We keep building new jails. We have more prisoners than any other country with the exception of China. We seem to think that pouring money into contractor’s pockets to build prisons, arrest prisoners, guard prisoners, feed prisoners, transfer pisoners, clothe prisoners, put prisoners to work, well, we seem to think that all that will make us safer. It certainly keeps a lot of things out of sight out of mind, though every now and then prisons errupt into the public consciousness with rioting and violence. Theo Lacy jail hasn’t errupted into riots, but it did make the front page of the LA Times yesterday after transcripts from a Grand Jury investigation were finally made public…it took a court case to make this public record public, and given what the contents are it’s pretty easy to see why the battle was fought to the bitter end. The LA times headline is simply “Rampant Abuse seen at O.C. Jail.” So what do they consider rampant abuse?
John Derek Chamberlain was raped and beaten to death over a period of 50 minutes, with inmates finding time to go and wash the blood from their clothes in an area that was close to the guard’s glass walled station and should have been patrolled every half hour.
I suppose rampant abuse is just strong enough to cover that. But I think I would call it something else, especially given the patterns exposed in the transcript of the hearings…
Inmates testified that jail deputies had told them Chamberlain had been charged with child molestation. He was not, in fact, charged with any such thing. Deputies acknowledged that they used inmates called “shot-callers” to keep other inmates in line. These inmates enforced jail rules at the behest of deputies, and used violence to do so. Prison guards not only turned a blind eye to all of the violence, but encouraged it and incorporated it into discipline at the jail. Apart from this of course, remains the fact that deputies lied in the log book and did not actually make the rounds required of them, they watched television and made personal phone calls and texts. Such a murder occurring in prison should have been referred immediately to be investigated by the District Attorney, but instead the Sherrif’s Department stepped in, an action that looks remarkably like a cover up. While heads have rolled in the Sherrif’s Department, all of the deputies on watch the night Chamberlain was murdered have continued working at Theo Lacy. A substantial legal battle occurred to keep the transcripts of this highly damaging hearing sealed so that these truths should never come to light.
This certainly raises questions about what happens in prisons in our country. It raises questions about the point of prisons at all, why do we have them? Given the levels of violence and crime, the regularity of race riots, the infamous reputations of Angola, Folsom, San Quentin…what do we hope to accomplish with prisons? It is imposible to kid ourselves that they serve to reform individuals…I think it is proven that prisons tend to break down and corrupt everyone that comes into contact with them, both inmates and employees alike. We can grow even further into a prison society, lock people up without ever letting them back out, isolate guards even more from the rest of society…but who would choose this when we can also choose to implement other solutions, strengthen our community’s ability to take of its own? We spend more on prisons than schools, so we already know what direction the government is pushing us in…
For alternatives and more information look at http://www.criticalresistance.org/
also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2