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National Prison Rape Commission releases its final report
June 25, 2009 3:32 AM   Subscribe

A Prison Nightmare. On June 23, 2009, the National Prison Rape Commission released its final Report and proposed Standards to prevent, detect, respond to and monitor sexual abuse of incarcerated or detained individuals throughout the United States. More prisoners reported abuse by staff than abuse by other prisoners.
posted by Non Prosequitur (132 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's painful as all hell that we live in a society where organizations like the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission have to exist. If you've been sentenced to prison then you should be even more protected than the average joe - your quality of life has been stripped bare & all you have in this world, really, is the word of the powers that be that you can do your time & come out the other side a better person.
posted by item at 4:06 AM on June 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's shocking how much work can be done in the incarceration systems in the United States and isn't (I don't mean comparative to other countries; just in terms of things that can be fixed.) Screening for vulnerability to rape, not sending people to addiction recovery classes if they're not addicted, making sure those who are addicted get clean, being more intelligent about whom to put on parole, better juvenile detention, making sure that programs created for boys are modified to suit the needs of detained girls, all sorts of simple stuff. A lot of the problem is because of politics and legislative cowardice. I never understand how it's "tough on crime" to keep people addicted, to give up on rehabilitation, all sorts of insane nonsense. Tough on crime = more expensive, less effective.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 4:12 AM on June 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


More prisoners reported abuse by staff than abuse by other prisoners.

I've not read the report yet and fully intend to, but when I read this sentence the first thought that occured to me is, do these numbers indicate that prisoners suffer more abuse from guards than from other prisoners, or does it mean that they are less likely to report other prisoners, for whatever reasons?

Regardless, there's clearly a real problem in the prison system, and I'd be inclined to wager overcrowding has a lot to do with it. We really need to start moving towards the decriminalization of small quantities of controlled substances. Enough of this three-strikes crap. It doesn't work.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:26 AM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Prison rape is a problem that will not be solved until we acknowledge, as a society, that prisoners deserve protection from rape. Decades of constant drumbeats of demonization, depicting criminals as subhuman monsters, have led to where we are, with most people responding to the news of prison rape with tacit acceptance and even approval.

Dostoevsky once said that you can judge the level of civilization in a society by entering its prisons. By that metric, we've advanced little.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:27 AM on June 25, 2009 [45 favorites]


Philip Zimbardo could've told you that thirty-eight years ago.
posted by Appropriate Username at 4:32 AM on June 25, 2009


It's painful as all hell that we live in a society where organizations like the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission have to exist.

Or a society where even relatively liberal, self-proclaimed 'enlightened' elements of the population can snicker and have no problem with the idea of certain kinds of prisoners (rapists in particular) getting raped in prison.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:29 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, what Pope Guilty said.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:30 AM on June 25, 2009


do these numbers indicate that prisoners suffer more abuse from guards than from other prisoners, or does it mean that they are less likely to report other prisoners, for whatever reasons?

Seems like a good question. Guards get fired, not revenge.
posted by luftmensch at 5:31 AM on June 25, 2009


Tough on crime = more expensive, less effective.

Tough on crime = Unthinking idiots will vote for you. I would rather vote for someone who was tough on injustice, but those weak kneed libruls would never get the he-man vote.

Couple this report with our #1 ranking in the world for number of individuals behind bars sure makes me proud to be an American.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:35 AM on June 25, 2009


I'm also pretty thrown by the idea that 1 in 31 American are currently in prison. This number just feels incredibly high, and it seems an indicator of how broken our justice system might be. As a society, we don't have effective ways to deal with people who push limits and break rules. In school, they just get shoved aside with suspensions. As adults, they again get ignored, thrown behind bars where our communities don't need to think about them. Prison might be a just punishment for some, but there's no way its the best option for 1 in 31 of all of us.
posted by cubby at 5:44 AM on June 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


once you stop thinking of this as the prison system and begin thinking about it as the prison industry, most of the perplexing issues fall away.
posted by kitchenrat at 5:52 AM on June 25, 2009 [29 favorites]


Or a society where even relatively liberal, self-proclaimed 'enlightened' elements of the population can snicker and have no problem with the idea of certain kinds of prisoners (rapists in particular) getting raped in prison.

I used to volunteer for the John Howard society, and overall I totally agree that we need to rethink how we deal with incarceration, but....imagine your daughter, your sister or your mother being brutally raped. Honestly, how would you feel if the man who did that was raped himself? I'm not saying it would be right, I guess I'm just saying that many people might believe that you give up some rights when you commit certain crimes.
posted by Go Banana at 5:57 AM on June 25, 2009


The meme: "Our prisons are overcrowded, we need to do something about it" should be replaced by the meme "Our prisons are overcrowded, stop committing crimes, assholes." That said, once you're in jail, you deserve the strongest possible protection from abuse at the hands of guards and other prisoners. We should be as draconian about crime in prison as we are about crime on the street. And late night talk show jokes about prison rape should be as frowned upon as late night jokes about governor's daughters.
posted by Faze at 6:01 AM on June 25, 2009


Go Banana, why not have them raped and released then? How many times is retaliatory rape okay? Should women who use objects to rape other individuals be raped?

What if it's not a "brutal" rape but a he-said/she-said situation? What if it was consensual but statutory rape?
posted by Non Prosequitur at 6:01 AM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


The meme: "Our prisons are overcrowded, we need to do something about it" should be replaced by the meme "Our prisons are overcrowded, stop committing crimes, assholes."

How about replacing it with the meme "Why the hell are we locking people up for ridiculous little shit like marijuana possession?"
posted by JaredSeth at 6:07 AM on June 25, 2009 [12 favorites]


I'm not advocating "retaliatory rape", I'm just trying to explore why there seems to be a general public consensus that prison rape is "OK". If we can't address why some people feel this way, we'll never solve the problem.
posted by Go Banana at 6:10 AM on June 25, 2009


The meme: "Our prisons are overcrowded, we need to do something about it" should be replaced by the meme "Our prisons are overcrowded, stop committing crimes, assholes."

what
posted by dunkadunc at 6:11 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh I understand. I'm not really sure. My mind doesn't even go there to the "what if someone you know got raped; how would you feel towards the rapist, and specifically would you enjoy it and/or not be bothered if they got raped?"

I'll have to think about it a bit. The "not be bothered part" is probably true.. I just.. maybe I'm missing that part in my mind where the circuits align to create "rape as vengeance." Like I can't understand why if I was some tyrannical feudal lord and I felled a city, would I rape the other guy's wife? Why? Is it basically because I'd think it's her fault that she hooked up with him? It's hard for me to do the thought experiment.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 6:15 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even if you have strong enough feelings of vengeance that you would find it hard to be bothered by "retailiatory rape", part of living in a society is recognizing that you can't let emotions get the better of you.

If someone raped any member of my family I suspect I would, on a visceral level, want to exact some sort of revenge but as an adult I recognize that just because I might have violent impulses or a desire for vengeance it doesn't mean I have the right to act on them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:24 AM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's a red herring, Go Banana. People don't reserve prison rape jokes for convicted rapists, nor do they worry a lot about it except for just these people. "Pound me in the ass prison" wisecracks and snickers get made for a much wider group than that. It's more than lex talionis for a specific crime. Besides, if you're really talking about violent rapists, a prison system that permits violent rape may just mean that the guy who raped the hypothetical family member simply goes on raping elsewhere.
posted by tyllwin at 6:31 AM on June 25, 2009


It's an aside, Non Prosequitur, but:

Like I can't understand why if I was some tyrannical feudal lord and I felled a city, would I rape the other guy's wife?


Because you wish to demonstrate your complete mastery over his most prized possessions, crush his sympathisers, and strike fear into the heart of your enemies. It's business, not personal.
posted by tyllwin at 6:34 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The "prison industry" comment was particularly apt. Someone once said that, if you can privatize X, then there will never be an incentive to try to minimize the use of X, because someone will be making money off of it. That alone is a huge problem with our prisons.

More to the point, we don't view prison as rehabilitation. We view it at punishment. As such, the overwhelming community mindset within the US has become, "well, they deserve whatever kind of hellish experience they get in prison." Until we change our community values regarding what a prison is supposed to do, we will never solve a lot of these problems.
posted by hippybear at 6:39 AM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Because you wish to demonstrate your complete mastery over his most prized possessions, crush his sympathisers, and strike fear into the heart of your enemies. It's business, not personal.

Note to self: Never play Risk with tyllwin.
posted by rokusan at 6:43 AM on June 25, 2009 [9 favorites]


I know rape is power and all that, but I just don't get why supposed heterosexual prisoners get off on putting their, you know, in someone else's, thingamijig.

I mean, if I was in prison and I was tough enough to rule the roost, I still don't think it would be an attractive option. As I understand it, a whole "off the pier, you're not queer" mentality exists. What gives?

