The Corner

The Prison Connection

The New York Times is now taking up the idea that Abu Ghraib can, in some ways, be linked to abuses that seem to be tolerated, or even encouraged, within the American prison system. In time, of course, we may discover (I hope not) that Abu Ghraib was part of a deliberate policy, tacit or otherwise, but looking at the details (and the correctional service background of some of those against whom allegations have been made) it’s difficult not to suspect that there is some connection. A society that condones prison brutality will, in the end, be brutalized. It really is that simple.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that this will actually happen, but if anything good is to come out of this miserable affair, it should include an overhaul of conditions in this nation’s prisons. You doubt that that’s necessary, well read the Times story and, say, the allegations of Roderick Johnson:

“In a case that began in 2000, a prisoner at the Allred Unit in Wichita Falls, Tex., said he was repeatedly raped by other inmates, even after he appealed to guards for help, and was allowed by prison staff to be treated like a slave, being bought and sold by various prison gangs in different parts of the prison. The inmate, Roderick Johnson, has filed suit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.”

It seems like a good moment to repeat the question I put a few weeks ago on the Corner to that ambitious Mr. Spitzer, New York’s attorney general. In the context of the prosecution of a Wall Street trader facing thirty years in jail, Spitzer was quoted by the Financial Times as noting (it seemed, with some satisfaction) that “this is state time…State prison has a certain edge to it that is not always present in the federal system. These prisons are not country clubs.”

I asked then, and I’ll ask again, what do you mean by “edge” Mr. Spitzer?


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