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August 02, 2006

Prison Rape

It's all too often a joke. When we were hoping to put Ken Lay behind bars, Bill Lockyer explained his grand desire "to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, Hi, my name is Spike, honey."' Charming. So much as fantasies of prison rape are good for a sitcom foil though, the actual act is one of the most repugnant and widespread human rights abuses in the country. For a society that recoils from corporal punishment, we're pretty damn quick to knowingly condemn criminals to brutal sexual assault:

In 2001 Human Rights Watch attempted to turn off the canned laughter. Drawing on testimonies from 200 prisoners in thirty-four states, HRW released a report titled "No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons." The findings suggested that male rape, often accompanied by almost unimaginable violence, is widespread throughout the US prison system. The report was damning enough to help convince Congress to pass the optimistically named 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. In writing PREA, Congress estimated that 13 percent of inmates had been sexually assaulted. Even if that is (as many experts believe) a conservative estimate, it translates into a stunning number of victims. "Nearly 200,000 inmates now incarcerated have been or will be the victims of prison rape," the act states. "The total number of inmates who have been sexually assaulted in the past 20 years likely exceeds 1,000,000."[...]

"I think in a lot of ways this issue is where the women's issue was about thirty years ago," says Lara Stemple, former executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape, the only national organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of prison-rape survivors. "People still make jokes about men being raped that people would never make about women." If the male victim is behind bars, the problem is compounded. Louise Kindley, a veteran rape-crisis counselor who recently opened New York's first program for male survivors, says, "There is an idea that they deserve it."

I think that's right. We've decided to tacitly accept rape in our prisons because we believe deeply and firmly in the guilt of all who enter -- this is just further punishment. Better yet, we're not the executors -- that such barbarism occurs behind bars is further confirmation that those we incarcerate are monsters. The assaults make us feel better, they vindicate our sentencing. And we can countenance them because we never face their horrors:

So despite his brother's warning that any sign of weakness would turn him into a victim, when an older inmate came up and started talking to him on his first day at Riverside, Parsell opened a chink in his exhausted defenses. "The guy was just very friendly," he remembers, "and he said, You know, after count [the roll call of inmates] why don't you come down to chow with me?" By late morning the following day, Parsell and his new friend, Ron, were in the card room with two other inmates, dipping into a plastic bag full of homemade hooch. The old Maxwell House coffee jar Parsell was drinking out of never seemed to get empty.

It took about half an hour for the Thorazine they'd spiked his drink with to hit. Suddenly Parsell couldn't think straight. He couldn't understand what was being said to him, and he couldn't understand why he couldn't understand. It was, he says, like watching a film with pieces of blank tape spliced into it: "skips, like mini-blackouts," flashes followed by darkness.

Then he was back in one of the dormitories. Four inmates were waiting for him. It was only then that Parsell began to understand what was happening. But by the time the panic hit, it was too late. Ron shoved Parsell onto one of the bunks and another two inmates tore off his pants. Even if Parsell hadn't been half their size, with the Thorazine he didn't have a chance. Ron pushed himself on top of Parsell and raped him, forcing Parsell's head into the pillow to muffle his screams as his rectum was ripped open. His cries were so desperate that they almost suffocated him trying to keep him quiet. But Ron didn't stop. Parsell felt like he screamed for an eternity.

All this happens in government structures with taxpayer support. We are all complicit.

August 2, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

Well, for once we agree completely. Why would we tolerate behavior on the inside of prisons that we don't on the outside? I had heard about the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act but don't know much about it.

Here is the $64,000.00 question: How far are you willing to go to enforce this? Are you willing to give solitary for up to one year? For the rest of their term? Double their term? Death?

Laws mean little without enforcement.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 2, 2006 5:13:07 PM

It's not just rape--our prison system fails at every level, including the basic function of reducing recitivism. Sam Brownback is the only politician I name who has recently proposed anything decent regarding prison reform, and he is batshit insane.

