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More prison abuse
May 10, 2004 11:08 AM   Subscribe

More Prison abuse. How un-American! Inmates were raped, starved and beaten. Some beaten to death, forced to perform oral sex on other prisioners... The list goes on and on. But this didn't happen in Iraq; it happens in America every day. How un-American, indeed.
posted by eperker (44 comments total)

 
How can this happen in...

oh.

Texas.

Yeah, gotcha.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:09 AM on May 10, 2004


It would be nice if this issue were dealt with and this problem was ended and was not just standard fodder for cheap, clueless comedy routines.

Stop Prison Rape is a good resource, some pages have some text which is NSFW.
posted by Stoatfarm at 11:20 AM on May 10, 2004


Yes, only in Texas & before Bush lived in the State.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:20 AM on May 10, 2004


eperker, why do you hate america?
posted by keswick at 11:21 AM on May 10, 2004


Amerigo Vespucci was a notorious oral rapist.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:22 AM on May 10, 2004


John Kenneth Fisher:

It happens in every prison in America. But hey, if you wanna make it an anti-Texas thing to make you feel better, you go right ahead.

The crux of the problem is this:

1) Prison guards in general are people paid very poorly to do an extremely unpleasant job. With the salary offerred, people shouldn't be surprised that you get the kind of yahoos who would do the job for shits and giggles or people too poor to resist being paid to look the other way or join in corruption. But to raise the pay and get a better class of guard, you'd have to raise taxes or divert money from some other program and conservatives would bitch.

2) Prisons are, for the most part, filled with people who have already demonstrated anti-social tendencies and an unwillingness to play by societies rules, and a willingness and ability to use extreme violence to accomplish their means. To keep these people completely safe from eachother would require unheard of levels of security, which would make civil libertarians bitch.
posted by jonmc at 11:25 AM on May 10, 2004


The other part of the problem is that any public figure who wants to spend more money on keeping criminals safe will be loudly derided by the Sean Hannitys of the world and their flocks. Many, many Americans think that those in prison deserve what they get.
posted by callmejay at 11:29 AM on May 10, 2004


Prison guards in general are people paid very poorly to do an extremely unpleasant job.

Bullshit. In California, the average prison guard salary is now $73k, waaaay more than the average teacher's salary. What a nice tidy cycle.
posted by badstone at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2004


What a nice tidy cycle.

works rather neatly, doesn't it? we're in way more trouble than most think.
posted by quonsar at 11:34 AM on May 10, 2004


How un-American, indeed.

No shit.
posted by magullo at 11:35 AM on May 10, 2004


Prisons are, for the most part, filled with people who have already demonstrated anti-social tendencies and an unwillingness to play by societies rules, and a willingness and ability to use extreme violence to accomplish their means.

America's One-Million Nonviolent Prisoners

The Justice Department recently released data showing that the number of prisoners in America rose to 1.8 million last year, the highest level ever, and the second largest prison population in the world. Using the most recent Justice Department data, the Justice Policy Institute found that last year two-thirds of those 1.8 million were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, representing the first time in American history that more than one million (1,185,458) people were confined for crimes involving no violence.
posted by y2karl at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2004


Keswick, lest you think I hate America, (although I think it's sarcasm) I will editorialize: In the US, the prisons are run/guarded by Corrections officers who are trained for the job and counseled in the issues they face. Even so, inmates are beaten, tortured, raped and abused every day. The fact that 19-year old Army privates were given the task of running a prison without proper training and oversight is a huge and stupid failure of leadership.

By the way, Bush says Rumsfeld is doing "a superb job.''
posted by eperker at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2004


So was there anything interesting in the Geoshitties links? They're farked aleady.
posted by birdherder at 11:39 AM on May 10, 2004


jonmc, most prisoners are non-violent offenders, so they didn't demonstrate any willingness and ability to use extreme violence to accomplish their means. Of course by the end of their stay that may no longer be true.

The breakdown, according to those links, is 1.8 million prisoners. 600,000 of those are violent offenders. The other 1.2 million are non-violent offenders. The report defines non-violent as offenses which involved neither harm, nor the threat of harm, to a victim.

Not that these people are saints but the statistics don't match up with your picture either.
posted by substrate at 11:39 AM on May 10, 2004


With the salary offerred, people shouldn't be surprised that you get the kind of yahoos who would do the job

I can't remember where I read it, but there's a disturbing statistic about male guard-female prisoner rape that is astounding. Something like half to three quarters of women are taken advantage of by male guards in female prisons.

