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Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S.
May 8, 2004 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S. "Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates..."
posted by Postroad (34 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Do they do this in US prisons ? -

"U.S. soldiers who detained an elderly Iraqi woman last year placed a harness on her, made her crawl on all fours and rode her like a donkey, Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal human rights envoy to Iraq said Wednesday. "

I've heard that, in the US, the "SuperMax" prisons are perhaps the worst. I read an account, several years ago, of an incident at a Californian Supermax facility in which guards forced an inmate into a bathtub filled with sub-boiling water and held him there until his entire body was burned. I can't remember whether or not the inmate died. Probably. The prison facility was, I believe, privatized.
posted by troutfishing at 7:36 AM on May 8, 2004

The criminal's theoretical enablers - Ilana Mercer
posted by hama7 at 7:48 AM on May 8, 2004

I was thinking about this and the solution that came to my mind was security cameras. Install them, leaving no sight line behind, and have their tapes or memory reviewed daily by an independent body. Install them in cells, halls, showers, kitchens, grounds, everywhere. And do this in military detention facilities of all kinds. Keep a record of every moment of every prisoner's life behind bars from entry to exit. What is needed is transparency and accountability.

Rumsfeld was outraged! outraged those pictures found the light of day. Yet without those pictures, those many investigations of abuses of Iraqi prisoners would be rumors and stories on back pages. A picture is worth a thousand words indeed.
posted by y2karl at 8:01 AM on May 8, 2004

hama7 - Yes, the straw man is dead. What's it have to do with this?
posted by mote at 8:22 AM on May 8, 2004

Discussing models of jurisprudence is not "enabling" crime, hama7. If we don't ask ourselves why we take specific actions as a society (like lock up criminals together, in conditions that couldn't be better designed to increase crime if we wanted to), and what we hope to achieve with those actions, then we are acting thoughtlessly, which is essentially, acting randomly. Which is not doing the right thing, which is therefore doing wrong.

The primary driver of conservative attitudes to crime and punishment is vengeance. Actually that's around the wrong way: a person whose attitude to crime and punishment is vengeance-motivated is a conservative, by the same uniquely American set of definitions that makes "liberal" a perjorative.

And that's fine. You're allowed--at least, we liberals think that people ought to be allowed--to think what you like, to have your own values and desires and so on and so forth. What you're not entitled to is your own facts.

It's a fact that demonization and degradation of criminals directly causes recidivism. It's a fact that the punishments prescribed by law do not permit any additional embellishments the twisted minds of randomly sadistic prison wardens might desire to add to them. It is a fact that a person sentenced to, say, three years' jail, is intended by the legal system to serve that time in confinement, without undue suffering nor undue joy, and spend at least some of that time in contemplation of their guilt and reformation of their character.

Commiting abuses of prisoners (criminals or captured enemy soldiers or detainees or whatever you want to call them) is a crime. Failure to curb abuses is also a crime.

Why are you making excuses for criminals? Why are you trying to deflect guilt away from corrupt officers onto enquiring citizens, who are occasionally naive but are always motivated by compassion? What the hell kind of mind sees a compassion-driven enquiry from an interested citizen as being worse than an abuse of trust, power, and public duty by a servant of the state?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:27 AM on May 8, 2004

aeschenkarnos, i think hama7 is subscribing to the conservative ideas that:

1) everyone in prison is guilty b/c the american legal system works perfectly
2) once you're in prison, you're no longer a citizen , so you should have NO rights at all. in fact, you're not really even human anymore, so why should hard-working, god-fearing citizens care about you?
3) prison guards are outnumbered by 100 to 1, so they have to use methods that we faggoty libruls wouldn't approve of to control the non-humans that they have to deal with every day.
4) if prison officials showed any sign of weakness (i.e., compassion or understanding), the non-humans would riot and harm the hard-working, god-fearing prison guards.
5) anybody who thinks the officials and guards in the penal system need to be held accountable or that we need to take a look at some of the human rights violations going on in the prison system is soft-on-crime and wants to see criminals running wild in the streets
6) anytime something that looks bad is discovered, we need to remember that 99.9% of prison guards are honest, upright, decent people doing the best they can in difficult jobs, so a few incidents here and there is no big deal

as for me, i'm sure that there are prison guards all over america who have seen the torture photos coming out of iraq and thought, "hey! that gives me a great idea!"

i'm also aware of the fact that, as a slender young male, if i was ever faced with the possibility of going to jail, it would be far better for me to be shot "resisting arrest" or "attempting to escape," than to go to prison.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:48 AM on May 8, 2004

Is anybody unaware that the US prison system isn't about rehabilitation, its about keeping violent felons away from society for as long as possible.

The sad fact is that most Americans would probably say that criminals deserve the abuse and torture they get. How many times has someone here (myself included) suggested hard prison time for some white collar criminal so that he can be raped and beaten in prison?

I liked seeing the Daily Show's take on Rumsfeld's testimony, although it is outrageous that he refused to answer a question about torture because so far he'd only heard it referred to as abuse. But I especially liked Jon Stewart explaining the Paul Wolfowitz would like to change the term abuse out for "freedom tickling".

And no, I don't mean to make light of a serious situation. Oh wait, yeah I do. Too much furrowed brow living these days.
posted by fenriq at 8:50 AM on May 8, 2004

Is anybody unaware that the US prison system isn't about rehabilitation, its about keeping violent felons away from society for as long as possible.

I wonder who's willing to find out the hard way if "rehabilitation" actually works, because there are countless examples that it does not, and while we're figuring that out, the best place for violent felons is away from society for as long as possible, if not longer.

Abuse by state employees is not tolerated because it is illegal, but that does not seem to have occurred to the Soviet Times, unsurprisingly. I'm a little low on compassion for violent repeat offenders and other anti-social violent thug scum, and much more likely to consider the suffering of their victims, because that is why they are in jail. You don't go to jail for being good.

For liberals and some loopy British psychologists, the the real victims are those behind bars!

In case you missed it, please consider the following information:

Revolving-door justice is a reality:
posted by hama7 at 9:24 AM on May 8, 2004

hama7: I wonder who's willing to find out the hard way if "rehabilitation" actually works, because there are countless examples that it does not

Actually, if it does work, there will be countless non-examples* of that fact.

*Barring very, very occasional human-interest feel-good pieces, the rehabilitated criminals won't make the news.
posted by Gyan at 9:35 AM on May 8, 2004

Abuse by state employees is not tolerated because it is illegal, but that does not seem to have occurred to the Soviet Times, unsurprisingly.
Besides the crude attack on the Times, I'm having trouble figuring out what it is you're saying here, hama7. Not tolerated by whom? The article describes several clearly illegal actions by prison staff that by and large got away with it.
The Times article was not about reducing the prison population. The Times article was not claiming that keeping violent offenders off the streets is a bad thing. Nor am I. That's simply not the issue here.

Can we agree that such blatant abuse of prisoners is morally objectionable? Or do you support and stand by the actions described in the article?
posted by mote at 9:45 AM on May 8, 2004

"The hard fact is that the U.S. did install in Iraq an American-style approach to prison management. Like the U.S. prison system, it is underfunded and inadequately supervised, lacks civilian oversight and accountability and is secretive and tolerant of inmate abuse until evidence of mistreatment is pushed into the public light. That, regrettably, is the American model."
posted by homunculus at 10:12 AM on May 8, 2004

"I was thinking about this and the solution that came to my mind was security cameras."

Apparently it'll take more than just cameras.

But these domestic cases may receive more attention after the stories of Bush's rape rooms come out.
posted by 2sheets at 10:14 AM on May 8, 2004

the best place for violent felons is away from society for as long as possible

hey, great propaganda spew, hama7. too bad most of the people in prison these days aren't violent felons but rather felons by dint of property crimes or unapproved substance possession. has it occurred to you that "criminal" is an abstraction, a declaration? perhaps one day the declaration will be directed at you and you'll disappear into the maw of your vaunted criminal "justice" system to experience a bit of freedom tickling on your own. i wouldn't wish it on you, instead i'd wish for compassion and empathy to strike a match against the inner murk which obfuscates your world view. but such illumination is rare in sociopaths, isn't it?
posted by quonsar at 10:15 AM on May 8, 2004

The prison facility was, I believe, privatized.

