† 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.