† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Editors’ note by nancy a heitzeg
“The Constitution has always demanded less within the prison walls”. ~ Clarence Thomas, Dissenting in Garrison S. Johnson, Petitioner v. California et al. 2005
It has been true. Even as we catch a fleeting glimpse – here in recent headlines – the Constitution has been rendered largely silent.
And so have we.
Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists
The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by The New York Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, a period when city and federal officials had become increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers…
According to Correction Department data, guards used physical force against inmates 4,074 times in 2014, the highest total in more than a decade. The increase came even as the jail’s average daily population continued to decline, falling to 10,000 this year from 14,000 a decade ago.
Seventy percent of the 62 beatings examined by The Times resulted in head injuries, even though department policies direct guards to avoid blows to the head unless absolutely necessary. And more than half the inmates sustained broken bones.
In October, a typical month, one inmate had his jaw shattered by a guard after being handcuffed and led into an elevator; another had his arm broken while handcuffed; and a third had three teeth knocked out.
The Times also identified 30 episodes from August to January in which officers suffered serious injuries in altercations with inmates. While most of the inmates involved sustained head injuries, nearly half the guards fractured bones in their hands and fingers, often after striking inmates in the head.
“Predictable” Riot at Texas Prison Followed Years of Complaints
The riots that broke out this weekend at a Texas prison featured in a 2011 FRONTLINE investigation erupted after years of complaints from inmates about poor conditions and abuse at the facility, and at least one previous protest.
Prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Institution, most of them convicted for immigration or nonviolent drug offenses, set fire to the Kevlar tents where they are housed in a protest over medical care, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)….
In 2011, FRONTLINE uncovered more than a dozen allegations of sexual abuse by guards at the facility in Lost in Detention, as well as physical and racial abuse. At the time, Willacy was run by MTC for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The facility housed people who had not yet been convicted, but were awaiting immigration hearings. Guards were accused of harassing women for sexual favors, and in some cases sexually assaulting them. Other detainees were beaten by guards who cursed them with racial epithets…
New allegations later surfaced. In June 2014, the ACLU issued a report on Willacy and four other privately run prisons in Texas, and found the inmates there are subject to abuse and mistreatment, and prevented from connecting with their families.
At Willacy, inmates are crammed 200 at a time into squalid Kevlar tents, with no private space, the report found. Insects crawl through holes in the tents. The open toilets regularly overflow with sewage, and in 2013 several inmates camped out in the yard in protest. “They treat us like animals,” one person told the the civil-rights group.
A Brutal Beating Wakes Attica’s Ghosts” A Prison, Infamous for Bloodshed, Faces a Reckoning as Guards Go on Trial
Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.
Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.
A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk…
3 Attica Guards Resign in Deal to Avoid Jail
Three guards accused of beating an inmate at the Attica Correctional Facility so severely that doctors had to insert a plate and six pins into his leg each pleaded guilty on Monday to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct. The last-minute plea deal spared them any jail time in exchange for quitting their jobs.
The resolution of the case came more than three years after corrections officers beat a 29-year-old inmate, George Williams, at the prison in western New York. He suffered two broken legs, broken ribs, a broken shoulder and a severe fracture of his eye socket, among other injuries…
After inmate deaths, Department of Justice to probe Florida prison system
With 320 inmate deaths tallied as of Dec. 8, Florida’s prison system is on track to have the deadliest year in its history. This rise in prison deaths coincides with an aging of the prison population, but also with a doubling of incidents involving the use of force by officers over the past five years.
Now, six months after the Miami Herald began an investigation into the Florida’s state prisons, the U.S. Department of Justice is gathering evidence for a possible investigation into whether the agency has violated the constitutional rights of prisoners. The Justice Department has sent letters to Florida’s three U.S. attorneys informing them of the inquiry…
Since starting its investigation in May, the Herald has received dozens of letters from inmates and their families, providing troubling details of other suspicious deaths in Florida prisons. Many of the letters assert inmates were killed by corrections officers or died from criminal negligence by handlers who then, with the approval of their supervisors, covered up their actions.
In many cases, the inmates allege that officers threatened to harm or even kill them if they told anyone about what they saw or heard.
The Herald began its series with the death of Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution, south of Homestead. Rainey died after corrections officers allegedly locked him in a 180-degree shower, purportedly as punishment for defecating on the floor of his cell and refusing to clean it up. Witnesses said they left him in the closet-like shower for nearly two hours as he screamed in agony, then collapsed.
New Report Documents the “Waste, Cost and Harm” of Solitary Confinement in Texas
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) have released a report arguing that “solitary confinement is dangerous, expensive and makes Texas less safe.” In A Solitary Failure: The Waste, Cost and Harm of Solitary Confinement, through surveys, in-person interviews, and corroborative research conducted over an eight-month period, the ACLU and TCRP found that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) is trapped in “the outdated and expensive mindset of using solitary confinement as a routine correctional practice,” leading to inhumane, inefficient, and archaic conditions that permanently damage people held in prison and threaten public safety—all at the taxpayers’ expense…
While the financial burden of solitary confinement is considerable, the cost of the measure, in real terms, transcends its monetary impact. For instance, people in solitary confinement are five times more likely to commit suicide than those in the general prison population. In 1999, a federal judge described Texas’s solitary-confinement cells as “virtual incubators of psychoses—seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates,” with people entering solitary confinement in good health only to leave permanently damaged. Alex, an inmate confined to segregation, describes his experience:
“Everyday from dusk to dawn there’s noise, banging, clanking, yelling, screaming. Everyday someone is getting hurt or hurting themselves. Everyday there’s fire and floods and complete chaos & hate. Everyday there’s loneliness. I woke up last night to someone screaming ‘Let Me Out of Here’ (again) over and over with so much anguish there was no doubt he was screaming from his very soul. But he was just screaming what we are all thinking. Everyday is a challenge here. A challenge against insanity.”