That's the crux of the problem. A private corporation is concerned first and foremost with profit, which is not a bad thing in some enterprises but bad in a prison, where the paramount concerns should be the security and safety of the prisoners and the public at large.

I'm a little low on compassion for violent repeat offenders and other anti-social violent thug scum, and much more likely to consider the suffering of their victims, because that is why they are in jail.

I probably have enev less cimpassion for that subgroup of prisoners than you do, hama7, but I'm not foolish enough to delude myself that there aren't a lot of people (especially in the federal prison system) who do not meet that description, and who should be put somewhere else to make room for the truly dangerous.

Can we agree that such blatant abuse of prisoners is morally objectionable?

Absolutely. We don't make ourselves a better or safer society by stooping to the behavior of our worst members.

Is anybody unaware that the US prison system isn't about rehabilitation, its about keeping violent felons away from society for as long as possible.

That's what it should be about. But it's more concerned with locking up small time pot dealers and hackers lately.
posted by jonmc at 10:15 AM on May 8, 2004

i thought all the "supermax" facilities were constructed and operated by the same private entity, no?
posted by quonsar at 10:19 AM on May 8, 2004

Is anybody unaware that the US prison system isn't about rehabilitation, its about keeping violent felons away from society for as long as possible.

I forget. What "violent" crime did Martha Stewart or Lea Fastow commit?

Just asking.
posted by ilsa at 10:27 AM on May 8, 2004

To all concerned: I fear that the US prison situation is going to get inhumanly worse. The deep social reasons for this are not necessarily the most obvious.

For example, the public willingness to dehumanize and brutalize is far more than is usually admitted to. In fact, the public encourages gradualized and systematic abuse to ridiculous extremes. If slowly implemented, there are few limitations to abuse, or even torture and murder, that would not be accepted by the public.
The only remedy is the acute shock of seeing the results of this passive-aggressiveness, the victims of their bloodlust; perhaps by an investigative reporter or other such reformer. If the abuse remains hidden, the public is indifferent.

Add to this new innovations in the science of cruelty, along with the utter lack of any moral or ethical limitations. As with any "Frankenstein science", the question stops being, "that's not right, we shouldn't do that because it is wrong", and becomes "how can we transcend our latest abuse, what will make their screams louder?"

It is the insanity of building progressively larger bombs until you have one that can destroy the world, then building thousands of them, without restraint.

What will it be? Chip implants; brain surgery; chemicals that affect the body and brain such as psychotropics, "debilitators" that make you weak, narcotics and sedatives to make you passive and sleep 23 hours a day, temporarily induced blindness, or libido inhibitors? Forced chain gang labor? Transportation to less civilized nations? Stolen organ donation? Whipping or electrocution? Forced gladiatorial combat, with or without weapons? Slow starvation, a diet that could take years to kill you through malnutrition, leaving you in constant hunger? Hypo- and Hyperthermia torture?

If you feel that nothing holds you back, if you are only "following orders" and you feel the public is all in favor of what you are doing to "hated criminals", then you have no bounds, you are free.

And if you respond to these thoughts by being "witty" and saying "well, I wouldn't mind whipping", for example, then you are a pig--an amoral creature.
posted by kablam at 10:35 AM on May 8, 2004

You don't go to jail for being good.

Slap yourself, please. Do I have to explain converse error to you like you were seven or were you being deliberately obtuse?
posted by Space Coyote at 10:58 AM on May 8, 2004

Free at last, innocents seek help for helpless
posted by homunculus at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2004

This very subject came up at lunch the other day. What struck everyone at the table wasn't the brutality in Iraq so much as the relative indifference to what goes on in our prisons every day. Sadly, no one expressed any discomfort with either. We're an angry society.
posted by tommasz at 11:57 AM on May 8, 2004

OK, so we've got prisons run by corporations who lobby for longer sentences and competition is good, yadda yadda. Are private prisons pushed to lower their recidivism rates the way public schools are pushed to raise their test scores?
posted by trondant at 12:27 PM on May 8, 2004

What "violent" crime did Martha Stewart or Lea Fastow commit?