What proportion of the motivation is "sexual" and what is dominance?
posted by MuffinMan at 6:43 AM on June 25, 2009


My father works as a guard at a max security prison.

My parents divorced and dad would show up once in a while for dinner where he would start storytelling about his work. He would relate these horrific stories of abuse he and the other guards heaped on the prisoners, I assume thinking that I would be impressed by right, decent folk getting back at the evil, animals kept in cages.

And while he was trying to teach me something about the bad people in the world, I learned that the truly awful ones got to wear a badge.
posted by FunkyHelix at 6:46 AM on June 25, 2009 [26 favorites]


What proportion of the motivation is "sexual" and what is dominance?

When you're being raped, does it matter?
posted by hippybear at 6:46 AM on June 25, 2009


Of course not. But if you're trying to stop it, it presumably helps to work out why it occurs beyond simply "because it can".
posted by MuffinMan at 6:50 AM on June 25, 2009


I'm fairly certain that studies involving heterosexual rape have found that it is almost never about sex. Perhaps statutory rape, but that's not really what we're talking about here.
posted by hippybear at 6:54 AM on June 25, 2009


very sad stuff
posted by Flood at 6:55 AM on June 25, 2009


Eradicating it requires a change of mind-set as well as of rules. A culture that jokes about prison rape perpetuates the expectation that rape is a legitimate part of a prison sentence.

This sentence from the article really hits home for me. It's shocking to see how often the threat of prison rape is played for laughs in the media. I'm sure even Leno and Letterman have done bits in their monologues where they talk about some person who is accused of breaking the law having to "make real nice with their new roommate" when they get to jail. I always turn off the tv right after those kinds of jokes.
posted by hippybear at 6:57 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


tyllwin "Because you wish to demonstrate your complete mastery over his most prized possessions, crush his sympathisers, and strike fear into the heart of your enemies. It's business, not personal."

Mongol General: Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. <>
posted by cjorgensen at 6:58 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Man, it must suck to be that "falcons at your breast, wind in your hair" guy that got asked the question before Conan.
posted by electroboy at 7:08 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the first link: "A culture that jokes about prison rape perpetuates the expectation that rape is a legitimate part of a prison sentence. It is not."

There is a pretty big leap from joking about something to condoning it. That said, it is due to metafilter that I refuse to make prison rape jokes (or find them funny). Callouts have come up in the comments often enough to make the point.

The article also states, 1 in 20 prisoners are raped. I would have thought this was much higher. Dramas and jokes had me believing it was nearly 100%, further reinforcing my dread of such places.

Everyone has phobias. A friend of mine is deathly afraid of sharks. He lives in Iowa. Prison is my shark. Whenever I read these stories, or the stories about an exonerated man being let out (or not), I get a bit weirded out. For some reason, wrong place/wrong time, I can imagine myself going to prison. I would not do well there.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:09 AM on June 25, 2009


I used to volunteer for the John Howard society, and overall I totally agree that we need to rethink how we deal with incarceration, but....imagine your daughter, your sister or your mother being brutally raped. Honestly, how would you feel if the man who did that was raped himself? I'm not saying it would be right, I guess I'm just saying that many people might believe that you give up some rights when you commit certain crimes.
posted by Go Banana at 5:57 AM on June 25


This is so stupid I can't think of a response that I will not be banned for.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:12 AM on June 25, 2009 [18 favorites]


> Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

When the HR people at the library asked me to explain how I'd be an asset to the organization, paraphrasing that quote is what got me the job.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:14 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've said it before, I will say it again: as it stands, for the vast majority of people, prison rape is a feature, not a bug. They don't make jokes about it because they dislike it.

Many have a, shall we say, cartoonish image of sexual violation — like a somewhat degrading frat hazing, which of course will be chuckled at in the years to come. Ass-crack beer bong. Shaving cream and itchy genitalia. The concept that fear and adrenalin might permanently stamp associations in your mind, that an overwhelming panic might occur randomly with, say, one's regular bowel movement (even after the distressed tissues have healed), or at some other associated stimulus, like a close inspection of shower tile or the previously-innocuous press of a hand on your collarbone, this does not factor into it, nor does the fact that most these individuals will eventually be churned out to mix with the rest. Instead, it's getting "one up" on someone in the endless jockeying for position which occupies so many.

Prisons, for some, are large concrete structures warehousing people whose sole function is to be looked down upon; their ongoing violation and degradation, combined with their wholesale dismissal as social parasites who would take up less resources if they were simply shot out in the exercise yard and fed to the other prisoners awaiting their lead parole, why, that is necessary to their very function as being "Those Scumbags."
posted by adipocere at 7:15 AM on June 25, 2009 [15 favorites]


Generally, rape is really about control much more than it's about sex.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:16 AM on June 25, 2009


From the report:

Despite that fact that most incidents of sexual abuse constitute a crime in all 50 States and under Federal law, very few perpetrators of sexual abuse in correctional settings are prosecuted. Only a fraction of cases are referred to prosecutors, and the Commission repeatedly heard testimony that prosecutors decline most of these cases. Undoubtedly, some investigations do not produce evidence capable of supporting a successful prosecution. But other dynamics may be at play: some prosecutors may not view incarcerated individuals as members of the community and as deserving of their services as any other victim of crime.

The "warehousing" mentality at work, ladies and gentlemen.
posted by hippybear at 7:20 AM on June 25, 2009


This is so stupid

The sentiment, or the acknowledgement of the sentiment?

Acknowledging that some or many people don't give a damn about the wellbeing or safety of people who've committed serious crimes doesn't strike me as stupid.

Perhaps THE central problem facing prison reform is that politicians who try and change things get accused of pandering to prisoners, or not caring enough about the victims by precisely the people who do believe that prisoners give up some rights when they commit crimes.

On top of that, when you read interviews with families of victims, they often struggle to process their guilt and their feelings of vengeance and even the more self-aware ones acknowledge their problems rationalising from their specific case to the general.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:22 AM on June 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dramas and jokes had me believing it was nearly 100%, further reinforcing my dread of such places.

I wonder if this is part of the reason why it's still somewhat accepted? What I mean is, we want the possibility of going to prison to act as a deterrent to people who might otherwise commit crimes. Does the belief that one is almost certain to be raped in prison make it a more effective deterrent? Probably, at least a little bit.

Which is horrible, but in order to improve the situation, it's necessary to understand the mindset that leads to it not being seen as the terrible thing that it is. Does this fall under the general category of things that would "make prison nicer" and therefore shouldn't be done, in the view of some people? Sadly, I suspect that it does.
posted by FishBike at 7:23 AM on June 25, 2009


We do seem to believe, at least in the US, that anyone who is in prison is no longer a real person. We don't accept the concept that prison should be a place where we send troubled individuals who have made bad choices to help them onto a road toward a better life. Instead, the overwhelming cultural meme is "get 'em off the streets so we'll all be safer" or something similar.

I'm not trying to deny that there are those who need to be removed from society at large, but I don't think it is anywhere near 100% of those in prison. And yet, with our US revenge fantasy mentality, we accept even using the IDEA of being raped as suitable punishment? How on earth can we cry out against the systematic rape of women in places like Rwanda when we basically advocate the same methodology for controlling those who have transgressed in our own country? If rape is wrong, then it is wrong, and we should not be using even the threat of it as a means of behavior modification.
posted by hippybear at 7:27 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know rape is power and all that, but I just don't get why supposed heterosexual prisoners get off on putting their, you know, in someone else's, thingamijig.

Isn't it similar to why my dog (who may or may not be gay) pins other dogs and humps them?
posted by gman at 7:38 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm also pretty thrown by the idea that 1 in 31 American are currently in prison. This number just feels incredibly high, and it seems an indicator of how broken our justice system might be.

The report says, "More than 7.3 million Americans are confined in U.S. correctional facilities or supervised in the community." That's 2.4% who are in prison or jail, or under community supervision. Therefore, the percentage of Americans in prison is much lower than 2.4%. Last year, it was widely reported to have reached 1% for the first time. I don't know where you got "1 in 31," which would be 3.2%.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:39 AM on June 25, 2009


> Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

When the HR people at the library asked me to explain how I'd be an asset to the organization, paraphrasing that quote is what got me the job.


That library must have one HELL of a late loans policy.
posted by litleozy at 7:40 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Generally, rape is really about control much more than it's about sex.

I don't know why people think statements like this are meaningful, considering how greatly power and control influence even our consensual sex. Sex and power are completely intertwined.
posted by hermitosis at 7:40 AM on June 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


I wonder if this is part of the reason why it's still somewhat accepted? What I mean is, we want the possibility of going to prison to act as a deterrent to people who might otherwise commit crimes. Does the belief that one is almost certain to be raped in prison make it a more effective deterrent? Probably, at least a little bit.

