Meanwhile, Back in the USA…

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From Saturday's New York Times:

Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.

I know, I know: You've been hearing this since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. But the Times story moves past the broad comparisons and into the nauseating details.

NEXT: Hungry Like the Wolf

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  1. According to many people, prison rape isn’t a bug, it’s a feature!

  2. Of course the detainees in Abu Ghraib were not convicted of any crime…would that make a difference?

  3. Nah, those detainees weren’t convicted of anything at all…..but prior to incarceration most of them were trying to kill American soldiers. Would that make a difference?

    I know, I know, we got no business being there and all that, but we are there, and these guys were trying to kill our guys.

  4. I know when I had to spend some time in jail strip searches and beatings were more than routine. There were many times where inmates had to spend 20+ minutes completly stripped down in below freezing temperatures. I had a recieving job where I got things ready for newly arrived inmates, and on an at least weekly occasion you could see the guards beat the shit out of some guy on the survelience monitor, and that was only in a 4 hour a day period. That coupled with the two weeks of not eating upon my first arrival (I went from 150 to less than a 130lbs in that time period for lack of a vegetarian meal) I would say that was the worst experience of my life.

  5. Almost all of the people locked up at the local level (almost 700,000) haven’t been convicted of anything – they are awaiting trial.

  6. “…these guys were trying to kill our guys.”

    No, they weren’t. At least many, perhaps a majority weren’t. US troops have been casting a wide net, scooping up anyone who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

  7. Of course the detainees in Abu Ghraib were not convicted of any crime…would that make a difference?

    Is it okay to torture people, as long as they get a jury trial first?

    No.

  8. The Financial Times quotes a Red Cross report that claims Coalition authories believe 70% to 90% of Iraqis detained by the CPA were arrested by mistake.

    Closer to home,the New York Times article notes that Texas Prisons have been under a federal court order since Bush was Governor to clean up their act. What else can we expect from a Governor who ran Texas the way Bush did?

  9. Iguana, don’t assume I think that we shouldn’t be there. I support the war, I just feel like we shouldn’t minimize the bad behaviour.

    Even if these guys were shooting, or trying to kill american soldiers, ok, let’s convict them then. Public (televised) trials ASAP. Show the Iraqi’s what is being done to help with the security situation.

    I would love to know where Gadfly gets the 700,000 figure. It is very hard to believe.

  10. …Indeed Thoreau, and I fear it’s a “feature” that many Americans seem to think SHOULD exist in the prison system. I’ve often heard my “tough on crime” conservative friends chortle with glee at the notion of some alleged criminal who makes the news going to prison so they can be “fucked by their cell mates” or ending up “someone’s bitch.”

    Prison, in their eyes, should be a hell-on-earth where all manner of torture and humiliation exists as some sort of deterrent for the rest of us. The same can be said about their attitude about Al Ghraib: Today, I heard that moron Limbaugh proclaim that the torture of the Iraqi prisoners will frighten the rest of the population into compliance.

    I don’t think prison should be a pleasant experience at all. However, stripping human’s of their dignity, regardless of what they did to deserve prison time, is not going show the error of their ways. It’s sadism, not punishment.

  11. everyone in all prisons should be in solitary confinement… no one should have any violence applied to them in prison except as prescribed by law (i support the death penalty)

    but, they should have absolutely no contact with any other humans, at all, except as required for doctor visits and court appearances.

    no reading material, no outlets, except for excercise.

    not doing something to people can be the worst torture of all

  12. “I’ve often heard my “tough on crime” conservative friends chortle with glee at the notion of some alleged criminal who makes the news going to prison so they can be “fucked by their cell mates” or ending up “someone’s bitch.””

    I’ve heard lefty feminists state the same thing about convicted rapists.

    And I heard (read) where California politicians stated basically the same thing about electrical energy CEOs back during the last Cali electric engergy crisis.

