[sixties-l] The Human Rights of Jail

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 01:22:07 EDT

  • Next message: radman: "[sixties-l] Its a 60s reprise: Harvard students seize building"

    The Human Rights of Jail


    Philip Smith, DRCNet
    May 1, 2001

    The belief that male prisoners are raped by other prisoners is so common as
    to qualify for status as an urban myth. If only that were the case. A
    report released this week by Human Rights Watch, "No Escape: Male Rape in
    U.S. Prisons," shows in sometimes excruciating detail that the sexual abuse
    of male prisoners by other prisoners is pervasive in American jails and
    prisons, and that prison officials are turning a blind eye to it.
    The report could finally force policy-makers and the public to confront the
    epidemic of prison rape that has been building for years. Until now, while
    prisoners and their defenders complained in vain, the unsavory subject has
    been ignored by the press, denied by authorities and sniggered at by late
    night comedians. While talk show hosts make jokes and politicians make
    excuses, American prisoners are raped by the tens of thousands, perhaps the
    hundreds of thousands, each year.
    But earlier this week, major media outlets prodded by Human Rights Watch
    ran with the story. ABC News ran a tough, three-night series on its evening
    news, in which anchorman Peter Jennings pronounced prison rape an
    "epidemic," while the New York Times jumped on board with a major Sunday
    story, "Little Sympathy or Remedy for Inmates Who Are Raped," which opened
    with a prison rape scene certain to have disturbed the Sunday brunch
    appetites of its readers.
    Based on correspondence from over 200 prisoners, inmate interviews, reviews
    of the literature on prison rape and a national survey of corrections
    systems, Human Rights Watch reports that rape is "widespread" behind bars
    in the U.S.. Citing surveys of guards and inmates, the group reported
    "shocking" rates of prison rape: A 1968 Philadelphia study found 3 percent,
    a 1982 California study reported 14 percent; 11 percent in Nebraska in
    1996, and last year, in a study of prisons in four midwestern states, the
    Prison Journal found 7 percent. Correctional officers surveyed anonymously
    put the figure at 20 percent. Interestingly, line guards gave higher
    estimates than prison officials. These numbers are for anal rape only; when
    oral rape or other unwanted sexual contact is included it seems likely that
    somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of prisoners have either
    endured or fended off sexual attack in U.S. prisons.
    With nearly two million people behind bars in this country, the scope of
    this crime is enormous. At a 3 percent rape rate among male prisoners, that
    is 54,000 prisoners raped every year. That is the lowball figure. If 10
    percent are raped in jail or prison each year, nearly 200,000 prisoners are
    being subjected to humiliating and often brutal attacks while in the
    custody of the state.
    It doesn't have to be that way, says Human Rights Watch. "Rape is in no way
    an inevitable consequence of incarceration," said Joanne Mariner, deputy
    director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch and author of the
    report. "But it is a predictable one if prison and prosecutorial
    authorities do little to prevent and punish it."
    Accusing prison authorities of "deliberate indifference" to prison rape,
    the report found that no state surveyed showed abuse rates anywhere near
    those reported by guards and prisoners and that half of the state prison
    systems did not even keep statistics on inmate-on-inmate rapes. Nebraska,
    where 11 percent of prisoners reported being raped, said its prevalence was
    minimal. New Mexico reported "no recorded instances over the past few
    years." Only Texas, California and Florida reported more than 50 rapes in
    the last year, but these numbers are infinitesimal given the size of their
    respective prison populations.
    The human rights group also criticized prison guards and the broader
    criminal justice system. "Human Rights Watch found that correctional staff