I would think that even the most staunchly authoritarians would be as disgusted as I am about that.
posted by mathowie at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2004


Damn you y2karl, away to prison with you for using the same statistics I was using!
posted by substrate at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2004


JonMC, the second part of what you said is very true, but I think that there's a little more nuance to the first part.

In some places prison guards are paid very well indeed (California is a great example). In most other places, the pay is decent on the civil service scale, and, given the depressed areas where prisons are often located, often quite high up on the local wage distribution chart.

The problem is what you say -- the work is dangerous, boring, and kind of hopeless. As a result, it's usually easier to get a corrections job than any other kind of law enforcement badge available in a jurisdiction. We might solve a lot of problems by treating corrections, or at least corrections leadership, as simply one rotation of more generalist body of state police officers.
posted by MattD at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2004


That's California, badstone, here's some nationwide figures:

Last year, Texas' correctional officers earned an
average annual salary of $26,724. The national average annual salary for a prison guard last year was $34,404.


And even $73k wouldn't be enough to get me in there to do that job, and I bet most people out there feel the same.

On preview: karl, I have absolutely zero problem housing violent and non-violent prisoners separately. But even if we do, things like this will still happen among the violent prisoners. And, still, many non-violent offenders need incarceration as well. I sure as hell would like to see Ken Lay in a cell.
posted by jonmc at 11:42 AM on May 10, 2004


Aaron McGruder made the same point in today's Boondocks strip.
posted by The Michael The at 11:49 AM on May 10, 2004


jonmc, agreed, I'd like to have seen a breakdown of the violent v.s. non-violent offenses though. There are people locked up because of three-strikes laws, others locked up for drug offenses and then there are thieves and the like. Why are people locked up for crimes that don't involve an action (physical, i.e. violence, or financial, i.e. theft, embezzlement etc) against others?

A lot of this is because for some reason it's a good thing to be seen as tough on crime even if you have to take a puritanical view on what crime is. Privatized prisons are only going to make it worse. If you've got enough money to lobby then you're going to lobby for legislation that's in your best interest. If your cash flow increases with the number of people locked up then you'll lobby for laws that lock up more people regardless of the actual harm to society (people no longer in the work place, families split up).
posted by substrate at 11:52 AM on May 10, 2004


How un-American, indeed.

No shit.


That would be incorrect with cases of anal rape dude.

I just want he King of Jordan to know that this is not the true heart of Americans.
We are a kind and benevolent and compassionate bunch of very conservative murderers and rapists and misogynists!

Notice how the first solider to be prosecuted just happens to be the one taking the pictures?

Notice how the outrage and "apologies" are directed towards the pictures and not the acts themselves?

Anyone want to bet the Orwell Department of Attack will ban the use of any and all cameras in Iraq by US soldiers?

And another thing, whey the hell is NO ONE going after the hired mercenaries who were ALSO responsible for a lot of torturing? Is this what we've come to? Outsource to avoid responsibility?
posted by nofundy at 11:57 AM on May 10, 2004


Yeah, I think that prison problems are much larger than anybody would possibly imagine. A couple of years ago in college, I took a course on the justice system and one assignment was to spend some time in the county's district court. I went for a few hours and happened to catch a case where a male prison guard was on trial for allegedly harrassing and possibly raping females in his prison. Before going to the actual courthouse, I had never heard of the case or the situation and I never heard about it afterwards. I checked the local news fairly regularly too, including the papers, but it must not have been newsworthy.

Listening to the women's testimony, it was clear that they were very poor and very much under-educated. The defense lawyer seemed to be taking advantage of the negative stereotypes quite well. It was a strange experience though, overall, and it definitely makes me wonder how often these types of things go on that never make the news. It seemed like big news to me.
posted by crazy finger at 11:57 AM on May 10, 2004


Too Much Time : Women in Prison
by Jane Evelyn Atwood

This is a documentary survey of the experience of women in prison by the award-winning photojournalist Jane Evelyn Atwood. Since 1980 the numbers of women in US prisons have increased tenfold. Similar statistics apply to the nine other countries around the world where Atwood has succeeded in penetrating the prison systems - photographing, interviewing women prisoners and their guards, gathering testimony. The result is a raw and moving account in words and pictures of society's attitude to the issues of women, crime and incarceration. The book raises questions about the relative treatment of men and women in prison and about the links between women's crimes and male violence. But more than a campaigning photo story, the book assembles an extraordinary body of experience. As Kathy Boudin, a teacher and writer imprisoned since 1981, comments: "as women in prison, we tell stories to each other - sitting in our cells, walking in the prison yard, in parenting groups - but we urgently need our stories to be heard beyond the walls and the razor wire. This book takes the reader into the lives of women in prison as they reflect on personal responsibility and social realities, guilt and reparation, change, loss and survival. It is in the power of prisoners' voices that the complex truth emerges."


other Atwood prison images here and here
her famous, hammering "pregnant inmate in chains" shot is here

___________

RR: One of the themes in your books is that the justice system perpetuates crime and criminals.

