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Gabriela Anez-Lobon
By Gabriela Anez-Lobon on December 08, 2020

Health and Prison Lighting: Why it Matters

Why is health so important within our prison system?

The United States prison system currently houses 2.3 million people. Additionally, more than 500K people work within state and local prison systems. That population’s physical and mental safety is vital, even when we are not amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that “Health, mental health, and substance abuse problems often are more apparent in jails and prisons than in the community.” Incarcerated people live in close quarters with limited access to the outdoors and many of the resources that are available to the general free population. 

Air quality and heating and cooling are among the factors that contribute to “sick buildings.” But lighting is an often-overlooked contributor to physical and mental health. 

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The Cost of Poor Lighting

Although the largest jail in the U.S. houses 17K people, facilities of all sizes have one thing in common -- lighting.

Safety and security are of the utmost importance

Both the incarcerated population and those who work with them must see clearly. The areas that need to be well-lit include:

  • Parking structures and paths for visitors and incoming/outgoing prisoners
  • Cell areas
  • Dining facilities
  • Outdoor recreation spaces
  • Dispensaries
  • Laundries and other work areas
  • Visiting areas
  • Areas for group gatherings, including therapy and skill training

Municipalities can reduce crime within and near the prison walls if they illuminate every space properly.

Also, conventional lights require ongoing maintenance, which means that workers must regularly come in from the outside. The more people who enter the prison system, the greater the chance of security breaches and disease spread. 

Lighting Has an Impact on Mental Health

A whopping 37 percent of people in prisons have mental health issues. Researchers link lighting directly to mood and sleep quality. Some of the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) -- lack of exposure to natural light -- include:

  • Depression
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty in concentrating

All of these may ultimately have an impact on the ability of prison populations to commit to rehabilitation. Additionally, the people who work with them may suffer without exposure to proper lighting.

Fluorescent lights are hazardous to human health. Although the human eye can’t see it, these lights emit a flicker that can trigger nervous system events, including jitters, fragmented focus, and irritability. The high temperatures of these lights also stimulate stress hormones and muscle tension. Heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and sleep all suffer. 

Economic Health is Also Vital

The costs of running prison systems and local jails are high. Prisons cost taxpayers $80 billion annually. 

The cost of energy use in prisons is especially significant. The average jail spends close to $40K each month on energy. Facilities built before the 1990s (which many buildings were) house outdated  HVAC, appliances, and lighting systems. 

Upgrades to these systems can not only create healthier environments, but they can free up dollars that can then be redirected to vital programs -- either within the jails themselves or in the communities in which they are located.

Lighting (the conversion to LED lighting and the placement of motion sensors and dimmers)  is a relatively easy category to tackle first. Not only is it critically important to security and comfort, but utilizing a Lighting-as-a-Service (LaaS) model, your facility can accurately forecast month-to-month expenses. Plus, Future Energy Solutions (FES) will finance the entire cost of converting to LED lighting, meaning you don’t need to find money in the budget for this initiative. 

These compelling case studies illustrate the impact of LED lighting upgrades on the bottom line of several prison systems and individual facilities.


A Healthier Prison Population Benefits All

Between 40 and 60 percent of the prison population is re-arrested upon release. A healthier environment in jails is not the only solution to this problem. But giving this population the highest chance of rehabilitation entails treating them with respect and serving their basic human needs -- and those of the families and workers who support them. 

If we are to reduce prison management costs and rehabilitate as many people as possible, keeping the incarcerated population healthy (mentally and physically) must be a priority.

Get your free energy audit today. We serve both individual jail facilities and large prison systems.

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Published by Gabriela Anez-Lobon December 8, 2020
Gabriela Anez-Lobon

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