Unfortunately... it appears to be that prison is mostly a deterrent for people who are not likely to go there in the first place. In situations where severe childhood trauma, poverty, and a sheer lack of any parental control are factors, threats such as being raped in prison, shanked, or simply having one's freedom taken for months if not years are not enough. It's similar to a recovering addict/alcoholic who knows that he/she will end up in a very bad situation if not dead, if a substance is taken, but as it's the only way a person knows to deal with stressors, that argument becomes negligible or even invalid in their mind.

I would imagine crimes in prison have less of an impact, due to the silence from both guards and inmates, fear of retribution, and the 'ol well what the HELL are you going to do to punish them.. they're already in prison....
posted by Debaser626 at 7:44 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Note to self: Never play Risk with tyllwin.

Hey, it was good enough for the bible.
ps: don't let your kids read the bible. It's messed up.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:45 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


imagine your daughter, your sister or your mother being brutally raped sitting next to someone on the bus who happened to possess a half ounce of a recreational plant. Honestly, how would you feel if the man who did that was raped himself?

The much more likely scenario.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:52 AM on June 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is so stupid I can't think of a response that I will not be banned for.

Again, this is not my personal belief. And sure it's stupid, but we can't deny that lots of people feel this way (thanks for the backup on this, MuffinMan). It's all very well for us to heap scorn upon this viewpoint, but until the general population can be convinced that violent offenders deserve to be helped, and that they have basic human rights, our prisons will continue to be places that reflect pretty horribly on us as a society.
posted by Go Banana at 7:59 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's all very well for us to heap scorn upon this viewpoint, but until the general population can be convinced that violent offenders deserve to be helped, and that they have basic human rights, our prisons will continue to be places that reflect pretty horribly on us as a society.

Scorn and ridicule are effective. And it's not even that violent offenders deserve to be helped, it's that advocating for the rape of prisoners - of anybody - is so fucked up in the head I can't even believe a human being would say it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:05 AM on June 25, 2009


Part of it is the view of prison as punishment. Under that theory, prison should be as nasty and hellish as possible, so that everyone understands that they don't want to go there and that people who are there really really hate it.

If, as the Freakenomics folks found, there's a deterrent value in the death penalty, I don't doubt that there's a deterrent value in the idea of prison as a rapeteria.

But the objections to that are twofold—the moral rejection that any civilized person should have to endorsing brutality for any social goal and the practical question of whether this is the best way to achieve the goal of less crime. Because while I don't think that a lot of people who at least tacitly endorse the idea of brutalizing prisoners think through their justifications (and instead, if I may impugn, probably just enjoy the vicarious thrill of wishing violence and violation on people who "deserve" it), the ultimate goal of prisons should not be to merely punish, but to punish in order to prevent more crime. As soon as you accept that, then the question is, well, is this the best way to prevent crime?

Here in California, we have a staggering recidivism rate (70% according to the governor). While part of that is due to our higher incarceration rates, and some of it is due to our weird-ass parole system, a lot of it is due to ineffective and underfunded rehabilitation programs. You can either believe that we should make prisons hellish so no one wants to go and certainly no one wants to return, or you can believe that making prisons less hellish by emphasizing social programs makes folks less likely to return because they have better options and better skills.

Unfortunately, this idea of viewing prisoners as the ones most in need of help is nearly as unpopular as "to each according to his need."
posted by klangklangston at 8:13 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I too suspect little is done about prison rape because on some level society likes the threat and sees it as an unofficial deterrent. Officially, everyone is against it. But when they cart someone off to jail for a particularly odious crime, there is a wink and an inevitable chorus of: "Don't bend over for the soap."

Some old story. Society can't get together on the goal of prisons (are they strictly punitive or meant to rehabilitate when possible?), so we're left with a hybrid system that does neither effectively.
posted by RavinDave at 8:17 AM on June 25, 2009


More prisoners reported abuse by staff than abuse by other prisoners.

without having read the article, consider my mind blown. this statement is a total shock to me, and I say this in earnest. I suppose I always assumed that prison rape was the result of men in lockup together who have no recourse for sex, combined with the schoolyard from hell kind of pecking order that seems to exist in these places.

so, is this abuse from staff also rape, or is it just various forms of physical and mental abuse?
posted by shmegegge at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2009


Perhaps THE central problem facing prison reform is that politicians who try and change things get accused of pandering to prisoners

MuffinMan hit it on the head. The single most politically unsavory cause an elected official can promote is prison reform. Taking up the banner for issues like prison rape-reduction, softer sentencing guidelines, alternatives to incarceration, increased funding for rehabilitation programs, etc. is tantamount to political suicide.

Sadly, this aversion is woven deep into the fabric of our societies; a majority of American communities simply refuse to view prison as anything but a punitive system designed with an eye towards deterrance. Contrast this to many European societies focused on rehabilitation and reintegration.

I often think the basis for this difference lies in the strong religious streak permeating American culture. The bible sets us up for a system filled with sin (and therefore, blame), retributive punishment, and pennance.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2009


shmegegge: the report is specifically about sexual abuse.
posted by hippybear at 8:24 AM on June 25, 2009


The meme: "Our prisons are overcrowded, we need to do something about it" should be replaced by the meme "Our prisons are overcrowded, stop committing crimes, assholes."

This is asinine. As klangklangston alludes to above, in California, everyone who gets a prison sentence is automatically put on three years of parole. Everyone. Have we hired lots of parole officers and opened lots of drug and alcohol treatment centers and job training centers for those newly released from prison? We have not. So here you are, freshly out of jail, and you miss a meeting with your parole officer or you don't notify them of a change of address within the...three days I think it is, which is a violation of your parole, and if your PO is a jerk or just plain overworked (because he or she has dozens and dozens and dozens of parolees to keep track of), guess what? You get violated and sent back to prison. Because you missed a meeting.

And the public gets up in arms about releasing "dangerous" criminals early. Sometimes actual dangerous criminals are released early, true. Because the system is so overcrowded with parolees who have missed meetings, gotten caught with a joint or having an open beer on the street. Stupid stupid and more stupid is what drives our prison system. Maybe we should rethink that.
posted by rtha at 8:25 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


MuffinMan hit it on the head. The single most politically unsavory cause an elected official can promote is prison reform. Taking up the banner for issues like prison rape-reduction, softer sentencing guidelines, alternatives to incarceration, increased funding for rehabilitation programs, etc. is tantamount to political suicide.

Well, something is going to have to be done about it now... From the end of the report:

The Commission sunsets 60 days following the submission of its report and standards to Congress, the President, the Attorney General, and other Federal and State officials. The real work of implementation begins then, particularly on the part of the Attorney General and his staff. Within a year of receiving the Commission’s report and standards, the Attorney General is required to promulgate national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction, and punishment of detention facility sexual abuse.

This means that we should start to see rumblings of reform by the end of 2010.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 AM on June 25, 2009


My impression is that, among a section of public opinion (usually the ones who watch FOX News or similar), prison rape is tacitly (and not so tacitly) tolerated because it's a neat end-run around the prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments". If jailers torture their inmates, then that's bad; however, if they merely refrain from diverting resources (paid for my My Taxes, as the chorus goes) to preventing prisoners from brutalising each other, that's OK. Ain't nothin' can be done about it, and besides, it makes prison more of a deterrent than the namby-pamby libruls would have it.

Of course, if the jailers are raping inmates, that's a different matter. Is this a recent trend, perhaps echoing the zeitgeist of Dick Cheney and Jack Bauer's America no longer being too squeamish to torture?
posted by acb at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2009


...so fucked up in the head I can't even believe a human being would say it.

I dunno Optimus. I don't like it, but I think it is, to some extent, human nature: He hurt my loved one. So I want to see him suffer more for that than she has to suffer. If she's deeply hurt for life, how much suffering on his part, and for how long would it take to satisfy my desire for revenge? I'd like to change human nature, so that we react more as Christ or Buddha might, but that's going to take a while.

But I'm for stopping rapes first, and changing hearts later. So, in the meantime, I'll try the more practical argument: Allowing it to go on doesn't get you this revenge. Tolerating a prison rape doesn't mostly punish these people. It is, by and large, not the violent and brutal that are getting raped in prison. It's the violent and brutal that are committing the rapes. By tolerating prison rape, the only "lesson" that you teach violent 250-lb rapists is that if they aren't careful they may have to settle for raping some stoner in on a mandatory minimum sentence, instead of their preferred target.
posted by tyllwin at 8:30 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I could argue that it isn't human nature, it's animal nature, and the privilege we have in being human is that we can counteract our instincts toward revenge with our intellect.
posted by hippybear at 8:38 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


> I could argue that it isn't human nature, it's animal nature, and the privilege we have in being human is that we can counteract our instincts toward revenge with our intellect.

Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.
Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.

posted by The Card Cheat at 8:41 AM on June 25, 2009


Philip Zimbardo could've told you that thirty-eight years ago.