  13. Just out of curiosity: among those of you who think it’s okay to torture and humiliate people so long as they have been convicted of a crime, how many of you have:
    –used illegal drugs?
    –attended a party where others used illegal drugs?
    –imbibed your first alcoholic beverage before reaching the legal drinking age?
    –driven your cars over the speed limit?

    I’m not even going to ask the really personal questions, about things like patronizing prostitutes or possessing pornography in certain parts of the South.

  14. Buck,

    A quick Google Search turned up this link to the DOJ’s web site:

    http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov

    I’m not sure if you think the 700,000 seemed too high or too low.

  15. US troops have been casting a wide net, scooping up anyone who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Yeah, number two excuse right behind “my lawyer fucked me over.”

  16. The 700,000 figure, Shawn, is a bit high. As the report states,

    Local jails held or supervised 737,912 persons awaiting trial or serving a sentence at midyear 2002. About 72,400 of these were persons serving their sentence in the community. [emphasis added]

    But that’s just ’cause I’m nit-picky enough to notice. Your point stands.

  17. Prisons are psychological accidents waiting to happen.

    Prison abuse is endemic due to the psychodynamics of the guard-prisoner relationship. Guards have a great deal of power over the inmates and this is of itself morally corrosive. Combine this with the fact that guards have good reason to physically fear the inmates and you have a recipe for angry fear that can easily lead to physical lashing out. Ordinary, mentally healthy people can turn physically abusive if placed in this environment. Rules and procedures become very important to prevent this.

    This is the major reason why the military separates the jobs of interrogators from the job of guards responsible for security. Interrogators must maintain a clinical detachment in order to prevent excesses. Guards must interact to closely with prisoners to maintain this detachment. At Abu Ghraib, the guards began to get involved in creating the interrogation environment. That created a situation ripe for abuse.

    Fortunately, things got stopped before anybody got seriously hurt or killed but any prison is just a few steps away from a fatal incident.

  18. I’m a big believer in personal responsibility, but unless we’re planning on never letting any criminals out of prison, why on earth would we want to turn them into sociopaths in the name of punishment? Wouldn’t it cost less to actually attempt to, brace yourselves, rehabilitate them and send them back into the world with a chance of making a legal living, than it does to simply re-incarcerate them again and again?

    Punishment is a purely subjective notion. Maybe if we focus on less subjective things like financial costs and public safety, we might decrease the former while increasing the latter.

    Or am I just being a bleeding-heart liberal?

  19. I totally agree with les about rehabilitation. The privatization of the prison system looks kindly on the revolving door. As long as there are prisoners coming back they get a paycheck at the end of the month. Next time you fill out a job app note the inevitable question about being convicted of a crime. The conditions of probation and parole are active employment, but if one of the five applicants is a convicted drug dealer (mind you, no profit transactions between friends is considered trafficking) there is a good chance the convict will not get the job, thereby violating parole. When put in such a position, it is not hard to see why many of these people go back to the only way they know. It is about time we see these people as people and not a paycheck, get them a way to make a legal living, and let their “debt to society” be paid without all the strings attached that keep them at the lowest rung of society.

  20. I agree with Dave (and Les) with one small quibble about something Dave said: “The privatization of the prison system looks kindly on the revolving door. As long as there are prisoners coming back they get a paycheck at the end of the month.”

    Not that there haven’t been problems associated with privatized prisons, but I think the lack of rehabilitation and revolving door predate prison privatization (I was under the impression prison privatization was relatively new). And the same paycheck phenomenon occurs in public prisons too. I live in St. Louis, and I just yesterday heard a radio ad complaining that the current governor of Illinois wants to close a prison in some community, costing that community such and such number of jobs and income.

  21. Here’s something else to think about: an awful lot of those Army Reserves MPs were cops here at home, and will be again when they get back.

  22. Shawn Smith
    I thought he meant 700,000 Iraqi’s are awaiting trial.

  23. Gene: Texas prisons are no longer managed by the feds – I believe it was in 2002 that William Wayne Justice, who originally placed the system under federal oversight 30 years ago (some time before Bush siezed the governor’s mansion), signed a court order ending the Ruiz class action case.