    frequently ignore or even react hostilely to inmates' complaints of rape,"
    said Mariner. "Another important contributing factor to the prison rape
    crisis is the failure of the criminal justice system to address these
    crimes. "Perpetrators of prison rape rarely face criminal charges, even
    when rape is accompanied by extreme physical violence."
    Part of the reason for the criminal justice system's failure is the result
    of decisions made by Congress to limit prisoners' ability to sue for
    relief. The 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act, seemingly perversely
    designed to facilitate abuses within prisons, made it far more difficult
    for prisoners to sue over their conditions of confinement. That same year,
    Congress also barring the Federal Legal Services Corporation from legal aid
    organizations that represent prisoners, reducing the pool of legal talent
    available to work on behalf on inmates.
    "Prison rape is part of the mythology of prison life. But in reality, it is
    devastating human rights abuse that can and should be prevented," said
    Mariner. In a detailed series of recommendations, the report shows state
    and prison authorities steps they can take to reduce "this gross violation
    of human dignity."
    Nora Callahan of the drug war prisoner support group the November Coalition
    didn't need a human rights report to find out about rape in prison. "It's
    part of prison life," she told DRCNet. "We deal with it every day. We get
    lists of prisoners who have been raped. We hear about young men who get
    raped and get AIDS. For these men, being sentenced to prison is a death
    According to Human Rights Watch, "the threat of HIV transmission is
    particularly acute given the high prevalence of the virus among prisoners."
    The study reported nearly 20,000 prisoners with HIV/AIDS in 1997 and that
    AIDS is currently the second leading cause of death among prison inmates.
    "We have nonviolent people surrounded by violent people, guards and
    prisoners and the humiliation is daily," said Callahan. "You can't put
    people in a system that treats them worse than you treat animals and not
    expect predatory behavior. It's like a real life version of ^A'Survivor.'
    It's America's entertainment. You think they'd be horrified about it, but no."
    Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy
    Foundation, pointed out that prisoners are often ignored, if not actively
    despised, by society at large. "We do a sort of mental gymnastics thinking
    about prisoners," he told DRCNet. "Everyone is presumed innocent until
    proven guilty, but once they are convicted, members of Congress and the
    public at large mentally move them outside the human community."
    Like Callahan, Sterling professed not the least surprise at the Human
    Rights Watch report. What he does find striking is "the unwillingness of
    legislators to confront the reality of prison rape in their thinking about
    punishment and sentencing. "All members of the legislature should be
    required to tour prisons under their control at least every couple of
    years," said Sterling. "Every judge should go into the prisons to which he
    is sentencing prisoners and have opportunities for frank discussions about
    conditions. This would be an important step. A great problem of governance
    is that policymakers are often far removed from the consequences of their
    But, Sterling added, prison "rape factories" may address a dark need for
    revenge. "I suspect there are those who are perfectly comfortable with the
    idea of rape in prison," he said. "If we perceive those we send to prison
    as predators, then we think in a sort of Code of Hammurabi sense that they
    deserve to be preyed upon themselves."
    "We incarcerate to protect ourselves and to punish those who need
    punishment," Sterling continued, "but the number of offenders we need to
    protect ourselves from is relatively small. The number of people we
    incarcerate because we are mad at them is much greater. Part of that is
    because we have a very impoverished idea of options for punishment. There
    are many ways to change people's behavior without putting them in prison."
    The Human Rights Watch report is available on line.

