Cruel, But Hardly Unusual
When topics like this come up, I like to cite Amnesty International
, because they not only
provide some much-needed perspective on the topic, but can't credibly be considered a “pro-U.S.” organization.
What you find when you peruse AI's annals is that abuse in prisons is not only common, but de rigeur for pretty much every country in the world.
And no, not just the U.S., Turkey, China or third-world countries, but all
countries. Unless you consider England, France, Germany, Italy,
Greece, Spain, Japan, Australia, etc. etc. to be “third-world countries”.
Prison abuse is as widespread as imprisonment.
If anyone would like to put forth the name of a country where prison abuse doesn't take place, I'd be interesting in seeing it, because I haven't
found a single one to date, and I have been looking.
So to imply that prison abuse is a “U.S.-only” problem would be just plain dishonest.
The View From Here
Here in the U.S., I have known some people who have done time in county jails as well as graduates of state and federal prisons, in addition to some
law enforcement officials and a couple of prison guards.
While I am happy to have never been arrested or convicted of any crimes myself, I do believe I have, over the years, gained some insights on the
The first of these is the awareness that conditions vary widely from place to place, whether jail or prison. Some of them are nicer places than
others. Some are genuine hell pits, and are maintained deliberately as such.
Want to “scare someone straight”? Just say “Attica” or “Leavenworth” or “Pelican Bay”.
People on both sides of the bars are aware of the variability of confinement conditions, and it figures prominently in determining where offenders are
sent when convicted, or transferred to if they are considered troublesome.
Not All Like Abu Ghraib
If all U.S. prisons were really as horrible as some claim, we could reasonably expect a very low incidence of repeat criminal offenses. Mysteriously
-- or perhaps not so mysteriously, if we choose to look at the facts -- we see exactly the opposite.
Most (but certainly not all) jails and minimum security prisons in the U.S. are so pleasant compared to life on the “outside” that vast numbers of
criminals deliberately commit repeat offenses of various relatively petty crimes so they can stay in the “system”, which, for many people who are
mentally ill, emotionally disturbed or otherwise “life challenged”, is preferable to having to deal with the “real world”.
After all, in prison, all the decisions are made for you, you get “three squares a day” and free medical and dental care, there's not much else
to do but read, play games, watch TV and body-build, and if you don't cause trouble, life can be a lot better than living on the streets and trying
to get a job as an ex-con.
So there's that element of the issue. There are, of course, several more, and it's not a simple subject at all
Libraries of books on criminology and penology exist, and are being expanded upon exponentially as the “prison business” explodes in the U.S.,
making us “Number One” in imprisonment worldwide.
Anyway, I advise against allowing a video of some instance of abuse or another shape anyone's opinions on this topic, because the subject is far too
broad to be rationally addressed in such a narrow manner.
It's a big issue, and it's not limited to one prison, or one country. In some places, it's not nearly as bad as advertised, while in others, it is
far worse than anyone might ever want to imagine.
Prisoner abuse is a worldwide phenomenon, and it won't be going away anytime soon -- especially if awareness of the problem is limited to a sequence
of narrowly-defined scandals du jour.
At least, that's how I see it.
[edit on 4/7/2005 by Majic]