Just asking.

Am I the only person who thinks that people who game the system deserve harder time than punks who get in a bar brawl? Bruises heal but defrauded millions tend to vanish forever...

But back on topic...

While some might argue for the retribution model of incarceration over rehabilitation for some sort of moral reason, I wonder if they are willing to live the consequences of both the eventual release the abused to society and the free existence of their abusers in society?

I really wouldn't want to have someone move in next door who had either been ridden like a donkey and violated with broom handle or who did the abusing.

Then there are the consequences of prison rape as a vector of transmission for lethal STDs....

Even without the moral repugnance this kind of thing just doesn't stand up to any kind of utilitarian calculus.
posted by srboisvert at 12:37 PM on May 8, 2004

You don't go to jail for being good.

This might be completely true if everybody subscribed to the same definition of good... I myself wonder how "bad" someone is that is sentenced to any jail time for abusing his or her own inner child, if you will. I wonder just how many here could do time for their behaviors? But I digress...

Violent and non-violent Americans are confined together more and more these days. Once inside, do officials differenciate and treat accordingly? Is it fair to call everyone in jail an honest-ta-god criminal? And if so, does that ever make it ok to treat these people in a way we feel they've offended us in the first place? Have we come all this way only to rely on eye-for-an-eye tactics? sigh.
posted by LouReedsSon at 12:42 PM on May 8, 2004

What gets me is that prison rape is so readily accepted by Western societies, because these criminals somehow "deserve it". Maybe I've got things arse-backwards, but I've always felt some compassion towards criminals. Sure, some of them might not reciprocate that feeling, but quite a lot of them are just as much victims as the people they might have victimised, IMHO.
posted by Onanist at 12:44 PM on May 8, 2004

Study Tracks Boom in Prisons and Notes Impact on Counties

A study mapping the prisons built in the boom of the last two decades has found that some counties in the United States now have more than 30 percent of their residents behind bars. The study, by the Urban Institute, also found that nearly a third of counties have at least one prison.

"This study shows that the prison network is now deeply intertwined with American life, deeply integrated into the physical and economic infrastructure of a large number of American counties," said Jeremy Travis, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and an author of the study.

"This network has become a separate reality, apart from the criminal justice system," Mr. Travis said. "It provides jobs for construction workers and guards, and because the inmates are counted as residents of the counties where they are incarcerated, it means more federal and state funding and greater political representation for these counties."

In addition, Mr. Travis said, because the study found that prisons were increasingly being built far from the cities where most inmates come from, "we are making it harder and harder for their families to remain in contact with them." As a result, he said, "we have made it harder for these inmates to successfully re-enter society when they are released."

The study, "The New Landscape of Imprisonment: Mapping America's Prison Expansion," was released yesterday. The number of federal and state prisons grew from 592 in 1974 to 1,023 in 2000, and this study is the first effort to show where all the building has taken place. In 1923, the United States had 61 prisons.

Repaving the Long Road Out of Prison

For years, as politicians rushed to pass tougher crime laws and build more prisons, many of them — Republicans in particular — scoffed at traditional efforts to rehabilitate inmates as soft-headed and ineffective. But in recent months, with states facing increasing prison costs and growing evidence that most inmates end up being arrested again after they are released, leaders and lawmakers of both parties, from President Bush to congressmen, governors and state legislators, are taking a new interest in preparing inmates for life on the outside.

They are not calling it rehabilitation but re-entry, programs that help inmates make the transition from prison to returning home. These include drug treatment, job training and finding housing."We've got a broken corrections system," Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, said. "Recidivism rates are too high and create too much of a financial burden on states without protecting public safety."

The problem, Mr. Brownback said, is that the public went too far in its desire to get tough on crime, and scrapped much of what was known as rehabilitation. What people forgot, he said, is that 97 percent of the nation's inmates eventually are released and have to go somewhere. Sixty-seven percent of the 630,000 state and federal prison inmates who will be released this year are likely to be rearrested within three years, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nine million people are released from jails annually.

