President Obama, Please Stop Prison Torture Within the U.S., Too
THE VIDEO at the link below shows how important one of President Obama's first presidential acts was in signing executive orders to outlaw torture and close Guantánamo Bay. But the prison torture depicted in this film did not occur outside of America's borders, but right here at home. One would hope that President Obama and Attorney General Holder will now turn their immediate attention to ending human rights violations that occur in jails and prisons within our borders. Inmates in America, including mental patients, suffer regular abuse, and many die as a result.
PLEASE BEWARE. The video at the link below contains graphic, violent scenes, nudity and foul language. It is not for children or those who would find such subject matter disturbing. Deborah Davies describes the prisoners in this 2005 video as “victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4.” She said, “It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realize that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.”
The film depicts grossly inhumane treatment, some of which is directed at mentally ill incarcerees. There are many reasons why it is important to society that prisoners are treated humanely. Inhumane treatment is capable of inducing mental illness in inmates who did not previously have that problem. A less hostile prison environment would promote increased safety for the guards as well as inmates and reduce the number of prison rebellions that have occurred recently. Moreover, the bitterness that torture invokes in persons treated like inmates in the video can do nothing to rehabilitate and prepare them to rejoin society as productive citizens. In fact, it is likely that the opposite is true.
It would behoove representatives to recognize that for every one of America's 2.3 million inmates, there are likely ten or more friends and family members who care about the inmate's treatment while incarcerated for crimes, regardless of their guilt or innocence (amounting to millions of voters). Two-thirds of inmates were convicted for non-violent crimes, such as possession of marijuana and minor offenses that were mere misdemeanors a few years ago. Besides the tragedy of closing mental hospitals and imprisoning our sick citizens, it is important to remember that children are frequently tried as adults and become subject to harsh prison conditions such as those depicted on the film. Incraceration is meant to remove criminals from society for punishment, rehabilitation, and to promote public safety - not torture. And it is no crime to be sick.
Sadly, many persons sentenced to brief prison terms for non-violent crimes actually end up paying the death penalty, and taxpayers often pay substantial lawsuits behind abuses and wrongful death judgments involving inmates.
Because jails and prisons have become America's pseudo mental hospitals, warehousing approximately 1.25 million people with mental health conditions, it is especially important that inmates are treated with decency and that laws pertaining to the civil rights of institutionalized persons in America be appropriately enforced. Vigilant attention is needed to to safeguard inmates and patients who are committed to mental hospitals.
Since a large percentage of America's inmates have psychiatric impairments ranging from mild to acute, prisons and jails should not hold such inmates to the same rules governing behavior as other inmates. Doing so has resulted in America's most vulnerable citizens having to endure years in solitary confinement for their failure to understand and/or obey prison rules. Psychiatric patients' original sentences are regularly lengthened while in prison due to their inability to understand and follow rules, and they are more likely than other persons to return to jail for the same reasons. This constitutes cruel and unusual punishment levied against people who lack the wherewithal to conduct themselves according to an acceptable standard.
Most psychiatric patients who are presently incarcerated should instead be hospitalized if violent, or released to their communities with subsistence assistance and mandatory treatment provisions if they were incarcerated for non-violent offenses, such as vagrancy or disturbing the peace. This one CHANGE would save taxpayers billions of dollars off the prison budget (presently estimated at being over $50 billion annually - triple that with police work, lawyers' fees for indigent suspects, and court costs). It would also unburden our court calendars, reduce overcrowding in correctional institutions, and bring America out of the 14th century when it comes to addressing mental illness. (See http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org)
United States District Court Judge Corrigan recently ruled that gassing mentally ill inmates in Florida is unconstitutional. One would think that gassing any inmates would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and be similarly outlawed except perhaps during prison riots. Guards undoubtedly have a challenging occupation. Nevertheless, humane treatment for prisoners must not be optional. See more about Florida's ban against gassing sick inmates at this link:
Here is news of a mentally ill prisoner who was saved in the nick of time by a caring guard:
And here is the story of two who were lost: http://wrongfuldeathoflarryneal.com and
One does not start to be a prisoner after trial and sentencing when the iron gates close. Many people never actually make it to trial where they are given an opportunity to present a defense to charges. As in Oscar Grant’s case and others, the prevalence of violence inherent in America’s system of crime and punishment endangers citizens from the point of arrest.
President Obama's executive order banning torture and prisoner abuse in Guantánamo Bay urgently needs application within America's prisons, jails, and to a lesser degree, our mental hosptials. The Department of Justice should be diligent to carry out its responsibilities to investigate injustices and prosecute abusers where warranted. Disregard for basic human rights of institutionalized persons, particularly Americans with disabilities, points to an urgent need to address human rights abuses occuring within America.
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill is making tentative plans for the first annual Human Rights for Prisoners (HRP) march and conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to be held on May 1 and 2. Please save the dates.
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Man is not made better by being degraded; he is seldom restrained from crime by harsh measures, except the principle of fear predominates in his character; and then he is never made radically better for its influence. ~ Dorothea L. Dix
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Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
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