Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I'm No Torquemada

I just spent an hour or so looking at news articles and reports about segregation units in prisons all over the country. It's a little disturbing. Articles put out by prison officials proclaim the units as a tool for enhancing safety of both staff and offenders by segregating particularly violent or recalcitrant offenders from the others to ensure a smoothly functioning prison. Those offenders who are violent, disruptive or are known trouble makers, as in local gang leaders are placed in the segregation unit to prevent or at least hinder, their ability to disrupt the prison routine. They espouse safety, safety, safety.

But if you read an article written by someone who is not working for the DOC or by an ex-inmate, or a religious group, or a sociologist, or any of the myriad "civil liberties" groups, then you are told that segregation units are nothing more then medieval torture chambers where innocent offenders are thrown arbitrarily for indeterminate amounts of time and deprived of all of the basic human rights and allowed to suffer indiscriminately. They all cry cruelty and callousness and torture and racism.

So who's right?

Why do we have segregation units? A good question. A better one would be: why do we have prisons? We have prisons for people who cannot or will not follow the rules that society has set down that we all must follow. Kind of like the ten commandments, but with a more immediate jeopardy attached. If you break one of the commandments, you will go to hell when you die. Eventually. When you break one of society's rules, you will go to prison a bit sooner. Sometimes.

And when you break the rules of the prison, then you go to the segregation unit. It's simple.

And they have limited access to recreation and phone calls and laundry and food and entertainment because it is being used as a punishment! Not just because we don't like them.

The nay-sayers and the bell ringers and the civil libertarianists all cry that segregation units are unfairly used against the mentally ill and the functionally illiterate and the non-whites. Well, if you will look at the numbers behind the numbers of mentally ill and functionally illiterate people who are incarcerated you will find that a surprisingly small percentage of them are in segregation units. And as far as racial levels are concerned, our unit has usually been higher in white offenders than non whites.

But I know where that comes from. That card gets thrown in my face on a daily basis.

"Man, you won't do (whatever) for me because I'm black! (or Mexican or Thai or Czechoslovakian or Cuban or from Arkansas)"
"Man, you won't help me because I have mental problems!"
"You just don't like me because I can't read!"

They play that card every time they don't get their way. I get accused of being racist or elitist or stateist or americentrist or whatever-ist when I won't give them special privileges because of whatever imagined special status they can imagine. But nobody ever has the guts to say "You're treating me like an a**hole because I act like one!"

So what if we didn't have these segregation units? What if we just let them do whatever they wanted to inside the prison fence?

Have you ever seen "Escape From New York"?

And what happens to Mrs. Browns little boy who gets sent to prison for writing bad checks "He's not a bad boy, he just fell in with the wrong crowd. I don't know why they had to send him to that place! It's so unfair!" and he gets robbed and beaten and raped and killed inside the fence? Then where will the outcry be?
"Why didn't they protect him?"
"How can they let people like that free to hurt others?"
"Why doesn't somebody do something about this horrible situation?"

And then we'll be right back where we are now.

It's not a perfect solution. But it's the only one we have to date.

You think you can do it better? I'll take a few weeks off and you can come have my spot. Let's see how you move. Ten to one you get your nose broken inside of a week. At the least.


  1. I enjoy your writing and thank you for taking the time to do it.

  2. Libby- Thanks for reading and commenting. I do this as much for me as anything else. Some of this stuff I gotta get off my chest or I'll explode.

  3. Actually, when you think about it, we take, oh, 2800 anti-social, selfish, violent, a**holes and throw them into a totally artifical, abnormal living situation. Restrict their freedoms and choices and force them to conform. That we don't have more escapes, riots, assaults is astounding to me. Do they reform? For some the experience is negative enough that they concientiously decide not to come back, but unfortunately, you can't cure stupid. The same F'ed up thought processes that caused them to commit whatever crime they committed in the first place are still present and will manifest again when they hit the streets. We try through various programs to alter their thinking (its called criminal thinking, btw), but most usually just pay lip service, because in their minds, they aren't at fault (an element of criminal thinking, vicious circle, isn't it?).

  4. I personally, am tired of the mothers. Why do mothers of adult prisoners call the institution and "insist" on having a new cellie assigned to her son because "my son says he is mean." Really? Wasn't your son the rapist that snatched an unsuspecting girl on the way to school, held her hostage and raped her?

    I read lots of inmate charts. I find the pre-sentence investigation and the sentencing transcripts unbelievably informative. I actually read in a sentencing transcript an inmate plead to the judge to not take him away from his newborn son. The judge, as he should have, turned it all around and make it clear that the inmate was the one who took himself away from his son as he had been cited for the same drug violation 3 times before and clearly knew his offense was wrong. The judge stated, "I must say, however, I am a little surprised at receiving a letter asking for lienency from your 6 month old child, I can only assume the mother of the child wrote it."

    And of course the mother who gave all the PSI investigator information on the sex offender is wacked. I can more easily diagnose her than the offender. "He fell into a bad crowd" "he's a good boy." [36 year olds are not 'boys']I think these arguments may apply to, say, shoplifting or a speeding ticket. Your son, however, kidnapped, raped, threatened, and beat an 11 year old girl just trying to go to school one day.

    After 3-4 years working as a Pshrink in prisons, I think I have figured it out. These mothers so adamantly defend their son despite incontrovertable evidence and the girlfriends who write judges on behalf of their newborn are the wackadoos. In one PSI, the mother actually commented on her son's libido. (Like she knows??????) My theory is that these offenders purposefully come to prison to get away from these crazy mothers and girlfriends.

    What is next? A letter from the family dog "Dear Judge, please don't take away my best pal!" signed with a big pawprint.

  5. BA- As usual, you hit it right on the head. It's a good thing we can't cure stupid (non-fatally) or we'd be out of a job.

    Icypup- One of my favorite authors, the late great Robert Heinlein once said: "A mothers delusions about the graces of her children ie. their beauty, charm or intelligence is the only thing that keeps them from drowning the little bastards at birth."
    I'm personally glad that I don't have the wealth of background information that you have available. It would most likely make me lose my cool. And my job. If I ever get arrested for anything, tho, I'm going to try the letter from the dog trick. It just might work!

  6. Personally, I feel that people who Maim and hurt children and the elderly, and plain ole kill, should be dealt with swiftly and quickly, in hopes of detering others of commiting these same acts just so they can get a free ride for the rest of their lives.
    oh oh loopy's been found out