Prison Problem

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Former Catholic priest and convicted child abuser John J. Geoghan was beaten to death in prison over the weekend. Geoghan, accused of molesting as many as 150 boys as the Church turned its head, was a horrible human being who took advantage of his position in a spectacularly disturbing and grotesque manner.

His death, however much it may seem like justice, showcases a different sort of problem: the inability or unwillingness of US prisons to control their populations. Both Geoghan and his neo-Nazi assailant were in protective custody. If guards can't safeguard such prisoners, they cant' really be said to be running the joints.

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  1. Why are beatings and rapes not officially part of the sentence? Because I doubt that even in these days the public would stand for it…although they seem quite willing to p ut up with them as unofficial components of the sentence.

    I think it’s because to many solid citizens, anyone who ends up in jail is one of “those people” who have nothing to do with them…it’s notable that prison conditions and marijuana laws softened for awhile in the ’70’s after enough middle-class white teenagers ended up in jail (for drugs or civil disobedience).

    I’ve often thought that racism is particularly dangerous because it allows people to imagine that cerain things can be tolerated because they will never happen to _them_ and theirs, but a simple criminal/good_guy divide seems to do just as well.

    (I’m not saying that there are _no_ differences between criminals, even those guilty of crimes that shouldn’t be crimes, and solid, upstanding, citizens; I just think that the difference tends to be exaggerated in the latter’s minds into a high and permanent divide that makes it possible to write off the former. Elect and Preterite.)

  2. a guard was paid to put them together and look the other way…that’s how it is done in prison

  3. One sometimes gets the feeling that prison was better in the old days when guards delt out the punishment.

  4. “What really disturbs me about our prisons is the more or less accepted conventional wisdom that prison violence, especially rape, it part of the “punishment.”

    IT disturbs me even more that police and prosecutors count on this behavior to frighten the bejeezus out of arrestees into cooperation. It’s like making a threat without actually having to make one.

  5. A guard wouldn’t have had to be paid to look the other way in the case of a child molester getting beaten, raped and/or killed. In prison, pedophiles are the most loathsome form of life, followed closely by rapists.

    It’s just the prisoners taking the law into their own hands.

  6. We should put all violent criminals into medically-induced stasis. Make prisons little more than warehouses staffed with medics.

    Just as soon as we figure out how to do that safely, anyhow.

    Prisons don’t rehabilitate, and I really don’t care how or whether inmates feel “punished”. I just don’t want them walking around my neighborhood.

    Non-violent criminals should not be put in cages. Period. Treat a man like an animal, and he’s bound to start acting like one.

  7. I’ve long had a problem with our whole criminal justice system. It is not well setup to help with reassimilation into society, which increases recidivism. One problem is that we have lifers and murders in the same prisons as the guys who are only in for a few years. Why not have a more logical solution and divide prisons by the length of incarceration. A prison for those that are in for under a year, one for those of a year to 5, one for those 5-15 and then 15 +. Heck you could even simply divide up a single prison by lengths and isolate the prisoners of varying prison terms. That way you don’t have the hardened, viloent criminals screwing with the guy who is in for 3 years for robbing a 7-11. No need to turn the latter guy into the former.

    We also need to fix the prison rape culture. For decades we’ve had feminists talking about the dehumanizing effects of rape on women, but at the same time society just jokes about men getting raped in prison. Don’t people realize this makes the problem worse, rather than better, by creating a whole class of resentful men. Instead of having people accept their punishment and return to society to be productive members, we screw with them psycologically and sow the seeds of discontent towards the society that allowed this to happen.

  8. Dog bites man story,. . .

    Child molester dies in prison, ohmigawd! What’s the world coming to.

  9. “That way you don’t have the hardened, viloent criminals screwing with the guy who is in for 3 years for robbing a 7-11.”

    Robbing 7-11s isn’t violent?

    I pretty much agree with your assesment of prison rape culture, however.

  10. Ok rob a 7-11 was a bad example. How about we use a pickpocket as my example instead.

  11. 1st rule of prison:
    Kick someone’s ass the first day, or become somebody’s bitch…

  12. Yup, sounds exacly like what happened here in Wisconsin regarding the death of Jeffery Dahmer. He and another imfamous Wisconsin murder, Jesse Anderson (who killed his wife in an Applebee’s parking lot and tried to blame it on an unidentified “black” assailant), were beaten to death by another inmate while cleaning a bathroom. Needless to say, pretty much everyone agreed that it was odd to have these two slimeballs working together with another inmate while unguarded. Too odd to be considered just “one of those things.”

    Liberal politicans in this state love to pride Wisconsin as not having the death penalty while right-wingers curse it. I say, we do have a death penalty, it’s just unofficial.