EB: It certainly doesn't do anything to stop it. I guess some people it stops - it stops them while they're in prison. But I don't think it does anything to reform people. If people reform in prison - as some do - it's in spite of the prison not because of it. It's also because of time. Most criminals burn out at a certain age anyway - you find very few 40 year old bank robbers.

-- Edward Bunker
posted by matteo at 12:01 PM on May 10, 2004


To keep these people completely safe from eachother would require unheard of levels of security, which would make civil libertarians bitch.

I'm aware that isolated confinement makes people batty in short order, but given the choice between the kind of anarchy that exists in so many prisons and just locking each prisoner in his own cage, I'd go with plan B, and I'm a pretty strong civil libertarian.

From a tough-on-crime angle: the whole idea of prisons is that they're a place where the state has total power over the incarcerated. To let prisoners be free to exert power over anybody in prison is to be weak on crime. All convicted criminals should be completely powerless for the duration of their term. This is necessary for prison to work as rehabilitation, and it is necessary for prison to work as retribution - or do you only want to punish the weak criminals? The rapists in prison can't be feeling much hurt. When they say cracking down on prison rape is being soft on crime, the big violent fuckers in there are laughing and laughing.

Guards raping inmates is an entirely different problem, of course.
posted by furiousthought at 12:02 PM on May 10, 2004


2) Prisons are, for the most part, filled with people who have already demonstrated anti-social tendencies and an unwillingness to play by societies rules, and a willingness and ability to use extreme violence to accomplish their means.

Well, gee, one would have thought the second part there of your comment meant you believed that prisons are, for the most part, filled with extremely violent anti-social types--something, which as indicated above, is simply not true--which would suggest that you were, to put it gently, and avoiding the 'talking out of your ass' description directly, sadly misinformed--not to put too fine a point on the matter.
posted by y2karl at 12:02 PM on May 10, 2004


matthowie: probably you didn't have to deal with real authoritarians, if you think they would be disgusted. Let me show you: I was in the military (conscription , yeah not in U.S.) in a company with +-300 people ; works were badly needed in the toilets, so that the contract to completely rebuild them was signed more or less in december.

The 300 people company was promised to have back their toilets in about 10 days ; meanwhile we were given permission to use the toilets of another "nearby" company..more or less 500 meters away.

Imagine waking up during night in January to take a leak ..soldiers were practically forced to leave their bed, dress up and do 500 meters running ( -5°C ..freezing cold) to the other toilets just to take a leak. One can gets use to these problems (I'm the living proof) as long as the problem doesn't last for more then a while.

But we were left 3 months without toilets , while the pipes of the old toilet leaked sevage in some hard to reach place ...so for more or less one month we enjoyed the smell of shit all over the company, 24h hours a day. Imagine sleeping in such conditions. I did with 299 others.

Some corageous soldiers asked the company commander to find some other solution, for instance moving into a -unused - building nearby (without toilets, but at least without the smell). They were first said "ok, we'll see" ..second time "not yet" ..third time they were punished for no other reason that the company commander was annoyed with them.

As usual in the military, when the commander is misbehaving or ignoring the troops, the troops ask his immediate superior : who punished again the soldier for bothering him, accusing them of being sissies not able to withstand such horrible sanitary conditions for 3 months. Another fucking armchair general with his own private apartment away from the smell.

Point is : if a military company can go so low, imagine a prison in which the prisoners are disgraced beings. Two real authoritarians (commander and 2nd commander) didn't give a flying fuck about their own soldiers...imagine enemy prisoners. I guess one needs to stay a while in mil or in a prison to see the lowest scum of authoritarian people.
posted by elpapacito at 12:05 PM on May 10, 2004


jonmc, agreed, I'd like to have seen a breakdown of the violent v.s. non-violent offenses though. There are people locked up because of three-strikes laws, others locked up for drug offenses and then there are thieves and the like.

I agree that I'd like to know what was classified as what myself.

As far as drug offenses go, I'm pro-legalization which would clear a lot of that up. That's not to say that many drug dealers arent scumbags who will move on to some other illegal business, but that's a whole other discussion.