    Interview: Tom Cahill, President of Stop Prisoner Rape

    Stop Prisoner Rape <http://www.igc.org/spr/> is a national nonprofit
    organization dedicated to combating the rape of prisoners and providing
    assistance to the survivors of jailhouse rape. The group's founder, Russell
    D. Smith (who vanished in the early 1980s), and its past and current
    presidents, Steven Donaldson and Tom Cahill, all were victims of jail
    gang-rapes. Donaldson, who died in 1998, were both jailed for protesting
    the war in Vietnam.
    SPR works with limited resources to educate prisoners, corrections
    officials, the media and the public about the epidemic of sexual assault
    and enslavement hidden behind prison walls. It works with lawyers filing
    damage claims for survivors and class action lawsuits against unresponsive
    institutions. SPR also provides resources on how to prevent prison rape for
    prisoners, and how to cope with it if one is a victim.
    We spoke with Cahill earlier this week. Here are excerpts from that

    We've got hundreds of thousands of people in prison on drug charges and
    many more who have been incarcerated in prison, in county jails, or even
    short-term in local lock-ups. How does drug policy intersect with prison

    Tom Cahill: I credit the war on drugs with the tremendous increase in
    prisoner rape. Most prison rape victims are in for minor nonviolent
    offenses. The victim profile is a young adult heterosexual male, maybe
    small or with a slight frame, confined for the first time for a minor
    victimless crime such as possession of a little too much marijuana and too
    poor to buy his freedom. I never heard of an affluent prisoner being raped,
    but then you never hear about them being executed either.
    As for drugs, we should decriminalize all of them immediately. This
    epidemic of prison rape is just one more way the war on drugs is causing
    much more harm than the drugs themselves. These men and boys who are raped
    in prison will usually return to the community far more violent and
    antisocial than before they were raped. Some of them will perpetuate the
    vicious cycle by becoming rapists themselves in a misguided attempt to
    "regain their manhood" in the same manner in which they believe it was "lost."
    If pot were decriminalized and people could grow it, maybe it would
    decrease the hard drug use. Some folks like to talk about the gateway
    theory, but I say if there is a gate, it swings both ways. I've seen many
    people using hard drugs, especially alcohol, improve their lives by using
    pot instead. And they want to throw you in prison for it? I think there
    should be restitution for all people arrested for pot, or at least users
    and small dealers and growers. The criminal justice system in this country
    is truly criminal.
    It's my firm belief that this war on drugs has nothing to do with public
    health; instead it is about social control. The Nixonian version helped to
    neutralize the New Left, and ever since the drug war has been used to
    control "the dangerous classes"blacks, hispanics, the poor, young
    countercultures and dissident tendencies.
    And I have to look at the CIA's record and wonder. They're always involved,
    aren't they? In Marseilles with the mob in the '50s, in Southeast Asia with
    the opium hill tribes in the '60s, with those Contras and their cocaine in
    the'80s, huge increases in opium production in Afghanistan while they
    helped fight the Russians. This is a government that wants to stop drug use?

    How did you get involved in an issue like this?

    Cahill: It happened to me. I was involved in anti-war activism in San
    Antonio during the Vietnam War. It was 1968, and San Antonio, with all its
    military bases and retirees, was not a friendly place for dissidents. Worse
    yet, I was a member of Veterans for Peace; a lot of people considered U.S.
    traitors. I was jailed for civil disobedience.
    The jailers put me in a 24-bed cell with 30 guys, mainly black and
    hispanic, with three white guys, two cowering in the back. The third white
    guy was retarded and maybe criminally insane. He was the leader of the guys
    who raped me. The jailers told them I was a short eyes, a child molester,
    and that if they took care of me they would get extra rations of jello.
    This went on for 24-hours, until one of my Hispanic activist friends, an
    ex-con with friends in the jail, heard through the grapevine that I was
    being "turned out." He got word back into the cell block vouching for me,
    and the rapes stopped on a dime. The leader of the blacks forced a black
    kid to give me his bunk after that. Made him sleep on the floor.
    I found out later that that overcrowded cell block had been created only
    hours earlier, taking prisoners from other cell blocks that weren't even
    full. I was in there a week before being transferred and while I wasn't
    jail savvy, I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. Snitches don't last long.
    I didn't cry out for the guards. I told a visiting attorney my wounds and
    bruises were only an initiation; I told a priest the same thing.
    Ten years later, I got a call from a journalist in San Antonio, I had moved
    to northern California, who said he had FBI files of number of U.S.
    activists. He read to me a portion of a memo that referred to me and my
    sister, a Catholic nun also active in the anti-war movement. I filed a
    Freedom of Information Act request for the files, and after two years and
    the help of Sen. Alan Cranston, I got them, 350 pages worth. These were
    COINTELPRO files, from the FBI's counter-subversive program.
    Two of the memos indicate the FBI may have set me up because of my anti-war
    activities. One memo from the San Antonio FBI office to Washington was
    suggesting ways to neutralize me a month before the rape. Another memo from
    San Antonio to DC, this one a month after the rape, took credit for driving
    my sister and me out of San Antonio.
    I was only raped for 24 hours. I consider myself a minor victim. I didn't
    fit the profile; I was older, I was married, more comfortable with my
    sexual identity. But it has wreaked havoc with my life. I went through a
    divorce, went through a decade of homelessness, I lost my portrait studio
    business. It has taken all these years to heal. I see a psychiatrist, a
    psychotherapist, an acupuncturist. I take Paxil. I've devoted much of my
    time to healing, which is why I'm still alive.
    But for many guys the humiliation is too much and they commit suicide. Or
    they become beasts. Martyrs or monsters. But I've worked through the
    humiliation; it's not mine, it belongs to society, and especially to the
    lawmakers that allow this to continue. I've cost the taxpayers $150,000
    since 1987, when the Veterans Administration diagnosed me with
    post-traumatic stress disorder. I'm permanently disabled and probably the
    only male in the country getting a pension for rape trauma syndrome,
    because there wasn't any other trauma.

    Why is this crime ignored or joked about instead of eliminated?

