Abuse Common in U.S. Prisons, Activists Say

  1. http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.j...toryID=5064485

    Abuse Common in U.S. Prisons, Activists Say
    Thu May 6, 2004 01:58 PM ET
    By Alan Elsner

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Horrific abuses, some similar to those revealed in Iraq, regularly occur in U.S. prisons with little national attention or public outrage, human rights activists said on Thursday.

    "We certainly see many of the same kinds of things here in the United States, including sexual assaults and the abuse of prisoners, against both men and women," said Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the national prison project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

    "This office has been involved in cases in which prisoners have been raped by guards and humiliated but we don't talk about it much in America and we certainly don't hear the president expressing outrage," she said.

    President Bush has said he was disgusted by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Yet, there were many cases of abuse in Texas when he served as governor from 1995 to 2000.

    For example, in September 1996, guards at the Brazoria County jail in Texas staged a drug raid on inmates that was videotaped for training purposes.
    The tape showed several inmates forced to strip and lie on the ground. A police dog attacked several prisoners; the tape clearly showed one being bitten on the leg. Guards prodded prisoners with stun guns and forced them to crawl along the ground. Then they dragged injured inmates face down back to their cells.

    In a 1999 opinion, federal Judge William Wayne Justice wrote of the situation in Texas state prisons: "Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions."

    Judy Greene of Justice Strategies, a New York City consultancy, said: "When I saw Bush's interview on Arab TV stations, I was thinking, had he ever stepped inside a Texas prison when he was governor?"

    Michelle Deitch, who teaches criminal justice at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, said there were many parallels with Iraq.

    "The levels of abuse, the humiliation and degradation, the lack of oversight and accountability, the balance between human rights and security interests, overcrowding issues -- I ask myself, how can we get people equally concerned about what goes on here?" she said.

    Two of those allegedly involved in the abuse of Iraqis were U.S. prison guards. Spc. Charles Graner, who appears in some of the most lurid photographs, was a guard at Greene County State Correctional Institution, one of Pennsylvania's top security death row prisons. Two years after he arrived at Greene, the prison was at the center of an abuse scandal in which guards routinely beat and humiliated prisoners.

    Prison officials have declined to say whether Graner had been disciplined in that case.

    Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick was a corrections officer at Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia. In a statement published by the Richmond Times Dispatch on Thursday, Frederick compared his role at Abu Ghraib in Iraq with his job as a guard in Buckingham, where he said he had "very strict policies and procedures as to how to handle any given situation."
    In Iraq, he said, there were no such policies.

    In Cook County Jail in Chicago, the elite Special Operations Response Team has been implicated in scores of incidents of racially motivated violence and brutality in recent years.

    One of the most dramatic took place on Feb. 4, 1999, when SORT members accompanied by four guard dogs without muzzles ordered 400 prisoners to leave their cells in response to a gang-related stabbing three days earlier.
    According to a 50-page report by the sheriff's Internal Affairs Division, the guards ransacked cells, then herded inmates into common areas where they were forced to strip and face the wall with hands behind their head. Anyone who looked away from the wall was struck with a wooden baton.

    Some prisoners were forced to lie on the floor, where they were stomped and kicked. One inmate, who did not leave a cell fast enough said he was beaten with fists and batons until he urinated on himself and went into convulsions.

    At least 49 inmates told investigators they had been beaten. After the beatings, guards prevented inmates from receiving immediate medical care.
    Corrections officer Roger Fairley testified in a deposition last year that guards were afraid to come forward to tell of what they had seen in case their colleagues took revenge.

    "On many and many occasions I witnessed excessive force, abuse of power, intimidation," he said.

    Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.
  2. 24 Comments

  3. by   SmilingBluEyes
    i read one of the monsters that committed these abuses in Iraq is none other than a prison guard in the USA on reserve duty. How about that? And further, he had a restraining order filed against him by his ex wife for abuse? Stands to reason hmmm? How is it monsters like this get by in the military? And in our prison systems? it's a scandal.
  4. by   Blackcat99
    Thanks for posting this article. It is very interesting. I don't like inmates but I don't think they should be abused here in the US or overseas.
  5. by   oramar
    This thing is being presented two different ways way by civil leaders and military. The military and goverment officials that suppport the administration are saying that it is isolated to this prison where a breakdown in leadership lead to a few shaky characters taking advantage. Others, mostly Democrates are saying this is widespread and orders for these behaviors came down from on from high level military and CIA sources. No doubt this abuse is a crime, no doubt it occured. The question is who ordered it and was it ordered at all.
  6. by   duckboy20
    I would totally disagree that there is a lot of abuse in american prisons today. With the ACLU ramping at every corner looking for a lawsuit and numerous civil groups doing the same if it did go on it would be heard about a lot more and there would be all kinds of lawsuits going on. No I don't agree with abuse in any form or fashion. I just think this is being blown way out of proportion
  7. by   athomas91
    good post duckboy.
  8. by   pickledpepperRN
    To me it seemed the Generals were just being careful to only state what they had knowledge of.
    They did not want to speculate.
  9. by   Blackcat99
    Quote from duckboy20
    I would totally disagree that there is a lot of abuse in american prisons today. With the ACLU ramping at every corner looking for a lawsuit and numerous civil groups doing the same if it did go on it would be heard about a lot more and there would be all kinds of lawsuits going on. No I don't agree with abuse in any form or fashion. I just think this is being blown way out of proportion
    Yes duckboy it always seemed that the ACLU was always hanging around at all the prisons that I worked in.
  10. by   sbic56
    Quote from Blackcat99
    Thanks for posting this article. It is very interesting. I don't like inmates but I don't think they should be abused here in the US or overseas.
    If you "don't like inmates" isn't it a mistake to work in prisons? It's kind of like if I said "I don't like crazy people", though I work psych. (Not that I refer to my clients as crazy people, just making a point.) Seems that if one doesn't like something or somebody, they shouldn't be in a postion where they may do more harm than good.
  11. by   duckboy20
    Yes duckboy it always seemed that the ACLU was always hanging around at all the prisons that I worked in.
    If you don't think the ACLU just pants around and waits for something they can go after you need to get your head out of the hole.
  12. by   SmilingBluEyes
    this thread sure got insulting quickly. maybe it needs to be closed. we can disagree w/o being rude and this is happening way too much here lately.
  13. by   pickledpepperRN
    Remember when George H. Ryan Illinois did this?
    His mother first believed her son did not commit murder and contacted a Christian victims rights organization. The college students were researching many death row cases. They found the true killer.


    Illinois governor takes aim at death penalty

    On Saturday, then-governor of Illinois, George H. Ryan, announced his decision to grant clemency to all 167 inmates on the Illinois death row. Ryan's decision to commute the sentences came three years after he declared a moratorium on executions in response to 13 men being exonerated with DNA evidence. CNN reported that Ryan called the Illinois system "arbitrary and capricious -- and therefore immoral." Ryan ensured that men convicted by a broken and grossly unfair capital system would not be executed by it.

    He did the right thing, and he should be commended for it.

    Ryan was an avid supporter of capital punishment when he took office in 1999, but his faith in the system was immediately shaken by the case of Anthony Porter. Porter was sentenced to death in 1983 for the murder of two teenagers. In 1998, Porter was two days away from being executed when it was discovered that he had an IQ of 51, according to CNN. The reprieve granted enough time for Northwestern University journalism students to uncover evidence of his innocence. He was released in early 1999. The man actually responsible for the murders was sentenced in September of 1999 to only 37.5 years in prison, according to the Illinois Death Penalty Education Project.

    A system that relies on college students to save innocent men from being murdered by the state can only be described as abhorrent and immoral.

    After Ryan issued the moratorium on executions in early 2000, a commission to study the death penalty in Illinois was formed, according The Associated Press. CNN reported in April of 2002 that the commission recommended 85 changes to the system, including mandatory taping of confessions, uniform standards across the state and decreased reliance on jailhouse snitches. According to Ryan's speech this past weekend, the Illinois legislature had three chances to reform the system; it failed to implement even the smallest of changes.

