Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Prison Reform Needed

Today the St. Petersburg Times (the #1 newspaper in the Tampa Bay Area) broke a story about how a former inmate is suing Prison Health Services Inc. (PHS) for the terrible neglect she suffered while she was in Hillsborough County Jail. As a result, she lost her eyesight. Another woman is suing PHS because as a result of their neglect, her baby died. Both stories appear to be very genuine. If you read the article, you will be shocked.

The article also mentions that "A yearlong examination of Prison Health Services by the New York Times published this year revealed repeated instances of flawed and sometimes fatal medical care in other parts of the country."

It would be nice to say that these are the exceptions. But while we focus our attention on the atrocities overseas, we would also be wise to look backwards into our own backyards.

Interestingly enough, if you do a Google on prison reform, you don't come back with many American organizations, although there are plenty of them in the UK. Perhaps Americans still have enough of a Puritanical bent that they believe all prisoners "get what they deserve." But we also need to remember that there are many inmates who go to prison for a non-violent crime such as theft, but receive the death penalty instead.

Those of you who've grown to know me over this last year know that I'm no whining, liberal sissy. But I have heard many stories from inmates' mouths about the atrocities that they suffered in prison. These are men and women who are trying to do the right thing now, and stay out of prison. Some of the stories will curl your hair.

"Why not go public with this?" I have asked. "Are you kidding?" they've said. They fear the repercussions from the guards or inmates, because they can reach you even if they're behind bars. Or, if these former inmates end up back in prison again, their lives will be worthless. Why take the chance? You're out already!

I have heard of one man who was simply despised. He was immature, young, and whiny. One night a group of men attacked him and took turns raping him, despite his cries and screams for help. The guards are often bribed to look the other way. And the guards are scared, too. Thankfully, I am told that despite what Hollywood films indicate, there are very few rapes. However, any rape is one rape too many.

Another story is of the first day a bus of inmates arrived at a Florida prison. This is when the guards want to "make an example" of someone. They singled out a large man who was not even openly defiant, and beat him to death in front of everyone's eyes. Later, when a hearing was convened, all the prisoners were warned to say nothing. They knew if they ratted the guards out, there was no prison they could be transferred to that would keep them safe. The case was dropped. I believe his death was ruled an 'accident'. I wonder what the coroner had to say about that.

Drug rings exist in every prison. Guards are either paid to participate or keep their mouths shut. Many guards are users, too.

What are the solutions? Constant surveillance? But who's guarding the guards? And can they be bought or threatened?

If public outcry grows strong enough, prison reform will happen. But right now, those who are most believable are the ones that are keeping their mouths shut.


Meegan said...

Great post, and I agree completely. There is so much that we never hear about, and like you said, former inmates don't want to risk it by exposing the truth. I don't know what needs to be done, though. When you say prison reform, what exactly do you mean?

Saur♥Kraut said...

Meegan, I'll be honest. I don't know much about the internal workings of the system. I've never worked 'inside' and I've never been an inmate.

But I believe that it would be very easy to change the system, once it was realized by enough people that it had to change.

For instance, much of what happens occurs because the guards allow it to happen. I think there is so much internal corruption that there must be an iron-clad system of accountability.

For instance, cameras on in all areas, 24/7, monitored by an unbiased and independant company which is outside of the jail. The thing is, it would cost the taxpayers even more money. But I'd welcome any and all suggestions!

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

How about a reduction in criminalising human behaviour and stop appealing to the conservatives who beleive chucking people in prison for possession of weed is a serious offense?

Or the empty posturing of the war on drugs that chucks people into jail that have no need to be there.

Prison reform should first and foremost be about putting less people in there and dealing with the social issues that get people to jail but that'll never happen because its too hard a vote winner with no instant results...far better to chuck people away.

A prison in an idela world should be a place of re-education and opportunity but underpaid and under respected staff working in crumbling over crowded facilities is not the answer.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Daniel, I knew this topic would bring a comment from you. ;o) Thanks.

bananarama said...

I don't know, but is it possible to have prisons custom made for the different types of crimes? So that the violent criminals don't mix with the nonviolent ones?

Liquidplastic said...

This is a very informed post, and to my knowledge, it's true. I don't like how the justice system works, but it is hard to fight it when you live in a state of powerlessness.

Daniel makes good sense, and I can add nothing better.

But what I will do is, like I always do, when I find an interesting Blog on subjects dear to my heart .. email them to my representatives. In this case one of them is Tom Delay, and I don't think he will care .. but I am still emailing this blog to him!

Blogs are very powerful and everyone is paying attention to them. I think it should be a tool that keep on kicking ....

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Great post.

