In the United States prisons operate with very limited oversight and the oversight that is in place has little authority or impact. Prisons operate without accountability and because of this America has some of the most egregious conditions in the western world.
We are the only nation in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole. In the process of justice in these cases, juveniles are held in county jails in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Maybe even years. Once they are sentenced as adults to serve these sentences they are transferred to adult prisons and once again held in solitary confinement. No sun light, no human contact, no mental stimulation and no hope.
Aside from this kind of torture in our prisons, there are many other abuses that happen everyday in our systems. Women are intimidated and bullied and raped. Men are beaten, hosed, and raped. The mentally ill are tortured for fun...just to watch them freak out. I know that it seems impossible and maybe an over exaggeration but I assure you that it is not. I know of groups of men who have been "set-up" during their workout time where a fight broke out. The entire gym was locked down, every inmate ordered on his face. Every inmate strip searched to record any marks, bruises or scrapes and then ordered to their cells. The inmate who were involved in the fight were never disciplined. Forty five men were held in solitary lock down for 2 weeks without a disciplinary write up, taken to a hearing without knowledge of the charges or time to prepare. The guard reports from the night of the incident were not presented and when the inmates demanded to see them they were told that they were not available. When all was said and done, everyone of those inmates was transferred to a supermax facility. The reason? These forty five men had stood up against the changes that were being made inside the prison that were abusive and degrading. Prison guards and th warden were creating a prison guard posse who's sole job was to threaten and intimidate and harass inmates and remove isolate them if they spoke up. Retaliation is an ever present threat in American prisons and inmates learn that you take your beating in silence. These issues and issues like them were brought to the attention of the Director of Corrections, the Governor and state representatives. Nothing changed.
In the United States, reporters must request permission to enter a facility and must have prearranged, stated business with a specific individual under the watchful eyes of prison guards and staff members. The public cannot enter into a facility unless they are part of a group or organization that has been previously screened and approved. Legislators may visit a prison facility after calling and making an appointment. In other words there are never any surprise visits. Everything is carefully planned and staged. I have toured prison facilities, solitary confinement pods and facilities and have volunteered with organizations inside facilities. Every time I have been screened, approved and our tours were carefully orchestrated and guided. The guards were not allowed to speak with us and only provided guidance. The wardens and program managers gave very scripted responses to inquiries and we were ushered out with the assurance that everything was wonderful in "prison world".
There are other nations who are much more vigilant in their prison oversight. It does not mean that abuse in prisons is eliminated, it means that when it happens someone will have to answer for it.
Our prisons house addicts, mentally ill, poor, illiterate, crafty, creative, and yes, mean people. They will not transform into anything else if we put them in abusive, isolated punishment colonies of hopelessness. If we want to stop spending billions of dollars on prisons every year, we are going to have to order the doors of oversight open and make sure that they are first given the most basic ingredient for change.....humane treatment.
As the community of America that holds our government responsible to uphold the tenants of human rights we demand oversight.....and positive lasting change.
To see an example of prison oversight please follow this link and read an article by Solitary Watch: Oversight in British Prisons
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