    The commission study illustrated disturbing facts about the Illinois capital punishment system. According to Ryan's speech, nearly half of Illinois' capital cases have been reversed by a new trial or new sentence; 33 men were represented at trial by an attorney who has been disbarred or suspended from practicing; law and 46 were convicted on the testimony of jailhouse snitches. More than two-thirds of the death row inmates are African-American -- 35 of who were convicted by all-white juries.

    The study also found a person who commits capital murder in rural Illinois is five times more likely to have received a death sentence than if the murder had taken place in Chicago. The killer of a white victim is 3 1/2 times more likely to receive a death sentence than if the victim was black.

    These geographical and racial disparities are unacceptable. If capital punishment is to be used, it must be uniform throughout the entire system.

    To say that Illinois is the only state with these problems is simply wishful thinking. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, nationally, 50 percent of victims are white, but 81 percent of completed capital cases involve white victims. A recent study found that the death penalty is rarely used if the victim is Hispanic. North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and New Jersey studies have all found race to be a major determining factor in whether one receives the death penalty.

    Texas has its own problems. A 2000 Texas Defender Service report found 84 capital cases in which a prosecutor or police officer deliberately presented false or misleading evidence. Like Illinois and other states, the race of the victim greatly influences punishment; while white women comprised 0.8 percent of murder victims since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 32.4 percent of those executed were for the murder of a white woman. The study found men convicted and sentenced to death despite their lawyers being clearly incompetent; one ingested cocaine before trial and consumed alcohol during court breaks; others fell asleep during trial. The report also found the case review process in Texas to be fraught with error.

    Other governors must follow Ryan's lead. Not only should they declare moratoriums on executions, they should consider commuting the sentences to life in prison without possibility of parole to prevent the execution of innocent people and to ensure that no inmates lose their lives to a broken, unfair and inadequate system. There is no doubt this will be painful for victims' families; however, if states are going to go as far as taking away a life, the process has to be fair. In the meantime, states should put the enormous resources usually spent on executions to better uses. As Gov. Ryan suggested, states should "provide something for victims' families other than the hope of revenge."
  14. by   pickledpepperRN

    January 31, 2000

    CHICAGO -- Governor George H. Ryan today declared a moratorium on executions of any more Illinois Death Row inmates until a Commission he will appoint to conduct a review of the administration of the death penalty in Illinois can make recommendations to him.

    "I now favor a moratorium, because I have grave concerns about our state's shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row," Governor Ryan said. "And, I believe, many Illinois residents now feel that same deep reservation. I cannot support a system, which, in its administration, has proven to be so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state's taking of innocent life. Thirteen people have been found to have been wrongfully convicted."

    Governor Ryan noted that while he still believes the death penalty is a proper societal response for crimes that shock sensibility, he believes Illinois residents are troubled by the persistent problems in the administration of capital punishment in Illinois. Since the death penalty was reinstated in Illinois in 1977, 12 Death Row inmates have been executed while 13 have been exonerated.

    "How do you prevent another Anthony Porter -- another innocent man or woman from paying the ultimate penalty for a crime he or she did not commit?" Governor Ryan said referring to the former inmate whose execution was stayed by the Illinois Supreme Court after new evidence emerged clearing him of the capital offense. "Today, I cannot answer that question."

    Governor Ryan said he will not approve any more executions until this review of the administration of the death penalty is completed.

    "Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate," Governor Ryan said. "I am a strong proponent of tough criminal penalties, of supporting laws and programs to help police and prosecutors keep dangerous criminals off the streets. We must ensure the public safety of our citizens but, in doing so, we must ensure that the ends of justice are served."

    While noting that the General Assembly, the Illinois Attorney General and the Illinois Supreme Court are all studying the death penalty issue and issuing reports and recommendations, Governor Ryan said more review and debate is critical.
    "As Governor, I am ultimately responsible, and although I respect all that these leaders have done and I will consider all that they say, I believe that a public dialogue must begin on the question of the fairness of the application of the death penalty in Illinois," Governor Ryan said.