and bacteria on surfaces. Different disinfectants are designed to kill different types of organisms. Be sure you are using the correct chemical. Both sanitizers and disinfectants require dwell time, which can be anywhere from three minutes to 10, to work effectively. 


No matter the chemical, care should be taken to protect everyone's health. The American Correctional Association's "Clean and Green" Policy on Environmentally Responsible and Sustainability-Oriented Practices recommends that correctional institutions "reduce pollution through the use of non-toxic, non-caustic chemicals, liquids, and powders" according to an article in Correctionsone.com


The Right Equipment and Tools

The right cleaning equipment and tools can make cleaning a correctional facility easier and safer. Mops, buckets, sprayers and microfiber cleaning cloths will not remove dangerous pathogens and other soils from overcrowded interiors. New technology, like no-touch spray-and-vac systems or dispense-and-vac systems, will. 


Technology like this is fast, easy to use and preferred by custodial tech instructor David Braun. Working at a prison in Gatesville, TX, Braun says his students rave about the machines and even enjoy using them. "It gets a good workout every week day!" he says. 


Learn more about tools that can clean a correctional facility here. 

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein

Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines. 

Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.

She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.

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