Prisoners in one of the world’s largest, most complex and expensive prisons are struggling to stay in their cells for months at a time amid fears that they could be subjected to torture, as the death toll rises in the worst prisoner uprising in the country’s history.
The prison is the largest of its kind in the world and holds around 3,000 inmates, who are held there under strict conditions and are required to wear prison uniforms to avoid detection by guards and other inmates.
It is the biggest of the 10 countries that house most of the global population of inmates held in the US and Europe.
It is also the largest prison in the United States, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a statement.
The US has 1,600 prisoners at the facility, but many of them are being held in isolation for extended periods and some are dying, according to the DoJ.
“I’m worried about how they’re going to be treated, and the health care and the physical and mental health,” said David J. Besser, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, an Arizona-based civil liberties group.
The United States does not have a system of solitary confinement, but it has a practice known as “confinement enhancement”, which allows inmates to wear masks and other barriers to protect themselves from being searched.
“If they’re really doing well in the isolation, the mask is a really nice gesture,” Bessers said.
“But the real reason is they’re not really getting any sleep.”
The number of deaths among inmates at the sprawling facility has risen dramatically in recent months, with more than half of those who died of natural causes, including heart attacks and respiratory infections, between June and September.
A government report earlier this month said the number of prisoners who have died has more than doubled to 639 since January, and that some inmates were still alive but suffering from dehydration and other health problems.
The death toll for inmates at a facility in the city of Los Angeles, California, rose by more than 60% in the same period, and there have been at least seven deaths at the prison in California since the beginning of September, according a government report.
The number one cause of death at the Los Angeles County jail is drug overdoses, followed by heart disease and stroke, and pneumonia.
Other causes of death include respiratory illness, infections, injuries and accidents.
Inmates at the San Diego County jail are under siege, as they have been for more than a year, and some of the worst violence has been occurring in cells in the prison’s maximum security wing, which houses the most serious offenders, said James M. O’Neill, a lawyer for the California Bar Association, which represents prisoners.
The violence, which has included a sniper attack and shootings of inmates in cells, has left inmates with respiratory problems, breathing problems and infections, said O’Connell, who represented the jail for more, seven, years.
The inmates have been complaining for months that they are inhumanely treated and have suffered for it.
“This is the last refuge of people like you and me in the criminal justice system,” one of them, a man known as Joe, told reporters at the jail in June.
“We are being locked up in a facility that is inhumane, and it’s just a desperate thing to do,” he said.
A group of inmates have begun a hunger strike to demand that the US Justice Department investigate allegations that some of its inmates have died from neglect or mistreatment.
The strike began on June 11 and continues to this day.
Besser said it was “disgusting” that the government was putting up with the violence and “lacks the courage” to act.
“It’s a disgrace,” he told Al Jazeera.
The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the allegations.
The government is also investigating whether a federal judge is overseeing a case filed by the group, and if so, whether he should be fired, said attorney Jeffrey C. Futterman.
In recent months the US prison system has had to turn away some inmates with medical conditions, including a mentally disabled man who was transferred from a state prison to a maximum-security jail.
The man, who is a former federal corrections officer, died in April.
The Bureau of Prisons has also refused to provide necessary medical care to inmates in its facilities, including medical supplies that could help inmates with mental health issues, according the group Prisoners for Social Responsibility (PSR).
Futterman, the lawyer representing prisoners at San Diego, said the group has also called on the department to take steps to ensure the safety of inmates.
“It is not enough to simply say, ‘We are taking care of our inmates’,” Futtermann said.
The department has also repeatedly failed to protect inmates in facilities in California and elsewhere, he said, adding that the department should be held accountable for failing to protect these vulnerable inmates.
The California prison system was the first US facility to be put on lockdown in June after the