Thursday, July 5, 2007

Gulag Nation

From Chapter 27 of William Blum's book Rogue State:
The prison society

Government statistics at the end of 2003 indicated that there were nearly 2.1 million human souls confined to prisons and jails in the Land of the Free, more than in any country in the world. The new figures represented a 31-year continuous rise in the number of inmates in the United States; this despite the fact of sustained, falling crime rates in the previous decade. The incarceration rate of 714 per 100,000 residents placed the United States first among nations in this regard. Russia was second with a rate of 548 per 100,000. Rates of incarceration for some other industrialized nations included England/Wales, 141; Canada, 116; Australia, 114; France, 95; Japan, 58.

Perhaps the most outrageous, and saddest, aspect of this prison picture is that almost half a million of the inmates have been put away for victimless crimes, principally drug related.
What kind of conditions are those individuals subject to? Some hints from the same book:
  • The judge sentences you to prison. Then the prison officials sentence you to Hell...Prisoners are being handcuffed or hogtied and forced to lap their food like dogs from plates shoved under their faces...non-violent drug offenders thrown in with dangerous murderers, rapists, and robbers, despite court orders to segregate them...guards kicking inmates in the groin, siccing dogs on them...female prisoners being beaten and raped by guards, sold for sex to male prisoners, taken off the grounds to work as prostitutes, forced to perform stripteases for corrections officers (14 states do not outlaw sexual contact between correctional staff and prisoners), women's sex acts photographed by guards, prisoners of both genders kept naked or in their underwear, and monitored by the opposite sex...male prisoners slain, with impunity...guards using tear gas, Mace, and pepper spray against prisoners in handcuffs or locked in their cells...prisoners not protected from assaults, physical and sexual, by other prisoners...guards instigating fights between prisoners...inmates kept in shackles, belly chains, and handcuffs at all times when outside their cells, even in the shower...chain gangs resurrected...guards who report abuses risk reprisals from prison officials...the California Correction Officers union makes large political contributions to public officials and prosecutors so that the guards can continue to act with impunity.
  • Increasingly, those incarcerated in the US are seeing their rights and privileges taken away or seriously curtailed in regard to academic classes, vocational training, reading materials, sports, exercise, prison law libraries, access to free legal advice, ease of appealing their cases, access to media. They are being charged for room and board, for doctor visits, forbidden to receive packages, forced to shave off beards and long hair and remove earrings; their phone use limited to a few minutes a week, visits to one hour a month, visiting family members treated rudely and subjected to humiliating searches and disrobings, prisoners being transferred to other prisons very far from their families; HIV-positive and terminally ill prisoners denied special care, asthmatics not monitored, those on anti-psychotic medications miss their doses, hypertensives cannot get proper diets; prisoners confined to cells for all but a few hours a week; lights on in cells 24 hours a day.
  • Juveniles in reform schools are being hogtied and thrown into isolation cells for weeks at a time; placed in straightjackets; standing with noses pressed against a wall for as long as 16 hours a day; handcuffed naked to beds. Juveniles are being jailed with adult criminals just for being runaways.
  • Prisoners in a state correctional facility who staged a peaceful demonstration against the transfer of other inmates to out-of-state gulags against their will, are being punished with up to a year of solitary; and their time in solitary will not count towards their sentences according to the Department of corrections.
  • Hundreds of political prisoners are rotting away in American prisons. As US-based human rights groups have testified before the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva, these people are being held "as a direct result of actions undertaken in furtherance of a political or social vision". They go back to the black liberation struggles of the 1960s and 70s, particularly members of the Black Panthers; others are Native American activists, anti-nuclear activists, opponents of US interventionist policies in Puerto Rico, Central America, and elsewhere. A number of these prisoners were set up by FBI dirty tricks under the notorious COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program), aimed at "neutralizing" Black Panthers and white radicals.

    Many have used violence against property, and a few toward police, but persons who commit political motivated offenses in furtherance of leftist causes receive substantially, often shockingly, harsher treatment than those who commit similar acts for monetary or right-wing reasons. Many were sentenced to more than 50 years for actions, such as possession of explosives, without there being any victims. If the usual sentence for such an act in a particular court or state is 10 years, at the beginning of year 11 - certainly by year 15 - these people are political prisoners.

    It is often not the "worst" prisoners that are thrown into solitary confinement, but rather these political prisoners, as well as the jailhouse lawyers and prisoner activists.

    The Congressional Black Caucus, in October 1997, issued a declaration to remind the world of the existence of these political prisoners.
  • Aliens who have come to the US from oppressive countries, seeking political asylum, are winding up in Kafkaesque nightmares; wasting away in prison under intolerable conditions, without criminal charges being filed against them, some dying because of unattended health problems, forgotten about until perhaps Amnesty International or some other human rights organization takes up their case. The FBI and INS are using secret evidence - which neither the accused nor their attorneys have a right to examine - to detain these people and ultimately deport them, even if they are married to an American citizen. The aliens are often those who decried human rights abuses in their home country and fled torture and other retribution from their government, which may be putting pressure on Washington to silence and return them by providing the evidence in question.
  • First-time drug offenders, carrying no weapons, including many who were simply couriers or played peripheral roles in drug trafficking, and others with no record of violence or involvement in sophisticated criminal activity, are being sentenced to very long prison terms, with no chance of parole.
You get the picture. There are reasons why I tend to view the notion of the US as the "land of the free" as a joke. The above are among those reasons.

No comments:

Post a Comment