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May 2004
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Vermont trips, falls flat on face, and legalizes medical marijuana… somewhat.

Via NORML, TalkLeft, Vice Squad, and Hit and Run, (OK, so I’m a little slow today)… Vermont will officially become the 9th state (or perhaps the 10th, as TalkLeft includes Arizona) to legalize medical marijuana, which is great, although Vice Squad finds not that much to cheer about in the final butchered version of the […]

Prison Abuse

I haven’t talked much about this subject — it’s pretty damned depressing — but there’s no doubt that the prison abuse story is a critical one. And one important part of this story must be told — that prison abuses happen right here at home.
And as outraged as we properly are about prison abuse in Iraq, we must also be outraged that millions of non-violent drug offenders are sent to prison under unjust laws, there to be “reformed” through the methods of abuse and rape.
But I can’t say it as well as others can, so read on…
Look Higher, Deeper than Prison Guards (by John Ed Pearce, Lexington Herald-Leader):

The public echoes what Bush repeatedly prates: that this incident does not reflect the goodness of Americans, that we are not that kind of people, that we would never permit it on our own. The untidy truth is that we do.

For the past decade, we have been building prisons as fast as we could afford and pouring into them a flood of Americans, many of whom are treated as brutally as any Iraqi.

Thanks to a hysterical fear of crime (the rate of which has, incidentally, been falling for years) and the self-righteous fervor in Congress and state legislatures for longer sentences for more crimes, more than 2 million Americans are now imprisoned, not counting those in small jails.

Our per-capita incarceration rate is now higher than that of any nominally civilized nation. And more than a quarter million of those incarcerated are guilty of violating nothing more than our cruel, illogical and ineffective drug laws.

The brutalities and indecencies heaped upon these marginal miscreants — by overworked, ill-trained and often sadistic guards, or by fellow prisoners who frequently rule prison life — defy description.

Their cost in money, lives and standards of decency are enormous. Yet the general public pays a fraction of the attention to these conditions that they give to the bloody mess in Iraq. We will benefit as a nation and a people if our revulsion at the horrors in Iraqi prisons spur us to notice the beam in our own eye.

[emphasis added]
“bullet” An ugly prison record: Given the Way It Treats Its Own Inmates, America Shouldn’t Be Shocked at the Abuse of Iraqis (by Christopher Reed in the Toronto Star):

… A prisoner dumped in scalding water so his skin peeled off like old varnish; prisoners left naked outside in rainy and bitter weather for days; multiple beatings and rapes; several unexplained deaths.

In Corcoran prison, California, guards held their own Roman gladiator games with prisoners pitted against each other in fights to the near death. A disliked and defenceless prisoner was placed in the same cell as the biggest and baddest sex criminal — known as the Booty Bandit – — to be duly raped to the amusement of the prisoner’s supposed guardians.

Pelican Bay is such a fearful place, with prisoners kept under perpetual scrutiny while unable to see any other human being, a psychiatrist told a court that many were going insane.

A federal judge finally ordered reforms, as did another over Corcoran, but there is little evidence that either have become proper places even to house the worst.

Similar reports surface across America. Texas is especially bad.

Significantly, private, for-profit prisons have some of the worst records.…

Amnesty International reported in 1999 that male guards in several U.S. states routinely raped female prisoners.

“bullet” Abuse also in US Prisons, Experts Say by Fox Butterfield, The 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.

In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women’s pink underwear as a form of humiliation.

At Virginia’s Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl on their knees, also a form of humiliation.

The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.

The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.

“bullet” Marijuana possession leads to rape.. in prison. From SPR.

The teen was arrested in Broward County in May on charges of delivering marijuana, a felony. He had 30 grams – or about an ounce – of marijuana in his possession at the time of the arrest.

The teen19-year-old spent the first night of his sentence in a 7-by-8-foot cell with Randolph Jackson, 35, who has been in jail since July 2002 awaiting trial on a sexual battery charge.

In the early morning hours of June 7, Jackson allegedly held a ballpoint pen to the teen’s throat and raped him. Jail staff did not know about the incident until later in the day, when the 19-year-old’s family members, alarmed by comments he made during a telephone conversation, called to report it, jail officials said.

“bullet” The Sentencing Project has a study (pdf) showing that 1 in 11 US prisoners is now serving a life sentence.

While the lifer population overwhelmingly consists of persons convicted of a violent offense, 4%, or about 5,000 lifers, have been convicted of a drug offense. In the federal system alone, approximately 2,000 life sentences are for drug offenses, representing about 39% of all life terms.

“bullet” More reading and viewing:

Prisoner Abuse: References and Resources for the Media from the November Coalition
Civil and Human Rights from Drug War Facts
I got a nice note from Loretta Nall of the U.S. Marijuana Party today and she’s doing a series of pieces at POT-TV (with video) dealing with prison and enforcement abuse here in the states. Not light entertainment or for weak stomachs.
Don’t forget the always invaluable Media Awareness Project has a Focus Alert on Prisoner Abuse and the Drug War – and what you can do.
You can also buy a nifty shirt with this on it at my shop: