Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates….
The man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.
The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a private prison company one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country’s criminal justice system.
I believe that in 50 or 100 years, people will look back on the American prison system of the late 20th and early 21st century the way we look back on Jim Crow now: as having been evidently racist and abhorrent. The disproportion of minorities in prison, coupled with the horrific abuse that is tolerated there, amounts to a systematic torture and dehumanization of certain ethnic groups in urban areas, where up to a third of young men spend at least some time behind bars. The American prison system is both inhumane and ineffectual, and therefore immoral. Let us hope that the shock of the abuses at Abu Ghraib sparks a movement to clean up our prisons here at home.