Uh, could've told you what, exactly?
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2009


The ironic part of the whole deterrence/rehabilitation arguement is that it shouldn't be an arguement at all. If the goal of a prison system is to reduce crime, the effectiveness of the system should be reflected in the rates of recidivism.

Sweden has a system highly focused on rehabilitation. Their recidivism rates reach as high as 40%.

The US system is significantly more deterrence based. Our recidivism rates reach almost 80%.

So obviously, there is always going to be a core group of career criminals perpetuating criminal activity across the world. But there is also a significant group of criminals who are capable of being effectively rehabilitated. But try telling this to the american public.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:48 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Taking up the banner for issues like prison rape-reduction, softer sentencing guidelines, alternatives to incarceration, increased funding for rehabilitation programs, etc. is tantamount to political suicide. Sadly, this aversion is woven deep into the fabric of our societies.

While I am not in approval of egregious prison abuses, I think the issue is that many Americans (myself included) save our sympathy for people who do not commit crimes.

Lax sentencing guidelines mean that it is more likely for a convicted felon to move in next door, and despite the best intentions, we all know that our country's recidivism rates aren't pretty. I know that I would rather err on the side of caution and keep my neighborhood and family safe, and would vote accordingly.
posted by gushn at 8:48 AM on June 25, 2009


You know, the way things are going I'm going to vote for the first candidate who announces that they're "soft on crime".
posted by dunkadunc at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2009


NB. My research was really quick and internet based. I pulled two studies off the internet (that I had previously seen before). The Swedish study looks like it is based on 2008 numbers, and the American study is based on 1994 numbers (taken in 2004). Both studies come from offical gov. sources; the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, and the Bureau of Justice, respectively.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2009


While I am not in approval of egregious prison abuses, I think the issue is that many Americans (myself included) save our sympathy for people who do not commit crimes.

Lax sentencing guidelines mean that it is more likely for a convicted felon to move in next door, and despite the best intentions, we all know that our country's recidivism rates aren't pretty. I know that I would rather err on the side of caution and keep my neighborhood and family safe, and would vote accordingly.


Which doesn't take into account the idea that the convicted felon who moves in next door might have done nothing more dangerous to your or your family or neighborhood than carry a bag of shrooms to a Dead concert. And does underscore my earlier point about how, in our country, we regard those in prison as non-persons who, because of a bad choice here or there, should be removed from existence.

This phantom neighborhood felon who threatens our way of life is a straw man.
posted by hippybear at 8:53 AM on June 25, 2009 [11 favorites]


I'm all for prision reform, especially with regard to prisoner abuses, but I really think that a better place to start is to focus on simply putting less people in prision, and that is directly tied with removing the profit based incentive of keeping people incarcerated.

We need to change the sentencing for non-violent offenders, we need to focus on rehabilitation of non-repeat offenders, and we need to "socialize" the prision system and take it out of private hands.

But on the subject of abuse and rape, I think that it is viewed as a feature by a lot of Americans; the logic being that they, themselves aren't ever going to end up in prision, so why the hell should they care about what bad things happens to the criminals inside? Changing this attitude is going to be difficult as hell, but until is does change, I don't foresee a huge upwelling of public support demanding reform.

Which is a crime in and of itself. We've become a sick society and I think it's going to take a lot of work to get us better.
posted by quin at 8:58 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


>I don't know where you got "1 in 31," which would be 3.2%.

This statistic is coming from the third paragraph in the first link. It says "Given that nearly 1 in 31 Americans is now behind bars, on probation or on parole, prison rape is not just a problem of prisoners. Of the more that 2.5 million people incarcerated, more than 95 percent will return to society within the next 20 years, making prison rape, with its lasting, traumatic effects, a national concern." It also links to this page, which further breaks down the statistics.

I realize now that this stat. also includes people caught up in the justice system in probation or parole. No matter how you look at the numbers, I would still argue that there are too many people in American prisons right now. Take a look at these numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. People of color disproportionally fill our jails; the climbing numbers of people in jail and recidivism rates indicate that prison is not a particularly effective deterrent to crime. With a justice system that is corrupted by racism, prisoner abuse, and failing efforts at rehabilitating criminals -- there are too many people in prisons.

Also, if prisons are supposed to encourage people to follow laws, then tolerating law breaking as horrific as rape and encouraging it by joking about it pretty much misses the point.
posted by cubby at 8:59 AM on June 25, 2009


It has been mentioned a few times already in this thread, but it bears repeating - The US prison industry makes a profit, therefore it will only become larger.... and conditions will only get worse so that profits can become better. If the US didn't have such an irrational fear of socialist ideas then the government might be able to legislate humanity back into the prisons but alas...
posted by weezy at 9:02 AM on June 25, 2009


The report also examines not only sexual abuse of prisoners, but also sexual abuse by those in community release programs and parole. This is not a problem strictly hiding behind bars.

Although individuals under correctional supervision in the community may experience sexual abuse at the hands of other supervisees, the dynamics of supervision make them particularly vulnerable to abuse by staff. Coercion and threats carry great weight because individuals under supervision are typically desperate to avoid being incarcerated. Staff also have virtually unlimited access to the individuals they supervise, sometimes in private and intimate settings. In Ramsey County, Minnesota, for example, a male community corrections officer visiting a former prisoner’s apartment to discuss her failure in a drug treatment program instead requested and had sex with her.
posted by hippybear at 9:03 AM on June 25, 2009


Prison rape is a problem that will not be solved until we acknowledge, as a society, that prisoners deserve protection from rape. there are too many damned prisons.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:05 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which doesn't take into account the idea that the convicted felon who moves in next door might have done nothing more dangerous to your or your family or neighborhood than carry a bag of shrooms to a Dead concert.

We've already shown that recidivism rates are staggering, regardless of the type of crime. I am going by the statistics when I say, 'Thanks, but no thanks'.

What do you think about Megan's Law?
posted by gushn at 9:09 AM on June 25, 2009


Gusn,

I should have been more specific, and I apologize. When I said "lax sentencing guidelines", what I should have said was "reduced sentences for nonviolent offenders, especially drug offences." I'm very pro-prison reform, but even I think Sweden takes it too far when the average prison term for Murder is 7 years.

With much respect for your opinion, it does bother me when you say that you "save" your sympathy for non-criminals. I don't think people have X amount of sympathy, which needs to be rationed. Perhaps you could find a little bit more sympathy (say, X+5) and give that extra +5 towards incarcerated criminals?

You -fairly and reasonably- point out that your major fear of felons living in your neighborhood is the high recidivism rates in the United States. You mention that your vote against significant prison reform stems from this belief.

But the recidivism rates in the US are largely due to the deplorable prison conditions and lack of rehabilitative programming in the US. (See my earlier post on Sweden V. US recidivism rates). These deplorable prison conditions and lack of rehabilitative programming exist largely because people refuse to vote to change these issues. People don't make this vote because they are afraid of criminals in their area with high rates of recidivism. High recidivism----> lack of prisoner sympathy-----> no prison reform------>deplorable prisoner conditions----> High recidivism.


It's a viscious circle, don't you see?
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:14 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure any discussion of sentencing laws really matters when the topic of the thread is about the sexual abuse of those who have been sentenced.

In fact, I would put forward that it is the violent nature of our prisons in general, and specifically the sexual abuse, which helps keep our recidivism rate so high. The psychic damage done by living in such an environment can only lead to negative consequences for any individual in those circumstances.

As far as registered sex offender laws go, I believe our system is far too out of hand when it comes to who they regard as a sex offender and who they force to register. Under such laws, an 18 year old having consensual sex with his 16 year old girlfriend, and who is then sentences for statutory rape, will be forever tarnished and will have to register each move he makes for decades, possibly the rest of his life. Hester Prynne had an easier fate than some of these so-called "sex offenders."
posted by hippybear at 9:17 AM on June 25, 2009


Lax sentencing guidelines mean that it is more likely for a convicted felon to move in next door, and despite the best intentions, we all know that our country's recidivism rates aren't pretty. I know that I would rather err on the side of caution and keep my neighborhood and family safe, and would vote accordingly.

From the DoJ report you linked to:

# The rearrest rate for property offenders, drug offenders, and public-order offenders increased significantly from 1983 to 1994. During that time, the rearrest rate increased:

- from 68.1% to 73.8% for property offenders
- from 50.4% to 66.7% for drug offenders
- from 54.6% to 62.2% for public-order offenders


These are the people filling our prisons. You can say all you want that you just want to protect your family, but from what, exactly? The guy who drinks a beer outside the convenience store? The 19-year-old who's got a doobie in his pocket?

If I were on parole, I could've been violated back to jail in a half-dozen ways in the last week alone (smoked some weed, didn't come to a complete stop at that stop sign, probably jaywalked, etc.). Is this really what you want to spend resources on? Because money doesn't actually grow on trees. We don't spend money on drug treatment or job training, which would help reduce the recidivism rates; instead, we make it ridiculously easy to send a nonviolent parolee back to prison where it will cost a zillion times more to keep him.