    Cahill: The simple reason is that the victims as well as prison officials
    have been complicit with their rapists. There is tremendous fear and
    humiliation. Researchers find that few women report rapes; the percentage
    is even lower among men, especially in prison where the life expectancy of
    a snitch can be measured in minutes. And many prisoners being so young, 18
    or 20 or 22, they are also confused sexually, they think "Maybe I'm gay."
    While gays are often raped, I have never heard of a gay rapist behind bars,
    and being raped doesn't make you gay. Rape in general is less an act of sex
    than of violence and humiliation.
    Prison rapists were often raped or sexually abused earlier in life. This is
    a cycle of violence. It used to be called homosexual rape, but we felt that
    was really a misnomer that only fueled homophobia. Rapists in prison are
    overwhelmingly heterosexual. I'm sure every one of my rapists was straight.
    For all these years, the guards could say that sex behind bars was
    consensual. That's the opposite of the truth.

    Surely you're not blaming the victim here?

    Cahill: Not at all. I blame the U.S. criminal justice system and that
    includes all those who make and interpret and enforce the laws. I blame
    them for scapegoating prisoners who are mostly poor. I blame them for using
    crime as a smokescreen for their much greater crimes. The worst mass
    murderer is not as bad as some of these politicians who support
    corporations who pollute and manufacture arms. They're worse than Manson.
    And the American public. I think Americans care more about their bank
    accounts than each other, and they allow themselves to be easily led
    astray. In recent years, I stopped trying to appeal to the conscience of
    American voters and taxpayers on the grounds of justice or human rights or
    civi lrights. Now I've started trying to show them how prison rape is
    costing them big bucks. I have an economist and statistician trying to put
    a price tag on it. How much it costs in increased violence, recidivism,
    increasing successful lawsuits, as well as health care.
    For years, we've been appealing to senators to investigate prison rape or
    prohibit prison rape, but they just shined U.S. on. There are several
    sitting senators who know, who have known for years, that this is going on.
    Teddy Kennedy was on a prison abuse select committee in the '70s. He knows.
    Arlen Specter was the Philadelphia DA who prosecuted that city's jailhouse
    rape scandal in the late '60s. And I've been after Barbara Boxer since the
    mid-'80s. I'm really upset with Kennedy, Boxer, and Specter because of this.

    The Human Rights Watch report accuses prison administrations of callous
    indifference to prison rape, but does it go beyond indifference?

    Cahill: Oh, yes, it can serve the purposes of the state in many ways. Our
    martyr, Steven Donaldson, was the first one to use the term "rape as a
    management tool." First, the threat of prison rape is used by detectives to
    coerce suspects into plea bargaining. In prison itself, rape is ed as
    extra punishment for jailhouse lawyers and troublemakers such as Eddie
    Dillard at the Corcoran unit. Then it is used to divide prisoners along
    racial lines.
    A good example is John William King, one of the three men who dragged Alvin
    Byrd, a black man, to his death in Texas. A few years before that, Williams
    was in the Beto unit of the Texas Department of Corrections. He was
    described by friends and neighbors as a Texas good ol' boy, not hating
    blacks. The Aryan Brotherhood wanted to recruit him, but he resisted, so
    the Brotherhood got a sympathetic white guard to place him in a cellblock
    full of Bloods, where he was raped. King came out a monster, which is all
    too common. He joined the Brotherhood, he got the tattoos. Now he's on
    Death Row.
    It is also used to destroy potential leaders among prisoners and to
    neutralize left-wing dissidents like Donaldson and me. Donaldson was also a
    Veteran for Peace. I've never heard of it being used as a tool against
    rightist prisoners, because the guards are rightists. You don't get too
    many left-wing prison guards. And it is used as entertainment by the
    guards; they set up rapes because they were bored, just like they set up
    fights. Then administrators have the gall to go to the legislatures and
    say, "We need more appropriations, more guards, more guns, more cameras to
    stop prison rape."

    Is rape inevitable in a prison setting?

    Cahill: Prison rape can be easily and inexpensively curbed. I invite you to
    look at what Sheriff Hennessey has done in San Francisco. For more than 20
    years, he has had a protocol, the San Francisco protocol designed
    specifically to reduce inmate rape. And it works. Rape in the San
    Francisco jail is a rare occurrence. He has designed the jail to increase
    visibility. He has trained the staff to be more vigilant, he separates the
    obviously nonviolent from the obvious predators. Male or female nurses
    interview each prisoner to see if they can handle themselves or if they're
    vulnerable and then assign them accordingly.
    I've seen it myself from the inside. I've been a guest there a few times
    over the years for my civil disobedience. We plan to give Sheriff Hennessey
    our Steven Donaldson Award for outstanding achievement in this area. These
    sheriffs and jail administrators and wardens must have an annual convention
    where they compare notes. More need to follow his lead. More need to be
    pressured to do so. It's what's right.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed May 02 2001 - 01:59:59 EDT