Compound the problem when those who suffer from serious mental illness are put into the population with non-ill prisioners and the results are heartbreaking.

The justice system, courts, laws, etc., needs a complete overhaul, in my humble opinon. I could go on and on, but do not want to be a blog hog.

Thank you for this post.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Saur: forgot to mention the crimilisation of certain races in the US also, such as the small sentences for cocaine possession but larger sentences for crack.

As for prisons for different sort of offenders you have a system like that roughly in the US but trouble is over crowding again, so the lines get blurred and the child killer is hanging out with the car thief.

Stop sending people to prison and start funding social programmes that stop crime at the source.

Always questioning said...

What kind of social programs can stop people from being greedy, murderous, or sexual predators?

Eddo said...

Wow, that is sad. It is frightening how much goes on in our country that we never hear about.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Always Questioning: the fact you have to ask that question means you'll never get it. When you have nothing to lose in your life it's easier to commit serious crime. So, an investment in decent education programmes, good living conditions and a genuine opportunity for all will reduce greed, murder and sexual predators.

You can't lock everyone up. Prison population up in the US and crime rate still climbs.

Less punishment and more education and stop pandering to conservatives and their 'drugs are bad' mentality.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

PS: murderers, the greedy and sex offenders make up a smaller majority of the prison population than do petty criminals.

Always questioning said...

I was thinking the petty criminals were probably the greedy. But I still don't think you can cure sex offenders and violent criminals with social programs, such as education and "good living conditions" - whatever you mean by that.

So, I guess you're right, I'll never get it. Because you won't really explain it to me.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Not greedy. Poor. Violent crime and many sex offenses originate in poor living conditions and social in-equality.

Very few are related to mental health issues.

Is that clearer?

Always questioning said...

So if we give their families more money to raise them, they will not turn out so bad? So, your theory is that the majority of criminals are that way because they grew up or are currently living in poverty? Is that right?

Jamie Dawn said...

I'm woefully uneducated on this subject. I do want prisoners' medical and physical care to be very good.
It is wrong for prisoners to go without good care and timely treatment. The corruption among guards has probably been going on since the first prison was built. I hope that most guards are honest though. It is probably like a lot of things, there are always a few bad apples. My cousin's husband is a prison guard and he is one of the kindest men I know. I'm sure all of this varies from prison to prison, as I've heard some prisons are far worse than others.

Steph said...

I teach Social Justice to juniors at a Catholic girls school. Back in August I posted on some of their ... ahhh ... misconceptions about poverty, prisons, and other elements of life, realities that I'm hoping to open their eyes at least a little bit to over the course of the year. After all, according to them, prison is a pretty easy ride to have!

Course, then today's post of mine dealt with the "Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act" ... which doesn't seem to do much by the way of improving the situation.

I don't remember where I read it or what the statistics are, but I do know that the prison industry is in fact an industry, and a very "successful" (and profitable) one at that. So, if we want to make money off them, we need to make sure that they either stay in jail or return to jail --- so let's by all means be sure NOT to rehabilitate them.

I'm sure all the statistics show how effective a deterrent our current system is. At least at training prisoners on all sorts of new tricks.

And in terms of the guards ... it doesn't take much for power to go to your head. If you haven't heard of it, check out The Stanford Prison Experiment or this article about it. I'm not condoning what goes on in prisons here OR abroad ... but I can very easily see how it happens. Which, of course, makes it all the more important to stop it before it gets to that point.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Good response Steph, great comment.

Always Questioning: it's not a 'theory' social in-equality and poverty leads to crime in a majority of cases. When you have nothing to lose you may as well use any means to escape the shit you're in.

Always questioning said...

That is an interesting theory. But the problem is, not everyone who lives in poverty turns to crime. In addition to the social programs you suggest, I think it would be wise to investigate and implement whatever is working for those who don't become criminals.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I never said everyone does but prisons deal with the problem not the cause and conservatives want to chuck anyone who commits an offense in there.

Out of sight out of mind.

Valerie - Riding Solo said...

Try poking around on for an inside view of a kids "boot camp"

I don't know how to fix the system but when we have more prisons in an area than hospitals I think there is a serious problem.

Tone said...

If a process does not work...doing it faster or longer doesnt change that! I think the whole thing needs review. If a person is so bad they need to be removed from society for years...will they be any better at the end, and if you are going to remove them permenantly there are cheaper ways! (although completely politically incorrect)

Tone said...


You sure know your way around this media!

As a military instructor I did a "Psych for dummies" course which included the Stamford experiment and numerous Candid camera segments which threw light on human behaviour, the need to weild power over others judiciously, and how to illicit the best results from others without recourse to threat or force. All lessons that have stayed with me ever since!