This is like the textbook definition of crazy.

Also, lax sentencing guideline? Lax? Cite, please.
posted by rtha at 9:20 AM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


If anyone actually thinks prison rape is worthwhile, either because it properly exacts revenge or because it deters crime, shouldn't they support the hiring of a professional raper to sodomize each incoming prisoner? Or a raping machine on which each prisoner must take a weekly turn? Otherwise the system just isn't producing raped prisoners with enough frequency or consistency.
posted by hayvac at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Gushn,

Megan's law is an interesting debate. Generally, I agree with the premise that we can and should establish a list identifiying and alerting a neighborhood to violent and/or repeat sexual offenders living in the neighborhood. That's a good call for public safety.

The problem with Megan's law is that it exists as a catch-all. Every single person convicted of any sex crime must register. This leads to some ridiculous results when played out to it's logical extreme.

The definition of sex crime, as well as the length of registery, varies by state. There was a recent issue in Georgia about a man on the sex offender list; he was put on there because he had sex with a sixteen year old at the age of nineteen- they've now been married for fifteen years and have three children. In several states, you can get put on the sex offender list for public urination. Imagine not being able to live or work within 1000 yards of a school because you urinated in the woods. Be careful where you pee!

Megan's law can work, but it should be limited to egregious sexual offences. And judges should be able to have some leeway in determining this.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2009




I have made my feelings known regarding this topic for a long time now--both here and in real life. From comparing the tone of the conversation linked above to the one here, I would say that here attitudes have changed a great deal. In real life, not so much. But even so, people are speaking out on the topic and actually making the news from time to time.

I think that the hard thing is getting us, in the body politic sense of the word, to recognize something from which we are hard at work looking away from. In that other thread, a common sentiment was expressed: Prison is not a nice place, nor should it be.

On the latter point of that statement--nor should it be--I would beg to differ. And to that, from the thread from where that came, signal's comment is worth quoting in whole:
Two words:

Human Rights

the test of whether or not a country respects human rights is not how it treats its most favored citizens (i.a.:sweet innocent girls), but rather its least favored (ia.:prison inmates). Every country in the world respects middle-upper class, law-abiding people.

Human rights means that ALL humans have rights, not just those we happen to like.
The state of the US penal system is one of the reasons it doesn't get very good marks from Amnesty.
the test of whether or not a country respects human rights is not how it treats its most favored citizens...but rather its least favored

My own belief is that prison is brutal because that is how enough of us collectively want it to be that way and that this collective wish is never spoken of or acknowledged. We are wired to scapegoat--wired to designate some individuals as the very embodiment of evil who deserve the cruelest punishments which we can devise. We stick it to the evildoers because we can. And because the sticking it to them is the part about which we most care. But, as that flies in the face of every noble sentiment we can describe, we collectively look away.

But time marches on. It used to be comepletely permissible to explicitly designate whole races, classes as evil incarnate. But now we talk voodoo about gangsters and crack baby career criminals and of Super Max prisons as places built to keep us safe. In part perhaps--but in those dark corners where we never get to look, the real business is taken care of.

And then the modern equivalent of high priests lighten the mood by cracking a joke and winking a wink. Joking about the very things we could stop if enough of us wished them stopped. Which is something that would happen soonest were enough of us, pot, kettle, cake and eating it, too, willing to look at them directly.


Not how it treats its most favored... but rather its least favored

posted by y2karl at 9:34 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


With much respect for your opinion, it does bother me when you say that you "save" your sympathy for non-criminals. I don't think people have X amount of sympathy, which needs to be rationed. Perhaps you could find a little bit more sympathy (say, X+5) and give that extra +5 towards incarcerated criminals?

Incarcerated criminals have the rights given to them by the constitution, including the eighth amendment, and I would not agree to otherwise. But in terms of optional benefits, I would rather allocate our budget to, say, our education system, rather than improving our prison facilities. We can all give +5 sympathy to prisoners, but the reality is that resources are scarce (and aren't becoming more plentiful).
posted by gushn at 9:42 AM on June 25, 2009


Good news! States could lose money over prison rapes.
posted by lunit at 9:45 AM on June 25, 2009


We could do a much better job with allocating resources to both our prisons and our schools if we were to nationalize the prison system and take the profit out of incarceration.

The men and women in our prisons are just as deserving of human rights (thank you y2kari) as the children in our school, and are having those rights violated daily. Read the report. It's not that long. It makes nine very salient points about what is happening in regards to the sexual abuse of those who are being held at the behest of our society.

If the eighth amendment is considered to apply in this case, then we, as a nation, stand in contempt of our own founding document as long as these rapes are allowed to continue. We cannot simply look away, nor will we be allowed to. The report's closing paragraph:

PREA represents a sea change in public consciousness and in national commitment to protecting individuals under correctional supervision from sexual abuse. Already, the Commission has seen ideas transformed into actions that by all accounts have the potential to improve safety. This is just the beginning. When the Attorney General issues mandatory standards, they will accelerate the pace of reform and ensure that the same fundamental protections are available in every correctional and detention setting. Our obligations, both moral and legal, require nothing less.
posted by hippybear at 9:54 AM on June 25, 2009


"We've already shown that recidivism rates are staggering, regardless of the type of crime. I am going by the statistics when I say, 'Thanks, but no thanks'."

Right. That felon who had an ounce of weed in his glove compartment is pretty likely to once again have an ounce of weed in his glove compartment. THANKS BUT NO THANKS REEFER MADNESS.
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


eek! I misspelled y2karl's name. sorry.
posted by hippybear at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2009


Why does everyone want a sex-offender registry but not a murder registry or kidnapping or fraud registry? Are these not serious crimes?
posted by leftoverboy at 10:01 AM on June 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


One of the sad things about this (there are many) is that the same folks who are against prison reform on the basis that prison experiences should be as miserable as possible in order to act as a deterrent to future crime do not do the math to its logical conclusion and realize they jeopardize their own safety in the process. Not only are prisoners released after having been subjected to rape and other brutalities, but prisoners are released after perpetrating these acts and not having to face consequences for them, or substatially less than they would face were they to be convicted in a court of law for the same acts (isolation, extension of sentence, removal of priveleges such as yard time, commissary access, work programs, etc.).

This is not rape, but I think it applies. I know a man who committed two murders in prison. Both of the men he killed were serving sentences for sexual abuse of children. In some people's eyes, this would mean they deserved what thy got, he did the world a favor, etc. That is certainly his position on the subject. For the first murder, his sentence was extended by 3 or 4 years, I don't recall exactly. For the second, he lost his first chance at parole and various priveleges. He did make parole, eventually, and it took him about 8 months before he murdered a civilian. Now he's been sentenced to life plus 10 years. Clearly this civilian's life was valued a lot more highly than the prisoners' were, yet had the prisoners' lives been of equal value, this woman would still be alive.

We fill our prisons largely with non-violent drug offenders, parole and probation violators, petty thieves, entrepeneurs in illegal businesses (chop shops, freelance pharmaceuticals, etc.), and others who could be served at least as well in the community, if not better, and we don't prosecute crimes against them while they're incarcerated or provide them with rehabilitation or routes to stability once they're released. As someone else said, they are non-persons while incarcerated, but that is the opposite tack of the one that logically best serves the community.
posted by notashroom at 10:03 AM on June 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


leftoverboy: because we're really fucked up when it comes to sex in America. Remember, we can show people getting cut in two on network television, but cannot show breasts. We regard the revenge impulse as something to be lauded in movie after movie, but are unwilling to make a film with an honest portrayal of sexuality. Plus, with the whole Megan's Law thing, there is an added layer of "oh noes!!! think of the children!!!" which only increases the hysteria.
posted by hippybear at 10:05 AM on June 25, 2009


In order to change attitudes, you have to take away the concept of what a prisoner "deserves" as ultimately relevant to how we treat prisoners (beyond their initial incarceration), and replace it with a focus on the ultimate outcome. What do you want to end up with; a permanently damaged individual who will eventually go back outside, or a functioning member of society who will do the same?

It's not just that prisoners are not seen as people, it's that the prison industry that perpetuates over-incarceration, refuses to allow or fund rehabilitation, and allows abuse within its walls creates a massive waste of potentially useful, or at least nonviolent members of society. It doesn't end there either; once they get out, jobs are scarce and opportunities for re-entering society few. But crime is easy.

You don't have to like Individual Prisoner X or condone his crime to see that making him more violent or damaged is not of service to you or the community. Prisoners exist; there are certain conditions that seem to create more of them (poverty, stupid drug laws, lack of rehab), and we are not ready to just execute anyone who steals something worth more than 5.00, so we have to do something besides warehouse and ignore them. It's our responsibility to deal with this problem, both in prevention and treatment, whatever we think of the individuals themselves.

But that's hard, and we don't want to deal with it; easier to just label them all "filth" let the prisons do whatever they want with them.
posted by emjaybee at 10:06 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can say all you want that you just want to protect your family, but from what, exactly? The guy who drinks a beer outside the convenience store? The 19-year-old who's got a doobie in his pocket?

Obviously I am talking about violent criminals and not the guy who drinks a beer outside the convenience store...
posted by gushn at 10:13 AM on June 25, 2009


Incarcerated criminals have the rights given to them by the constitution, including the eighth amendment, and I would not agree to otherwise. But in terms of optional benefits, I would rather allocate our budget to, say, our education system, rather than improving our prison facilities. We can all give +5 sympathy to prisoners, but the reality is that resources are scarce (and aren't becoming more plentiful).
posted by gushn at 9:42 AM on June 25


I had a thoughtful response written up to this, but then I realized that you're the same guy who doesn't approve of marriage equality for homosexuals because homosexuals are upset they're discriminated against. And now here you are arguing that it's too expensive to find ways to prevent prison rape. You are a class act.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:15 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


because homosexuals are upset they're discriminated against

I am in favor of marriage equality, and am not advocating prison rape.
posted by gushn at 10:19 AM on June 25, 2009


I never understand how it's "tough on crime" to keep people addicted, to give up on rehabilitation, all sorts of insane nonsense. Tough on crime = more expensive, less effective.

The way I look at this is half of all voters are in the bottom 50% IQ bracket, and what works there is appeals to emotion and rhetoric, which in turn are infectious and shape the direction of media coverage and cultural interest. This is why we can't get meritocracy and rational public policy.
posted by crapmatic at 10:20 AM on June 25, 2009


Obviously I am talking about violent criminals and not the guy who drinks a beer outside the convenience store...

That doesn't fucking matter, because the second category is the majority of the people in prison.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:22 AM on June 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


You know, thinking about this entire thing more deeply in light of emjaybee's comment, it seems we should stop regarding the inside of a prison as somehow being exempt from the same laws which govern the rest of our lives. We could begin to prosecute any form of assault, battery, rape, murder, theft that happens within a prison just as we do when those same crimes occur outside of a prison. That, in itself, would go a long way toward establishing in the minds of the incarcerated men and women that there are standards of behavior which they should follow, as well as enforce in the minds of their victims that the law can and will stand up for them when they are having their own rights violated, even if they are being punished for their own crimes.

Ah, the challenges of being humane...
posted by hippybear at 10:24 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Obviously I am talking about violent criminals and not the guy who drinks a beer outside the convenience store..."

The problem is that both are "felons." Better or worse treatment applies to them all equally when dealing with the category "felons."
posted by klangklangston at 10:24 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


We've been exploring the idea of restorative justice in my school system, and having some pretty good results. If the Correctional Services Canada website is to be believed, they're starting to try it in the penal system too. I hope they mean it. Also pretty shocked by the numbers: according to the Canadian Government, about 130 Canadians per 100,000 are incarcerated. That number for the U.S. is 529 (and well below 100 for the Netherlands, France, etc.).

There's obviously way too many people being locked up. The way that people are treated while locked up is inexcusably barbaric. The whole system needs to be seriously rethought, and I think the idea of restorative justice might be a start. My mind kind of boggles at the thought of convincing politicians to take up this cause, however...
posted by Go Banana at 10:53 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


While I am not in approval of egregious prison abuses, I think the issue is that many Americans (myself included) save our sympathy for people who do not commit crimes.

If that's the case, then many Americans (yourself included) need to step back from this a moment and consider that there are a million non-violent offenders in prison right now*. That's half of our prison population. And these people are being brutalized by the violent every single day while the nation turns its back in the interest of being tough on crime. Since you're a self-described conservative, let me put it to you this way - is it not a collosal waste of taxpayer money to warehouse non-violent offenders, and wouldn't you agree that the overcrowding of our prisons has stretched resources far beyond capacity and facilitates the cycle of brutality that continues in these prisons? I'll even go out on a limb and assume you wouldn't think it's right that a guy caught embezzling the office pension fund into his private bank account gets gangraped in prison as a de facto part of his sentence. If we could prevent brutality from occuring and run a better prison system, not through the wasteful practice of building more systems, but from the relatively cost-free practice of changing punative legislation to take it easier on non-violent offenders so that we have resources freed up for controlling the truly violent, why wouldn't that be a better way?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:11 AM on June 25, 2009


[few comments removed - please don't drag arguments from other threads in here, if you can't not do that, go to email or metatalk]
posted by jessamyn at 11:16 AM on June 25, 2009


While I am not in approval of egregious prison abuses, I think the issue is that many Americans (myself included) save our sympathy for people who do not commit crimes.

1 in 31 Americans is in the system. It's been pointed out in other threads, but do you really imagine that other countries with a lower number of citizens incarcerated actually has fewer criminals? Do you really think that here in the U.S. we are so much more criminally minded than anywhere else?

We keep criminalizing things that shouldn't be criminalized, and then we're shocked! and surprised! when our prisons are overcrowded and the only people making money are the private prison industry and guards' unions. And lobbyists. Who benefits from having that many people in prison, jail, or on parole? Because we, as a society, do no benefit. The vast majority of people locked up are going to get out, and all they will have learned in prison is how to be a better criminal. We cut post-release support programs and then we wonder why these guys petty-theft themselves back inside. I mean, Jesus Christ, could it be any more obvious how completely fucked the system is?

Great system we got here.
posted by rtha at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2009


Since you're a self-described conservative, let me put it to you this way - is it not a colossal waste of taxpayer money to warehouse non-violent offenders, and wouldn't you agree that the overcrowding of our prisons has stretched resources far beyond capacity and facilitates the cycle of brutality that continues in these prisons?

Yep, I would agree. Prisons should primarily house individuals who are a violent threat to others, namely rapists and murderers. Incarcerating white collar criminals, non-violent drug offenders, and the like for as long as we do is costing us a great deal of money without making society that much safer.
posted by gushn at 11:54 AM on June 25, 2009


I don't know if anyone's brought it up, but everyone should take a load of books to their local prison books program, especially books that you enjoy. There is a lot of reforms to be done but donating books is something we all can do today.
posted by fuq at 11:58 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yep, I would agree. Prisons should primarily house individuals who are a violent threat to others, namely rapists and murderers. Incarcerating white collar criminals, non-violent drug offenders, and the like for as long as we do is costing us a great deal of money without making society that much safer.

Glad we have an accord on that. I feel I should add that I don't think violent offenders deserve to be raped in prison, either. But if we were to halve the prison population by removing non-violent offenders from the picture, we might actually have more resources freed up for adequately supervising the remaining prisoners.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:01 PM on June 25, 2009


But if we were to halve the prison population by removing non-violent offenders from the picture, we might actually have more resources freed up for adequately supervising the remaining prisoners.

We could halve the prison population overnight if people stopped committing crimes. Even crimes that shouldn't be crimes, like smoking dope. How hard is it to not smoke dope? How hard is it not to rob someone? Clean up, man. Get humble now, while you're free. Better than being humbled in prison.
posted by Faze at 1:09 PM on June 25, 2009


We could halve the prison population overnight if people stopped committing crimes. Even crimes that shouldn't be crimes, like smoking dope. How hard is it to not smoke dope? How hard is it not to rob someone?

I suppose that depends on how desperate you are to eat or provide for your family. How hard is it to recognize that if something shouldn't be a crime (like smoking pot in your example) then the solution to the problem is to decriminalize it, rather than simply tell everyone not to do it anyway?
posted by shmegegge at 1:15 PM on June 25, 2009


We could halve the prison population overnight if people stopped committing crimes.

That is the most brilliant and realistic proposal I have ever heard. For the first time in human history, we have come upon this idea: just don't do anything wrong! Ever!

Obviously, it's so easy. All the millions of humans who came before us must've been total morons, because this simple solution never occurred to them. Hundreds of thousands of years' worth of dead criminals should have just thought "Oh hey, I just won't commit any crimes! Yeah!" Thanks for the idea, Faze. We'll put that to work right now, and I'm sure we'll be crime-free within a week or so.
posted by rtha at 1:23 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


rtha -- There are poor countries that have crime rates that are only a fraction of those in the US. Why is that? Probably because there is a strong meme in their culture that tells them not to commit crimes. That meme has no legs in our inner cities. Why not? Who are the cultural leaders who could make it happen? (By the way schmegegge, I'd be willing to bet that the number of people who are in jail for committing crimes to support their starving families is probably about... hmm. Not many. People don't go to jail for being unselfish. The vast majority of people are in jail for being selfish, greedy, stupid, violent, short-sighted, for hitting women and children, robbing and beating people who are weak and helpless, and for being dishonest. For instance, it's selfish to smoke pot when you know it's illegal and it could ruin your life and destroy your family if you're prosecuted for it -- which very, very few people are, unless their marijuana smoking is associated with much more heinous offenses. Many people in jail are probably mentally or morally retarded. None of them, of course, deserve to be raped or suffer unusual punishment. Confinement is sufficient punishment. But don't romanticize the selfish and violent.)
posted by Faze at 1:37 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


We could halve the prison population overnight if people stopped committing crimes.