Why are people locked up for crimes that don't involve an action (physical, i.e. violence, or financial, i.e. theft, embezzlement etc) against others?

Citizens, have a right to be secure in their property as well. Plus, you also have people who make careers out of non-violent offenses like counterfieting, auto-theft, burglary, white-collar scams and the like that cost society millions in both cash and frustration.

And is violence the only criterion for dividing people? Who's the bigger threat to society: an otherwise law abiding guy who assaults someone in a one-time bar brawl or a "non-violent" professional con artist who's been fleecing people for decades? I'm honestly asking.

Again I'm not saying that these type of offenders should be put in with the murderers, rapists and armed robbers, but they do have to be dealt with.

I'd support a carefully worded three strikes law, if it applied to violent felons only with a very clear defininition of what violent crimes are.
posted by jonmc at 12:05 PM on May 10, 2004


[caveat - I work in the field of prisoners' rights]

To pick up on what mathowie said:
There is rampant sexual assault of prisoners by guards in prisons in NY. Both males and females are raped and assualted, although it is usually by male guards. Prior to 1996 it was legal for guards and prisoners to have sex. So in cases of rape the guard simply had to say, 'she asked for it.' He was obviously more credible than she was as he was an officer of the law, and she was a convicted felon, so even if the woman was able to preserve DNA evidence it was, essentially unprosecutable.

It remains difficult to prosecute, and sometimes the accounts are filled with conspiracy. Guards and superintendents have sex with prisoners for 1/2 hour of television, or in exchange for food.

I suppose it's different for guards to have sex for their own personal sexual gratification, than it is to have sex as part of a mandated, 'loosening up' process. Sexual torture as part of an interrogation process seems even more horrific. But, I think it's quite telling that two of the guards in Iraq who are being prosecuted are correcitons officers.

I'm really glad that people are makign the connection to prisons here. I think it's total bullshit that prisons can't prevent this from happening. They prevent it in other countries, and some prisons here are better and worse at preventing rape. Violent felons need to be taught how to survive without violence, not to have the idea that violence is the appropriate way to gain power.
posted by goneill at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2004


And just so I don't sound like a complete Neanderthal here, I am not unsympathetic to prisoners. The guy who sat next to me in the car on my way to my high school graduation party is doing time for assault with a deadly weapon. another freind who was at the same party is a prison guard, last I heard. I don't know if it's the same prison. I have a relation by marraige who has spent 14 of his 40-odd years in various jails starting with juvenile facilities. I myself have done illegal things that I regret. I do honestly believe that people can change. I've seen people change. And that change, for the most part comes from within-from conscience, regret for harm done and wasted time. But part of what makes people change from committing harmful acts is consequences. Which the correctional system can provide, at least theoretically. I'm not saying that these consequences should include rape or torture, just to be clear.

And there is, regrettably, a subset of people in the system, who for whatever reasons, seem to be immune from those forces which make for postive change, and they have to be dealt with, too.
posted by jonmc at 12:26 PM on May 10, 2004


given the choice between the kind of anarchy that exists in so many prisons and just locking each prisoner in his own cage, I'd go with plan B, and I'm a pretty strong civil libertarian.

Well, I don't know about forcing others into solitary, but I know for damned sure that if I were ever in prison, I'd do everything possible to get thrown in the "hole" as quickly as possible, just for personal safety concerns.

I can just imagine trying to play the tough-guy role... "I am a chain belt in Kung Fu. Bruce Lee was my teacher. Watch this. Waaa! HAA! Agai! That's called the quart of blood technique. You do that, a quart of blood will drop out of a person's body."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:26 PM on May 10, 2004


I'm sort of surprised that no-one's mentioned Zimbardo's prison experiment. When you put someone in prison and tell someone else that they're the guard, trouble is never far away. I'd go as far as to say that -- horrible as it is -- it's just human nature.
posted by reklaw at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2004


Aren't many of the soldiers in Iraq from National Guard?

How many of those are prison guards back home?

Anyone else wonder about this?
posted by nofundy at 12:39 PM on May 10, 2004


On preview: Reklaw beat me to it. But those not familiar with the classic psychology experiment, The Stanford Prison Experiment, would be well advised to check it out.

In it, 24 college students were randomly assigned to be 'prisoners' or 'guards', and left for a week in a simulated prison environment. In an amazingly short stretch of time, both sides began to take on their assigned roles with surprising vigor, the 'guards' in particular quickly becoming controlling and abusive.

