Prisoner abuse is by no means a secret in this country thanks to shows like The Wire, Oz, and numerous other crime dramas and reality shows. It’s unfortunately an everyday occurrence no less frequent or unexpected as getting a cup of coffee or driving. Nor is the problem localized to America. Stories like this or this aren’t all that shocking to the public anymore simply because prison violence has become reported on and depicted in the media so often that it has become normalized in our society. The kicker to all of this is that prison violence, like any abuse in our country, is illegal.
Certainly the fact that the victims are prisoners doesn’t help to reduce or abate this normalization concept. After all, the people getting hurt did something wrong, which is why they ended up in the slammer in the first place, right? Don’t they deserve it? There are a couple of things wrong with this argument on top of the aforementioned illegality of it all. One, it assumes that all prisoners are actually guilty for their crimes and that those charged with prosecution don’t make mistakes. This is ludicrous because there’s a lot of evidence that shows the justice system is far from perfect. And two, allowing abuse to happen to anyone, even prisoners, makes us as a society no better than the prisoner’s themselves and eats away at the moral foundation of penal system. It’s hypocritical to prosecute someone for breaking the law if you then go ahead and break the same laws you hold so dear yourself.
Fortunately, that’s why prisoners have rights. Limited rights of course, but rights nonetheless guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Though they are incarcerated, inmates still retain basic human rights, namely: 1) Protection from cruel and unusual punishment, including sexual harassment and other sex crimes, 2) Access to the court to complain about their treatment and the prison system, 3) Protection from racial segregation, unless for safety reasons, 4) Accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act, and 5) Medical and mental health care.
If these rights are violated, prisoners who suffer through them can actually press criminal charges on the pertrators, as well as sue them in civil court. It doesn’t matter if the actor responsible is another inmate, prison guard, or any other prison staffer, if a violation happens, the party responsible can be held liable and the incarcerated victim has every right to report them.
But unfortunately, once again, we don’t live in a perfect world.
The problem with a prisoner reporting violence is two-fold. The first is that they have to satisfy a legal standard of proof, which is that they generally have to show evidence that they suffered either a physical or mental harm. Now if you’re Lindsay Lohan or some other person of fame, this standard isn’t too hard to prove to a court. But for the average financially strapped prisoner, the skill, knowledge, and/or money required to make a believable case isn’t within reach. However, this isn’t the hard part. The bigger problem is that inmates who report such incidences are labeled as “rats” and are then targeted for retribution by the prison population, prison staff, or both simply for exercising their rights.
You don’t need me to explain how bad prison life can be, especially for a snitch. It’s an outrage, after all, prisoner like these are put smack in the middle of the proverbial rock and a hard place. So what, can be done to correct this problem? Here’s a simple and effective answer. How about creating an independent reporting committee? The state and federal governments have power to create new committees. If there was a private commission that was independent from the prison facility tasked with hearing prisoner complaints independently, say by private monthly or bi-annual interviews conducted with all prisoners. That way both inmates and prison staff will be less likely to know who reported what and they’ll be less chance for retribution to occur.
What do you guys think? As always, sound off with your thoughts and opinions below.