Likewise, we could just get rid of all the laws that put people in prison in the first place. Although I'm not advocating that, because in an ideal world, our laws would be just and would not be full of bullshit moralizing about things which really are not harmful. They are not such, and a lot of people breaks the shit laws because they are unjust and should likely not be on the books. Sodomy laws have finally be rescinded. Maybe prohibition laws will fall next.

Faze makes the point about inner cities and there being no leaders helping enforce the idea that crimes are bad and should not be permitted. I'd go another step down the path with that, and say that a lot of crime happens in the inner city because of generations of oppression and lack of real personhood status for minorities has taught entire groups that the laws in society are unjust and must be broken in order to level the playing field. I am not saying I agree with that assessment, but I can easily see a line where the bullshit that was Jim Crow leads to a sense that maybe anti-gang laws are more of the same.
posted by hippybear at 1:52 PM on June 25, 2009


"There are poor countries that have crime rates that are only a fraction of those in the US. Why is that? Probably because there is a strong meme in their culture that tells them not to commit crimes. That meme has no legs in our inner cities. Why not? Who are the cultural leaders who could make it happen?"

what
posted by klangklangston at 1:57 PM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The vast majority of people are in jail for being selfish, greedy, stupid, violent, short-sighted, for hitting women and children, robbing and beating people who are weak and helpless, and for being dishonest. "

I call bullshit.

The justice system puts a lot of emphasis on human beings as rational actors. You seem to do the same. But the reality of the situation is far from it.

We are based in our biology. We have evolved biological systems to help us react quickly in high-value situations. We react without thinking, quickly and defensively, when we follow these mechanisms. As a result, many people do many stupid things. It is only with great effort that human beings struggle to overcome our own evolutionary designs. Many who act impuslivly later regret it. It doesn't make them "stupid, selfish, violent or short-sighted."

Environmental factors also have large effects on human behavior. Put someone in a highly stressful situation, and they will begin to act irrationally. Stack all the cards against someone, and they will get desperate- and they will act accordingly. Poverty is the glaring example of this. Poverty is strongly correllated with higher crime rates.

People also follow learned behavior. If you raise a child in a violent and abusive environment, there is a greater chance that the child will grow up to be violent and abusive.

Finally, many people have many mental illnesses. Mental illness is particuarly prevalent in the incarcerated community. Impulse control disorders, bipolar mania or depression, schizophrenia and loss of touch with reality can all lead to poor decision making and regretful acts. No one "selfish, greedy or stupid" here, but rather a bunch of folks who aren't getting the medical care they need to function.

Even sociopathy is arguably a pathological issue. The worst criminals have a total lack of empathy, caused on some basic level, by a dysfunctional biology.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't hold people accountable for their actions. I'm also not saying there are people who shouldn't be incarcerated for the safety of society. But when you call criminals "selfish, greed, stupid, violent, short-sighted", I think your demonizing and therefore dehumanizing a group of people who are, fundamentally, humans too.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 2:05 PM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


People don't go to jail for being unselfish. The vast majority of people are in jail for being selfish, greedy, stupid, violent, short-sighted, for hitting women and children, robbing and beating people who are weak and helpless, and for being dishonest. For instance, it's selfish to smoke pot when you know it's illegal and it could ruin your life and destroy your family if you're prosecuted for it -- which very, very few people are, unless their marijuana smoking is associated with much more heinous offenses.

Like being black? Plenty of nice white kids can sell drugs at their prep school to make cash and then get off with just a suspension or a fine when they're caught, but a kid in the inner city who sells pot to pay the rent will face a much heavier penalty.

Many people in jail are probably mentally or morally retarded.

I'm not sure what you mean by this, but wouldn't the solution be rehabilitation, not just yelling at them not to do something? If these people are as fucked up as you think, don't they need help? How come america has so many more fucked up people than other countries? Why is the inner city / black population so likely to be part of it? Isn't it possible there are external factors affecting things, not just the individuated essence of each criminal?
posted by mdn at 2:06 PM on June 25, 2009


Probably because there is a strong meme in their culture that tells them not to commit crimes. That meme has no legs in our inner cities.

"In our inner cities"? As in, code for "places that have fewer white people than people of color"? Because people of color are immoral and white people don't commit crimes? Jesus Teabagging Christ. It may be true that our prisons are not full of Victor Hugo protagonists, but they are full of people who have committed non-violent offenses and pose little to no threat to society, regardless of their particular place of upbringing, ethnicity, or skin color.

For instance, it's selfish to smoke pot when you know it's illegal and it could ruin your life and destroy your family if you're prosecuted for it -- which very, very few people are, unless their marijuana smoking is associated with much more heinous offenses.

Not many people are prosecuted for smoking pot, precisely, but thousands are prosecuted every year for simple possession. Here are some numbers for Connecticut, New York, the federal level (PDF, p. 3 "11.9 percent of all federal prisoners in 1997 were serving time on charges that included some kind of marijuana violation, and that 9.3 percent were being held for marijuana offenses only" -- and that is not a sympathetic analysis to the cause). Here's a breakdown from Texas:

Texas State Prisons only:
2008 total population under supervision: 429,689
2008 total population under supervision for drug possession alone: 19,263
% of population under supervision for drug possession offenses: 4.48%
% of population under supervision for marijuana only offenses: 1.6%
2008 total population under supervision for marijuana only offenses: 6875
2008 estimated texas prison budget: $2,883,191,521
Cost per supervisee per year: $6710
Total cost for supervising marijuana-only offenders: $46,131,250

It's selfish to drink alcohol, knowing it's associated with increased rates of domestic violence, child abuse, assault, workplace absenteeism and reduced productivity, motor vehicle accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and cranio-rectal inversion. We should make it illegal, and imprison anyone who breaks the law by using it, selling it, or transporting it. Oh wait, we tried that, didn't we? And didn't it just go swimmingly? Just because something is illegal does not mean it is immoral or unethical, and vice versa.
posted by notashroom at 2:12 PM on June 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


There are poor countries that have crime rates that are only a fraction of those in the US. Why is that? Probably because there is a strong meme in their culture that tells them not to commit crimes.

lmao oh Faze dont ever change
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:13 PM on June 25, 2009


There are poor countries that have crime rates that are only a fraction of those in the US.

Cite, please.

Probably because there is a strong meme in their culture that tells them not to commit crimes.

Cite, please. Or by "meme" do you mean "if you get caught we will cut off your hand/torture you/stone you"? Or perhaps instead of "meme" you meant a Dear Leader? In countries like that, of course, people get thrown in prison for speaking out against the Dear Leader. They should just stop that, and then they wouldn't get thrown in jail!

The vast majority of people are in jail for being selfish, greedy, stupid, violent, short-sighted,

Yes. This is part of being human. I'm not saying we should abolish all criminal statutes, or that certain crimes don't deserve (long) prison sentences. But we are all, all of us, some or all of the things you listed at least sometimes. Some of us are those things in ways that are criminalized or are likelier to get us caught and land us in jail (it helps a whole lot if we're nonwhite and poor). 1 in 31 of us, in fact.

For instance, it's selfish to smoke pot when you know it's illegal and it could ruin your life and destroy your family if you're prosecuted for it

What is entirely stupid about this is it's not the pot that's going to ruin my life - it's the criminalization of smoking it. You remember Prohibition, right? When alcohol possession and consumption were illegal? Ruined a lot of people's lives. And created the Mafia.

Romanticize the selfish and violent? Three months ago two young men trying to get out of gang life were shot to death on their stoop, half a block from my house. I just spent five weeks as a juror on a murder trial (for a murder that took place in 1996). I don't romanticize it at all. Likewise, I don't have some completely naive and unworkable idea that "all" it takes is for people to just stop committing crimes.

This is like the abstinence-only version of sex education. It does not take into account that people are, well, human, and will always find ways to do the thing that feels good or is exciting or somehow benefits them. Most of us sublimate this into legal activities, but saying "just stop" is entirely unrealistic.
posted by rtha at 2:13 PM on June 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


People are responding to that crap Faze squeezed out? Seems a bit pointless to argue against "if people stopped doing crimes we wouldn't need prisons" because the mentality behind this argument is so incredibly ignorant that we can't possibly be dealing with someone capable of even understanding this discussion. Unless he's trolling, in which case, sure, it's fun to engage the troll for a little while.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:50 PM on June 25, 2009


but they are full of people who have committed non-violent offenses and pose little to no threat to society...

