Of all the problems encountered by correctional officers- such as prison overcrowding, funding gaps, staff safety and inmate violence, staff shortages, to name but a few- the one issue that rarely makes these lists is pest control. And it’s an ongoing problem, compounded by ageing, often substandard buildings; lack of training and technology shortfalls; prisoner hygiene, or the lack thereof; even the forbidden presence of foodstuffs in cells.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that all of these problems, in toto, are magnified by the rate at which the US incarcerates people. As of 2019, there were some 2.3 million inmates (an astonishing rate of 698 per 100,000 citizens) residing in correctional facilities across the country. Local jails hold some 612,000 individuals, while federal institutions house 221,000. Not surprisingly, state prisons account for the vast majority of those incarcerated: some 1,306,000 people.
Pests Are an Equal-Opportunity Problem
It’s true: virtually every pest you can name- bed bugs, fleas, cockroaches, mites, lice, ticks, rats and mice- will at some time or other invade the buildings and/or offices in which you work. It’s inevitable; they are no respecters of persons!
For example, here are some newspaper stories, uncovered with little difficulty, that underline the problem:
“The Los Angeles Police Department Wednesday was forced to close its Pacific
station jail, located at 12312 Culver Blvd. in the Del Rey neighborhood of
Westside L.A., after exterminators confirmed [a bed bug] infestation.” - CBS
or. . .
“Dozens of inmates have been moved out of three pods at the Oklahoma County
jail due to a month-long bed bug infestation. "We've basically taken everybody
out of the areas in the meantime, and hopefully they won't spread” sheriff's
department spokesman Mark Opgrande said. The infestation was first noticed
about a month ago, and [efforts to] eradicate them were unsuccessful. - Oklahoman
These stories both came from local jails. So, imagine how hard it is to successfully deal with a pest infestation in a prison with hundreds of inmates! And let’s face it, moving a large number of prisoners between cell blocks, or even to outside facilities temporarily, is a logistical nightmare. To say nothing of the inherent threat of violence to prions staff.
So, even if your state has contracts with professional pest management companies (and many do) they are often summoned only when an infestation is especially bad. The rest of the time it’s likely up you, the corrections officers, to address the problem- personally!
The Dos and Don’ts of Pest Control
There was a time when pest control was an ad hoc, informal affair. As one former inmate (and now extremely successful, licensed pest control professional with his own company) reports that prisons would often set up systems that:
“For $25.00 a guard or maintenance employee can take a 15-question test
and have a limited license and thereby cut the hard-working entrepreneur
out of a gig. This saves the tax payers I guess and allows an inmate to run
the halls with a B&G sprayer hosing down the concrete walls at their base
just to say a wing or hall was done.”
Just file that one in the ‘Don’ts’ drawer.
But seriously, pest control does often come down to guards or maintenance workers having to shoulder the burden. With that in mind, here are some tips that might help you with your own pest control efforts:
Make sure that every pest eradication procedure or treatment you undertake is in strict compliance with the regulations and rules established by your state and/or local authorities. Keep in mind that the particular county in which you work may have additional requirements regarding pest control.
Inspect every building (and its grounds) to determine whether various pests are actually present.
Make whatever minor repairs will prevent pests from entering the facility, e.g., filling holes in walls; recaulking, where necessary; repairing screens and loose windows
Check your pest control equipment (e.g., cleaning spray tips, checking hoses for holes or cracks, inspecting holding tanks, etc.) so that it can be relied upon when needed.
Always, always, work together with public health officials during any inspection to identify whatever changes need to made so as to be in compliance with existing rules/regulations.
Even though it may not be required by state and/or local regulations, you should always keep detailed records and reports of all your pest control activities, including pests encountered, when and where, actions taken, materials used (i.e. pesticides, foggers, etc), and the results.
How to Prevent Infestations in Prison Long Term
As anyone who has ever worked in a correction