Also, I'm not sure we (US citizens) recoil at the thought of corporal punishment. As far as I am aware at least half of the US states allow paddling in schools. Now I know that isn't the same as public flogging of criminals, but it does demonstrate at least an acceptance for the use of draconian discipline.

Posted by: Eric G. | Aug 2, 2006 5:22:50 PM

Good for you, Fred.

On-topic, we may all be complicit, but some (cough, Lockyer, whom I have always disliked) are more complicit than others. See also: the prison guard's union.

I wouldn't feel as sick about the US incarceration rate if we ran our prisons as if we were civilized.

Posted by: wcw | Aug 2, 2006 6:24:09 PM

thanks for posting about this Ezra. We do need to talk about this and stop it too. It is all to easy to ignore. Again, thanks for the post.

Posted by: Kathleen | Aug 2, 2006 6:24:45 PM

I am continually mystified by the acceptance of prison guards and prison administrators claims that they have nothing to do with this or that they are powerless to do anything. It's a prison, how do you not know everything and control everything? If you don't, isn't that a serious inditement of the way the prison is run?

Posted by: NBarnes | Aug 2, 2006 7:31:23 PM

What's interesting is that Fred jumped right to the "punish the bastards", and pretty much ignored things like: better conditions, less crowding, not jailing nonviolent drug offenders, dumping 3 Strikes for pure property crimes, etc. etc.

While actual enforcement against the rapists would be welcome, Fred's just looking for another excuse to kill some undesirables. No interest in preventing the conditions that give rise to the problem. Typical Republican.

P.S. NBarnes, from what I understand, in a lot of cases (a) the prison guards use violent inmates as a compliance tool, and (b) in overcrowded prisons, the guards and administration let gangs run things, as long as it doesn't bubble up to the point that the guards have to deal with it.

Posted by: paperwight | Aug 2, 2006 7:55:27 PM

There are prisoners who probably should be put in solitary or some other such punishment within the general punishment of being in prison. So Fred's approach certainly has merit.

But I would also agree with paperwight that there are many other issues feeding into the generally appalling conditions of our prisons. We incarcerate far too many people, often because of our ill-conceived drug and 3-strikes laws. Looking to other methods to deal with nonviolent drug and property crimes would solve a lot of our problems just by reducing the number of prisoners.

There is a strong punitive streak in the US that I've started to notice over the last several years. I'm sure it's always been there, but it seems to be one of the ways in which we have reacted - badly - to the events of 9/11.

God help anyone who dares oppose the death penalty on the grounds that it is "cruel and unusual." The letters to the editor will be full of graphic descriptions of what the condemned did, along with a thinly veiled desire to see the exact same thing happen to the prisoner.

There's a disturbing number of people who apparently believe that all criminals are rapists and who seem to derive pleasure from the idea that they are now being raped.

The level of violence that otherwise law-abiding citizens wish to inflict upon our enemies and criminals along with the idea that we are justified in breaking our laws so long as our victims are judged - correctly or not - to have broken them first scares the hell out of me.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 2, 2006 9:21:34 PM

Fred, crimes committed in prison are still crimes, and they can still be prosecuted like any other crimes. If you rape someone in prison, you should expect to go to trial and be punished. Granted, increased prosecution of these attacks will only keep predators in tiny rooms with their prey for longer, so more has to happen than better prosecution, but it's certainly a start.

Posted by: Sara | Aug 2, 2006 9:34:13 PM

If more attention was paid to US citizens in US prisons instead of terrorists being coddled over at Guantanamo Bay, US prisons might be a better place.

I wonder how the Gitmo terrorists would have survived in a US state or federal prison.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Aug 2, 2006 11:02:11 PM

If more attention was paid to US citizens in US prisons instead of terrorists being coddled over at Guantanamo Bay, US prisons might be a better place.

Shorter Toke: 9/11! 9/11! 9/11!

Does anyone seriously believe that Republican Talking Point Troll Toke wants to make US prisons a better place?

Posted by: paperwight | Aug 2, 2006 11:31:18 PM

Does anyone seriously believe that Republican Talking Point Troll Toke wants to make US prisons a better place?

