When people go to prison, people tend to forget about what happens to them or just don't care. When we think of prisoners we think of the violent ones, the rapists, the murderers, etc. We tend to believe that whatever happens to prisoners while they're in prison is justified because of the crimes committed in the past. Or that mistreatment of prisoners will somehow prevent prisoners from going back to jail.
But 8 out of every 9 prisoners in the United States are not there for life. The average inmate serves three years in prison. The majority of prisoners are not there for violent crimes, 60% of the prison and jail population is now non-violent offenders. According to the Bureau of Justice, 48% of federal prisoners are drug offenders and 17% of state prisoners are drug offenders.
What is happening is that the perception of prisoners is flatly wrong and we're allowing the misperception to encourage the mistreatment of prisoners. One of the most shared Facebook memes that I have seen is the one praising Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in part for his blatant mistreatment of prisoners. It is praised because the prisoners are just that, prisoners. They deserve it.
But where do we draw the line? I suppose most people would agree that prisoners shouldn't be beaten by deputies or guards. But at the same time, it's not a priority for many people, because after all, they're just prisoners. We put our trust in the police and jail facilities to correctly rehabilitate prisoners so that when they are released, they will no longer be criminals.
In Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca oversees the jails. There has been evidence of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's (LASD) deputies using head strikes against the prisoners. According to a report done by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sixty-four inmates have signed a sworn statement describing deputies targeting inmates' heads for attacks.
The ACLU has been in a monitoring role of the jails since 1985. The ACLU has greater access to the jails than the general public.
From 2009 to 2012, the ACLU found that 11 inmates had facial bones broken. One inmate had been blinded in one eye. Three inmates were sent to the operating room because of their injuries. 14 inmates had been left with facial gashes so deep they required sutures.
But that's really just the beginning in Los Angeles county. The ACLU issued a report that called the LASD's deputies a gang. They document how the deputies treated the prisoners. Deputies were described as slamming inmates' heads into walls and windows. Unresisting prisoners were routinely shot with Tasers. If the deputies were feeling lazy or cruel, I'd imagine, they'd ask other inmates to deal with the problem inmates. An inmate sexually assaulted another inmate with a broomstick. In another instance, inmates raped another inmate while holding his head in a flushing toilet. These atrocities occurred with the consent of LASD employees. You can read all of the various incidents in the report.
This report highlighted that there were civilian witnesses to the attacks and other deputies came forward to talk about them. Deputies described other deputies as referring to violence against inmates as a badge of honor. These deputies encouraged violence against inmates. Chaplains visiting jails felt they could not be silent after witnessing the violent assaults.
The LASD routinely brushes off accusations of deputy on inmate violence. Most of the time, when an inmate complains of violence by a deputy the complaints are declared to be unfounded. Deputies routinely report that the assaults are inmates attacking deputies unprovoked. Lee Baca dismissed this report, saying, "truth is hard to find if you're in a rush, and the ACLU obviously felt a rush to get the report out. They don't have substantial proof of their accusations."
According to the Citizen's Commission on Jail Violence found, even using LASD's statistics, 57% of the time where deputies used force, the inmates had not assaulted the deputies. Because of the environment, training, and lack of accountability deputies are empowered to use force whenever they want.
Head strikes are among the worst way of using force against an inmate, if an inmate was actually assaulting a deputy. Steve Martin, a corrections expert, noted that the goal in every situation where force is necessary is to restrain an inmate. He then describes the accepted way to restrain an inmate including "joint locks, pressure points, arm bars, wrist locks, and strikes to muscled areas of the body, such as thighs." Martin warned that deputies are unnecessarily imperiling inmates' health.
The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into these allegations that deputies are beating inmates.
So what are the solutions? Well, they seem to be pretty easy. You have to overhaul the entire process of Los Angeles County's jails. Well, sort of. The LASD needs to rewrite its policies about using excessive force and enforce against those who break it. They need to bring in an outsider or outsiders to investigate whether beatings are warranted or not. Appoint an Inspector General to investigate those who are perpetuating the systemic violence in the jails. Invest in training for LASD's custody division and hire someone from the outside to help. Finally, do not re-elect Lee Baca or elect Paul Tanaka as sheriff of Los Angeles County.
But these are mainly systemic issues. What we need to focus on is that just because someone goes to prison, he or she does not lose basic human rights. We need to realize that people make mistakes and while focusing on rehabilitating those who are criminals, we must understand that they will be released. Should we really be beating them in the head? Is that an effective rehabilitating technique? I doubt it.