Any discussion of prisoner treatment would be wise to take the experiment into account, as it calls into question how much of what goes on in prisons is the result of innate qualities in the type of people who end up in jail and the types of people who sign on to be guards, and how much is the result of some quality of the prison system itself and the way we conceptualize it.

Scary, fascinating stuff.
posted by thomascrown at 12:54 PM on May 10, 2004


nofundy: two of the people being prosecuted are prison guards in the US.

Prison abuse is not necessary. Being a prison guard might make someone violent, and violent people might be predisposed to becoming either guards or prisoners, but it isn't necessary. There are controls that can be placed on the behavior of guards to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely. There are oversight boards that can ensure that prisoners are safe.

Prison should be a place where prisoners learn to function in normal society.
posted by goneill at 1:01 PM on May 10, 2004


I've always thought that The Stanford Prison Experiment would be a brilliant name for a band...

Even though people don't like the idea of "Club Fed", there is something to be said for having seperate prisons for non-violent criminals... I'm not sure what the statistics are, but I'd assume the non-violent criminals are most able to be rehabilitated, so these prisons would have more classes etc.
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:08 PM on May 10, 2004


Prison should be a place where prisoners learn to function in normal society.

Well, that's one of it's goals. The primary purpose is to remove the threat that many criminals pose to society at large. Reforming the prisoners that can be reformed is merely a furtherance of that end.

There are controls that can be placed on the behavior of guards to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely.

And the guards themselves are the controls between the prisoners and society at large. Important to remember that.
posted by jonmc at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2004


Actually, murderers have one of the lowest recidivism rates. Most people who committ murders are males in their late teens and early twenties. Perhaps it has something to do with elevated testosterone levels in late puberty...
posted by goneill at 1:22 PM on May 10, 2004


Prison should be a place where prisoners learn to function in normal society. Well, that's one of it's goals. The primary purpose is to remove the threat that many criminals pose to society at large. Reforming the prisoners that can be reformed is merely a furtherance of that end.
unfortunately some chose prison rather the offered probation terms. Because the time served will be accomplished easier. This rather than being supervised in the outside world for several years. Which I found tragically insane when these people shared this. They said they would have more fun playing basketball for 9 months with their friends than work a job and follow the laws and probation terms. There is something wrong there besides being locked up. Because their feelings and past history was to be done with it than being stuck in the system over & over if they violated probation.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2004


Actually, there is/was a band named Stanford Prison Experiment.
posted by eperker at 2:48 PM on May 10, 2004


Why are people locked up for crimes that don't involve an action (physical, i.e. violence, or financial, i.e. theft, embezzlement etc) against others?
What kind of crime doesn't involve an action against others, apart from very small-time drug users, perhaps, who obtain their fix from legal sources? Violence does not have to be physical in nature.
posted by dg at 4:20 PM on May 10, 2004


Kind of a weak argument - since all crime does involve, eventually, a detrimental action to others, all crime is therefore violent?

Even small-time drug users, if you open up enough indirection, should be considered violent criminals. If you buy the propaganda, drugs cause fiscal and social harm just through their very presence. I'm curious as to that particular exclusion...

Face it - we're England during the Industrial Revolution, and Bentham is giddy as a schoolgirl at how readily we've accepted Utilitarianism.
posted by FormlessOne at 6:32 PM on May 10, 2004


Anyone want to bet the Orwell Department of Attack will ban the use of any and all cameras in Iraq by US soldiers?

Yes. How much?
posted by David Dark at 2:29 AM on May 11, 2004


This rather than being supervised in the outside world for several years. Which I found tragically insane when these people shared this. They said they would have more fun playing basketball for 9 months with their friends than work a job and follow the laws and probation terms. There is something wrong there besides being locked up.

That kind of statement needs some kind of evidence to back it up. A link? Or should we just take your word for it?
posted by sic at 2:40 AM on May 11, 2004


Even small-time drug users, if you open up enough indirection, should be considered violent criminals. If you buy the propaganda, drugs cause fiscal and social harm just through their very presence. I'm curious as to that particular exclusion...
Of course, if you want to take every action and pursue it to its end effect, we are all violent criminals. The point I was trying to make was not to exclude small-time drug users as such, but trying to say that, in one way or another, almost all criminals are violent and that there are no doubt exceptions and that was the only one I could come up with at the time - someone who uses an illegal drug without committing another crime to pay for it - perhaps a casual marijuana user, for example, who buys his stash with money legally earned?
posted by dg at 4:10 PM on May 11, 2004


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