    As an aside: Texas governors do not “run” Texas; Texas governors have far less power than most. It takes a long time to explain, but as a result of Reconstruction, we have one of the longest state consitutions in the country (it damn near takes a constituitional amendment to name a street) and a very weak governor. The lieutenant governor is the one with the power. As Texas governor, George Bush was a moderate (truly moderate, not just right-wing moderate) and he got along very well with the Democrats in Austin. The Texas Monthly’s political correspondent Paul Burka, whom you’d never mistake for a National Review or Weekly Standard firebrand, endorsed him (at least for his second term; I bet he backed Ann Richards in the first term). He was considered an effective (within the limits of his power) and bipartisan governor; the horns and the triple sixes so visible today remained hidden during that halcyon time. Little did we suspect that Bush could use his mindray (a small mind, to be sure, but possessed of a powerful ray) to force US soliders to arrest and torture innocent Iraqis.

    It’s late, and I’m on intake duty at the gulag tonight. Bye ya’ll!

  24. I just think that you all are being naive. Any time you set up a justice system, you are accepting a certain amount of sodomy and torture.

    It is so naive and unlearned to think that people could prosecute a ‘justice system’ without sodomy. I don’t want to hear any more pathetic excuses, if you want to establish a deterrent to murder and to lock away murderers, there will ALWAYS be something like this to make cops look bad. Accidental shootings, intentional torture, its all part of the deal.

  25. On rehabilitation.

    I have no illusion that all of them can be rehabilitated. But for those who can be rehabilitated (or at least be rehabilitated with reasonable expenditures of time, money, and effort), why on earth wouldn’t we want them rehabilitated? Unless they’re on a death sentence or life sentence, eventually they’ll be released and be out amongst us. No doubt some people here will say that there should be more executions and life should really mean life. Fine, but the fact remains that those who don’t receive such sentences will eventually be released.

    Now, no doubt rehabilitation gets plenty of money and talk already. No doubt plenty of public employees collect large salaries for the ostensible purpose of rehabilitation. However, as long as prison is a jungle where violence and cunning is necessary to survive, no amount of counseling will solve the basic problem.

    I don’t claim to know the best way to reduce the amount of violence in prisons. I do know that the more time an inmate has to spend on guard against the very real potential for violence, the harder it will be to get him ready to live as a decent member of society upon release.

    I have no illusions that prison rape and other forms of prison violence can be eradicated. But surely there must be some way to reduce the incidence of these crimes. And I suspect that effective measures along those lines would have a bigger impact than money spent on highly paid public employees who allegedly specialize in rehabilitation.

    Then again, why would anybody in the system want fewer repeat offenders?

  26. Buck,

    Yeah, after rereading Gadfly’s post, I can see where anyone can reasonably think that. It’s weird that when I read “local,” I thought it meant “local to a city/state in the U.S.” Maybe it was because of Dave’s 6:03PM post just before. Oh, well. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  27. hey,

    They tried this in prisons in Britain in the 19th century; it led to numerous cases of insanity.

    Mark S.,

    The appropriate response to such a claim is to state if such is indeed supposed to part of their punishment regime, then it should be named as such in the judgment against them. If they disagree then tell them that they obviously don’t believe in the rule of law and have decided to adopt the Saudi position on the matter.

  28. Luke, what’s that dirt doing in my hole?

  29. Buck, the 700,000 refers to the good old US of A, the subject of this thread. I realized I should have been more specific after I pushed the button but this thing posts so slow… I didn’t have the time to go back and fix it.

  30. “At Abu Ghraib, the guards began to get involved in creating the interrogation environment. That created a situation ripe for abuse.”

    This was part of the plan.

    “Fortunately, things got stopped before anybody got seriously hurt or killed but any prison is just a few steps away from a fatal incident.”

    This is a lie.

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