Correcting liberals with one hand wrapped around a big, fat, giant doobie, just to make it fair! Yeah, I'm just a regular reefer smoking, John Q. Republican! Didn't you see me speaking at the Republican National Convention speaking on the virtues of smoking fatties?

Yes, I want less rapes in prison. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I was just pointing out that in the Left's fury to give constitutional rights to terrorists, the Left forgot how good the terrorists had it compared to US prisoners in US prisons.

Wouldn't Guantanamo Bay, Cuba be considered pretty easy time compared to US prisons?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Aug 2, 2006 11:51:08 PM

"...the Left's fury to give constitutional rights to terrorists..."

What about simply devising a constitutional process to find out which of those in Gitmo are, in fact, terrorists, and which of them were simply sold to the U.S. because their neighbor disliked them or was short on cash?

Posted by: Stephen Frug | Aug 3, 2006 12:16:12 AM

Count me as one of the people who gets a good laugh out of inmates getting raped.

of course the typical liberal response is to do insane shit like giving them work release, more privileges, cable TV, etc so we can make them feel more "human" therefore they wont resort to this savagery.

Hey liberals I got a better idea. Why dont we just pay for prostitutes to come in and service the inmates so they dont feel the urge to rape each other? I'm sure thats a good taxpayer use of money, and the local prostitute market would like it too

Posted by: joe blow | Aug 3, 2006 12:54:28 AM

By the time one gets passed the obligatory capt. toke posts (and fellow travelers), it is discouraging to post here anymore.

There are lots of reasons state prisons (and county jails) are nightmares, but surely one thing that could be done is completely end the major influence the guard unions have over politicians due to their substantial contributions.

As to general attitudes toward prisoners (whether for domestic crimes or suspected international terrorism), yes, a big and growing subset of the US citizenry are completely accepting and encouraging of torture, rape, inhuman conditions, and other things we 'add-on' to the sentences of prisoners.

Some one, some day, may be able to unravel why the US has become this greenhouse for nurturing violence, war, and hate for anything other than those people's narrow, distorted view of the world.

Although I intensely disliked the song for superpatriot reasons that it exhibited, it is time for re-write of "I'm proud to be an American", inserting the word 'not' before proud. I used to be proud, not so much anymore. The situation is just a disgrace.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 3, 2006 1:08:34 AM

For deeper insight into the prison situation in California, jryan86 posted a diary today at dKos that is worth a read. He discussed Angelides's and Arnold's proposals ahead of a special session of the CA legislature starting Aug 7, which will deal with prison reform.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 3, 2006 1:25:03 AM

- Amnesty for inmates who are in for nothing more serious than a first-time marijuana possession rap, to reduce prison overcrowding.

- Accountability for prison guard staff who let inmate-on-inmate violence of all kinds go on. Surveillance cameras everywhere to watch the watchmen.

- Better training and higher expectations for the staff. Reduce the Zimbardo Factor.

Fining rather than jailing potheads is a fiscal and social win. The other two elements are likely to be expensive.


Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Aug 3, 2006 3:17:25 AM

you know how much money they make off the prison system?

You know what ass-rape smells like to these people? Money.

Posted by: tony | Aug 3, 2006 3:25:35 AM

Best of luck to Lara Stemple and everybody on her side. Brad Plumer had a post on some other brutal things happening in prisons a while ago.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 3, 2006 5:34:02 AM

The measure of a civilisation is how well it treats its prisoners. Churchill said that when he was Home Secretary (in charge of prisons and police), but I reckon you won't hear it quoted much.
Nor his other killer quote, "When I was a conservative I said a lot of very stupid things. And I became a liberal so I wouldn't have to go on saying stupid things."

On a more serious note, it's worth pointing out, again, that many of the Abu Ghraib guards were prison officers or policemen in civilian life, and simply imported their skills to the military sphere.