A Prison State, If Not A Police State

The US has a unique distinction: It is the world's greatest prison state. The US, "the land of the free," has the biggest prison population in the world and the highest rate of prisoners per capita of all countries—including countries that President Bush believes need liberating by US armed forces.

Even China, with one-party rule and a population that is 4.5 times larger than the US population, has 30% fewer total prisoners than the US. China's per capita rate is a small fraction of the US rate. The US prison population per capita is three times higher than "axis of evil" country Iran, five times higher than Tanzania, and seven times higher than a civilized European country like Germany.

posted by y2karl at 1:25 PM on May 8, 2004

Tripling the prison population from 1975 to 1989 may have reduced violent crime by 10 to 15 percent below what it would have been, preventing a conservatively estimated 390,000 violent crimes in 1989 alone.

that foot of yours is gonna be real sore come morning, hama7, what with the bullet holes and all...
posted by quonsar at 2:29 PM on May 8, 2004

"The United States is always lecturing other countries about human rights, yet we do virtually nothing about a scandalous practice we would denounce in the most self-righteous tones were it to come to light in China or Iraq."
posted by JohnR at 4:04 PM on May 8, 2004

Is anybody unaware that the US prison system isn't about rehabilitation, its about keeping violent felons away from society for as long as possible.

This point of view is delusional. The vast majority of imprisoned criminals are eventually released. "As long as possible" is, by definition, for the duration of the convict's life. Only a small fraction of crimes are punished with life imprisonment. Unless we want to establish a system in which every crime (or every violent crime?) is punished with life imprisonment, we must come to terms with the fact that segregation of the criminal from society is merely a temporary measure. A successful prison system must take into account the reintegration of released prisoners into society. The fact that our current system fails to do so is reflected in our abysmal rates of recidivism.

Let me make this clear: if rehabilitation is impossible, universal life imprisonment for all criminals is the only logically tenable option. I find this possibility dreadful, not to mention most likely unconstitutional.

That said, there are probably some individuals who cannot be rehabilitated. The law, and government in general, is a blunt instrument for distinguishing these individuals from others. I'm afraid that the release of some offenders who will, unfortunately, offend again is part of the price we pay for our free and open society.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:30 PM on May 8, 2004

United States: Mentally Ill Mistreated in Prison, More Mentally Ill in Prison Than in Hospitals
posted by homunculus at 4:52 PM on May 8, 2004


Whats next?
posted by WLW at 5:20 PM on May 8, 2004

WLW, to see the "next" item, you can look at the Metafilter front page ( Here, items are listed in reverse chronological order of their posting, with the most recent item at the top. Alternately, click on the "Newer" link immediately above the posting box. In the case of this thread, the title of this link is "Excellent photographs by Stephanie Sinclair."

I'm sorry about your tiredness. I went through something similar in college. I find that drinking caffeine can just make things worse. I know that it can be tough if you have a busy schedule, but try to get at least eight hours of sleep each night: it can make your daytime much more productive.

Finally, I don't want to criticize your post, but Ask Metafilter would have been a much better place to address these issues. Here's a link, in case you need help finding it.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:58 PM on May 8, 2004

I'm sorry; looking again at my post, I realize that I may have been a bit unclear. "Posting box" is a piece of jargon that may have confused you. On your web browser, near the bottom of this page, you'll see the words "Posting as: WLW (logout)" . The link to the "next" item is above these words; just click on the yellow text "Newer >>" to get there. By "posting box", I meant the grey area directly below the words "Posting as: WLW (logout)". You know, the area into which you type words when you're feeling lonely and confused.

I hope those details are sufficient; I know the world can be a very difficult place when you're sooooo tired.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:05 PM on May 8, 2004

Dear mr_roboto, thanks, I'll keep that mind next time

hugs and kisses,
posted by WLW at 4:10 PM on May 9, 2004

Those two comments, mr_roboto, are the funniest two comments I have read on this site in ages! *still chuckling three days later*
posted by malpractice at 9:58 PM on May 11, 2004

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