  13. Make no mistake, this is a way to enact the death penalty without having to actually ask for it.

  14. When will we be going back to Botany Bay? er .. . excuse me, the moon?

    Anytime soon?

    Anyone know?

  15. I’ve heard the credible claim that since guards can’t be everywhere at once, and at least to some extent are limited to legally-permitted forms of punishment, they end up normally letting one or more hierarchies form to enforce relative order, so they can keep things running smooth (a goal more important than punishment _or_ rehabilitation) by dealing with the leaders. As I said, this sounded credible, but anyone know if it’s true.

  16. I’ve heard the credible claim that since guards can’t be everywhere at once, and at least to some extent are limited to legally-permitted forms of punishment, they end up normally letting one or more hierarchies form to enforce relative order, so they can keep things running smooth (a goal more important than punishment _or_ rehabilitation) by dealing with the leaders. As I said, this sounded credible, but anyone know if it’s true?

  17. Prison life is an exercise in Darwinian philosophy. You will either find a way to get to the end of your sentence, or your sentence will be the end of you. The way our prisons are set up leaves no room for any other outcome. Ask anyone who’s been in.

  18. I’m not a big fan of capital punishment, but one good argument for it is that lifers have no incentive not to murder other prisoners. And if I read the article in the paper today correctly, that’s exactly what happened to Geoghan.

    As for controlling the prison population, I tend to suspect that’s one of those intractible problems. Sure, we can care about it more, think about it more, throw more money at it, but even if all this works to some degree, we’d likely lose interest in the problem again before long.

  19. Everyone who DIDN’T see this coming, please raise your hand.

    …..

    That’s what I thought.

  20. What really disturbs me about our prisons is the more or less accepted conventional wisdom that prison violence, especially rape, it part of the “punishment.”

    As a matter of fact, here in Colorado the hideous “project exile,” ran a TV-ad that showed and open prison cell with a very large inmate with a cheshire cat grin, with a voice over saying “meet your new roommate.” The implication was obvious.

  21. “First of all, when every single murderer gets the death penalty without fail, then, and only then, will I begin to consider an official or unofficial death penalty appropriate for lesser crimes.”

    Well, I can’t agree with this. Murder covers a lot of ground, and I frankly don’t want every single person who commits murder to be put to death. On the other hand, someone who rapes and tortures should be put to death, even if he didn’t murder.

  22. Mark S.,

    Rumor has it that Dahmer wanted to die; or so a friend of mine whose father was a guard in the prison told me.

  23. Brian,

    About the issue of rehabilitation, it is often noted by people who study prisons (historians, psychologists, etc.) that it is extremely difficult to learn how to be free in a cage. That said, I do believe some form of punishment is neccessary. Furthermore, individuals do tend to eradicate criminal activity over time from their lives (part;y because as individuals age, they are less likely to commit criminal acts).

    I always suggest people read “The Oxford History of the Prison” and Foucault’s “To Discipline and Punish” if they wish to look further into the issue.

  24. It was indeed, Rob. Unfortunately, the prisoners went stark raving mad after a few months.

  25. Justice sometimes coincides with the criminal justice system. Sometimes it doesn’t. Procedural accuracy and individual rights aren’t the only values the criminal justice system is supposed to serve; it is also supposed to provide specific and general deterrence, substantive justice, and where possible, rehabilitation.

    Ever work with criminals, or ex-cons? I have. Most of them have a better sense of justice than the folks posting here. Talk to somebody who has served hard time in a real prison, a penitentiary, and ask them what they think about Geoghan’s murder. Or Dahmer’s murder. They might (correctly) think it’s f***ed up that the guards and the system allow a murder to occur in the block, but on the other side of the coin, they will admit that if you rape 130 little boys, or rape and kill and eat a dozen adolescents, that you probably had it coming.

  26. First of all, when every single murderer gets the death penalty without fail, then, and only then, will I begin to consider an official or unofficial death penalty appropriate for lesser crimes.

    Second, prison rape and assault doesn’t work even as “unofficial justice”. The least vicious criminals receive the harshest sanctions under that system, while the most vicious have a field day. Hardly justice, official or unofficial.

    Third, allowing the prisoners to congregate seems like a bad idea to me. Solitary confinement for the entire length of the sentence hardly seems crueler to a nonviolent criminal than the treatment he gets at the hands of his fellow prisoners. And it’s unpleasant enough to be a viable punishment for all classes of prisoners, with the length adjusted for the severety of the offense.

  27. Wasn’t solitary confinement the original model of the “penitentiary” (i.e. housing for penitents)? I believe the idea was to stick the criminal in a room by himself, give him a Bible, and let him do his penance.

  28. Hey Crazy Eddie, you ain’t so crazy!

  29. “On the other hand, someone who rapes and tortures should be put to death, even if he didn’t murder.

    Like Uday and Qusay?

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