Comparing Guantanamo Bay to US prisons - I think it's unarguable that Guantanamo is worse. The suicide rate is higher at Guantanamo. Inmates are kept in solitary confinement. There are no televisions or other leisure facilities, and no work. Cells are far more spartan. There is no contact with family, friends or the outside world. Interrogations can last 20 hours a day (according to transcripts obtained by the media) and go on for weeks at a time. According to the FBI, inmates under interrogation are chained to chairs for up to 24 hours or more, and are not allowed to leave the chair to defecate. And, of course, inmates in a civilian prison know the length of their sentence. Guantanamo inmates have no idea -they could be released tomorrow, or in fifty years' time. None of these conditions apply in a civilian prison.

And as for "the Left's fury to give constitutional rights to terrorists", the Captain forgets that these rights are not in the gift of the Left, or any other political group, person or state. Terrorists, like everyone else, are endowed with these rights by their Creator. Laws, constitutions and governments may enumerate these rights, and may takeaction to protect people while they exercise them (or, sadly, to prevent people from exercising them) but they cannot give or take away the rights themselves. They are inalienable. That's what the word means.

Posted by: ajay | Aug 3, 2006 5:38:25 AM

Well, I now know you are morons.
The topic was prison rape and how wrong it is but here is how true trolls act:

What's interesting is that Fred jumped right to the "punish the bastards", and pretty much ignored things like: better conditions, less crowding, not jailing nonviolent drug offenders, dumping 3 Strikes for pure property crimes, etc. etc.

What a laugh. It's never the individual's fault. It's the system. No, according to paperweight, we shouldn't attempt to punish the inmates for this heinous crime.

If you rape someone in prison, you should expect to go to trial and be punished. Granted, increased prosecution of these attacks will only keep predators in tiny rooms with their prey for longer, so more has to happen than better prosecution, but it's certainly a start.

How helpless Sarah seems to view this problem. Sara, these people are already in prison. There will have to be a much harsher punishment to deter this behavior and that is something that liberals are unwilling to do.

Oh, yeah...they rail against this nightmare just as they do against other crime, but in usual form, they are unwilling to hold the individual culpable for his own behavior. I'll bet most of the liberal suggestions involve throwing lots of money at the problem and when they do, they will get the usual results....not much.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Aug 3, 2006 8:40:56 AM

Prison rape is terrible, but I'm with the people pointing to the general fucked-uppedness of our justice and prison systems. Trying to address the rape issue in isolation is probably doomed to fail.

There's also a sort of weird alliance between some anti-prison rape groups and some pretty unsavory types. I don't know if there are any kinds of formal or informal links, but googling "prison rape" brings up links to VDARE and Stormfront on the first page. Strange.

Posted by: tps12 | Aug 3, 2006 9:21:03 AM

If a conservative is a liberal that got mugged, then Fred must be a Conservative who got raped in prison.

Posted by: Jimmm | Aug 3, 2006 9:28:40 AM

Ajay, Churchill was quoting Dostoyevsky.

Posted by: Jimmm | Aug 3, 2006 9:31:28 AM

Hear, Hear!

Tony is right - running prisons is a license to print money. The privatization of prisons is a big problem in this country. The prison guard union is also a problem. The forces of prison privatization will take care of that one though. It won't help the prisoners but they'll have eliminated another union.

I've been writing about prison issues (but not enough) since I started my blog over two years ago. I've been an annoyance to my friends and family on the topic of prisoner rights since I was involved with the prison project at Bucknell University, which is located near Lewisburg Federal Penn. There's a reason the Bible talks about witnessing for people in prison. It ain't easy. We could all do much more on the issue. It wouldn't be so daunting if more people were involved.

Posted by: eRobin | Aug 3, 2006 9:53:07 AM

Yes, I want less rapes in prison. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I was just pointing out that in the Left's fury to give constitutional rights to terrorists, the Left forgot how good the terrorists had it compared to US prisoners in US prisons.

Wouldn't Guantanamo Bay, Cuba be considered pretty easy time compared to US prisons?

Posted by: Captain Toke

Do you think prison rape has only been a problem, or has got significantly worse, since Guantanamo Bay opened?

Posted by: Cyrus | Aug 3, 2006 10:06:02 AM

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