Actually, I don't know if that is actually true once then are institutionalized. Our prision system seems to be a perfect self-replicating mechanism in that it takes non-violent criminals, and because of the pressures of things like the threat of rape and assault, turns them into exactly the kind of hardened criminal that is going to suffer from recidivism and end up right back inside, thus ensuring that somewhere, someone is getting paid.

Whatever solution is found, it's probably going to have to involve stopping the non-violent criminals from ever getting inside the same walls with the violent ones.
posted by quin at 2:50 PM on June 25, 2009


hippybear: We could begin to prosecute any form of assault, battery, rape, murder, theft that happens within a prison just as we do when those same crimes occur outside of a prison.

Yeah that seems like the most obvious thing in the world to me. Maybe not battery, but rape and murder? What the fuck? Why is the maximum penalty for a staff member accused of raping a person just 'dismissal', and even getting that done is near impossible? What about prosecuting them for RAPE.

I get that inmates can use false allegations etc. but surely we can have a discovery process. I saw a news report the other day about an inmates being convicted of indecent exposure for jerking off in their cells (The Guardian sez: "The prisoner's lawyer, Kathleen McHugh, failed to get him off") so… maybe they can observe people being sexually molested?

One thing the report makes clear is that it's not just man-on-man rape.. there's a lot of man-on-woman rape in the prison/parole system.

adipocere: Many have a, shall we say, cartoonish image of sexual violation — like a somewhat degrading frat hazing, which of course will be chuckled at in the years to come. Ass-crack beer bong. Shaving cream and itchy genitalia.

Oh boy. I think you're right. That clarifies things for me a bit. "Just relax and take it", basically? I don't know man. I was sort-of picked on as a kid with very little physical forcing involved and something inside me exploded all the time. Even today I feel like I should've sliced some guts open and set them on fire and fed them to my harassers' moms in a pie. Multiply that by a hundred, with someone forcing themselves inside of you, with much more psychological trauma involved? Fuck that.
posted by Non Prosequitur at 2:55 PM on June 25, 2009


But if we were to halve the prison population by removing non-violent offenders from the picture, we might actually have more resources freed up for adequately supervising the remaining prisoners.

Well, just because a crime is non-violent does not mean that it should not be punished with a jail sentence. Jail is one of the most powerful deterrents we have, unless you can suggest otherwise.

What do you think about Bernie Madoff, who faces a maximum sentence of 150 years? Are the courts justified for putting him away for the rest of his life in a prison with violent offenders? A 71-year old former NASDAQ chairman is not a violent threat to society, but he clearly did a very bad thing, and it is in society's best interest to prevent thefts like this from occurring in the future.

In fact, money.cnn.com has a whole article with advice for Bernie on how to "survive" prison.
posted by gushn at 3:41 PM on June 25, 2009


A 71-year old former NASDAQ chairman is not a violent threat to society, but he clearly did a very bad thing, and it is in society's best interest to prevent thefts like this from occurring in the future.

Very true, and I realize that "non-violent offenders" covers a lot of ground. For one, I believe that simple possession of controlled substances of an amount for personal use should result in a fine at worst; not jail time. White collar criminals such as Madoff, no, they shouldn't "get off" by any means. I'd like to see him doing some serious community service. I'm not even kidding. Put Madoff in the Salvation Army, doing laundry, working the canteen, mopping floors. People who have ripped off society owe it to society to pay back their debt. Of course I'm just spit-balling here, but if prison isn't just to punish to be make the convicted repay their debt to society, I'd say they'd be serving better through direct involvement than simple separation, provided they are non-violent.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:06 PM on June 25, 2009


What do you think about Bernie Madoff, who faces a maximum sentence of 150 years? Are the courts justified for putting him away for the rest of his life in a prison with violent offenders?

He stole bilions of dollars. The vast majority of people in prison for robbery or fraud or theft are in there for stealing literally less than 0.01 percent of that amount. He should be in prison for the rest of his life. And a lot of other bad people should, too. What does this have to do with prison rape, again?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:32 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The single most politically unsavory cause an elected official can promote is prison reform. Taking up the banner for issues like prison rape-reduction, softer sentencing guidelines, alternatives to incarceration, increased funding for rehabilitation programs, etc. is tantamount to political suicide.

True. And that makes Jim Webb's commitment to prison reform all the more admirable.
posted by homunculus at 4:37 PM on June 25, 2009


Not how it treats its most favored... but rather its least favored
posted by y2karl


this.
posted by agregoli at 7:55 PM on June 25, 2009


I think I've said it in the blue before, but I think it's worth repeating: If we want prison to be rehabilitating, then prison should be the safest place that exists. Further, if violence against individuals is a crime, than it should never be tolerated when the government is in control.

It seems to me, from my lay-person's view, that informed opinion increasingly points to child abuse as the root of antisocial behavior. We're talking about people who were not safe, even (or especially) at home. So they get in trouble, get locked up in prison, and we repeat the lessons that form the basis of the behavior, then wonder why we have problems.

But then there is so-called "Supermax" prison. Oh boy! Lock someone up all alone until they are driven completely insane, and then punish them for the resulting behavior! Yee ha! Stupid game, the only way to win is not to play!

Sex in prison isn't always exactly rape, and even when it is, it isn't only about violence and power. Sometimes it's about sex, and the human need for touch. Prison isn't the sort of place where you're likely to get much affection, and the need for that is easily entwined in the need for sexual gratification. Only the environment isn't up for love making.

As for the derail about sex-crime registries: This whole thing about pissing outdoors being somehow a "sex crime" is a true reflection of how sick America is when it comes to sex.
posted by Goofyy at 6:03 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I never understand criminals in prison. You would think that the dummies would want to make it the most wonderful, beautiful, peaceful, and fun place on earth seeing they have to be there for life.
posted by dasheekeejones at 1:10 PM on June 26, 2009


Dasheekeejones - huh?
posted by agregoli at 1:35 PM on June 26, 2009


I never understand criminals in prison. You would think that the dummies would want to make it the most wonderful, beautiful, peaceful, and fun place on earth seeing they have to be there for life.
posted by dasheekeejones


Yeah why don't just pop on down to Home Depot and buy some nice paints maybe in a pastel green (very hot this season) and and do a little interior decorating? After that they can have a bull session around the campfire with burgers and beers.

OH WAIT ALL OF THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:52 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


You would think that the dummies would want to make it the most wonderful, beautiful, peaceful, and fun place on earth seeing they have to be there for life.

You do know that a lot of people are in prison because their decision-making skills aren't all that awesome, right? Also impulse control? Add in some garden-variety sociopaths, addicts, people who have literally never been exposed to a different way to live, people with mental illnesses and you end up with a mess of WTF are you talking about, dasheekeejones?

And the vast majority of them will not, in fact, be there for life. They will get out, and live amongst us. It's in our own best interest to improve their lot in prison.
posted by rtha at 1:55 PM on June 26, 2009


I should add that some of them do in fact try their best to make it a beautiful place. self-link to my very first post.
posted by rtha at 1:57 PM on June 26, 2009


"Gentlemen! Your attention please! Thank you. I was thinking, look, we're all stuck here for a while. Is this really the way we want to live? Spike, do you really enjoy lifting weights that much? K-Dog, don't you have enough tattoos? Tiny, c'mon, be honest - when's the last time you laughed out of pure joy? And Ripper. Ripper, look at me, look at me, big guy - when you beat up the newcomers, aren't you really beating up ... yourself? Look, guys, all I'm saying is, why can't we make prison the most wonderful, beautiful, peaceful, and fun place on earth? Huh? C'mon, who's with me!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:09 PM on June 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


MStPR: The hippie in me wants to see this happen at prisons all across the country, with amazing results.
posted by hippybear at 3:25 PM on June 26, 2009


Add in some garden-variety sociopaths, addicts, people who have literally never been exposed to a different way to live, people with mental illnesses and you end up with a mess of WTF are you talking about, dasheekeejones?

Add to that the fact that prison's an incredibly stressful environment when you're packed in with these people- even if you are one of these people- and it's a wonder that the recidivism rate isn't 100%. I have no idea, given the state of our prisons, how anybody at all manages to turn their life around and not be irreparably damaged.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:45 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


A related thread, at least on the level that we don't treat our prisoners nearly well enough. People die from our collective neglect.
posted by hippybear at 6:05 PM on June 26, 2009


What do you think about Bernie Madoff, who faces a maximum sentence of 150 years? Are the courts justified for putting him away for the rest of his life in a prison with violent offenders?

....I don't think they do as such. I was given to believe that they have different prisons for different types of offenders -- not in every state, but I do know that there are some minimum-security prisons which are for the white-collar criminals and petty offenders. Madoff's probably sharing a cell with a guy who embezzled funds from an orphanage -- it's not like he's bunking with a guy named "Filthy Filthy Denny" who used a puppy as a club to beat a mime to death or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 PM on June 26, 2009


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