“The waitstaff were mongrels!” or, jails on yelp.

While teaching at Garden State Youth Correctional Facility last summer, I noticed that I could check-in at the prison on Foursquare (from the parking lot- no phones in the prison, duh). I wondered why someone would do that- it seemed in poor taste, if anything because after enough “check-ins” one could become the “Mayor” of Garden State. But then, almost everyone coming into the prison is either an employee, service provider, or a visitor, and “checking in” is something that one might do in naturalized spaces to say to friends “hey, I’m at work” or “I’m visiting so-and-so.” I never got that comfortable with working at the prison.

I was reminded of this today while doing some light Google research for a project on jails. As it turns out, there are a number of Yelp reviews for jails (google “jail site:yelp.com”). Unlike the detailed reviews one might find for a restaurant, many  of the “reviews” I found initially were written by people who had not actually been incarcerated, and nearly all were “reviews” for jails in California (prisons on Yelp yield a more diverse geography). I wondered if this is because more people in California use Yelp, or if they feel such strong law and order sentiment that they feel the need to express it in all possible corners of the internet.

Some examples:

From LA County Jail:Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 12.02.58 PM



Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 12.04.25 PM


Ok, so people were trying to be funny. Dig a little deeper, however, and you can find the voices of formerly incarcerated people giving voice to their experiences in the county jail.

From Cook County Jail:

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 12.03.44 PM

From LA County Jail:Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 12.03.23 PM

Interestingly, one person took the time to write about her experiences working at Cook County Jail. The combination of “they’re criminals, you can’t trust them!” and “;)” was a little much for me.Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 12.10.22 PM

Are these kinds of reviews standard for other public spaces and work spaces? Are the tone and tenor of these reviews something frequent Yelpers would find normal? Are there other unlikely places on the web that we might find such a diverse discourse about imprisonment?

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