We know its past time to hold police accountable for the sexual terror they inflict on vulnerable populations. What about those who work in the nation’s prisons and jails? Is there even such a thing as beyond past time? Amnesty International, which champions human rights around the world, turned its sights on the U.S. back in 1999 zeroing in on, among other things, rampant sexual abuse against women prisoners. Almost 20 years later the abuse continues in various correctional institutions unabated.
The Miami Herald is currently publishing a three-part series on corruption, sexual abuse, and medical neglect at the Lowell Correctional Facility in Florida. The series is called “Beyond Punishment” and the stories are horrifying:
“But perhaps the worst indignity of all, women say, is that the officers — both male and female — use their positions of power to pressure inmates to have sex and to perform indecent acts. Women alleged in complaints, filed between 2011 and May 2015, that the sex happens in bathrooms, closets, the laundry and officers’ stations. Sometimes officers go into dorms in the middle of the night, taking women to isolated areas of the prison, they say.”
“Many women comply because they feel they have no choice; others call it a matter of survival. At Lowell, inmates say, those who yield to the officers’ demands are often shielded from abuse. They can be rewarded with soap and sanitary pads, cigarettes, drugs and money. They get free-world food, like cheeseburgers, or meager feminine accoutrements that make them feel more human, such as makeup and perfume.”
“The inmates who don’t comply with officers’ demands, however, say they are harassed and humiliated; they forfeit plum job and bunk assignments. Often, they are threatened with “confinement” — a separation from the general population that isolates them and tests their sanity. They can also lose their belongings, and the privilege of visits from their families.”
“Horrifying” may be a cliché but now is not the time to diversify literary devices. Now is the time to demand and force a humane alternative to cages and torture for those who “break” society’s rules. The culminating report of Amnesty International’s U.S. Human Rights campaign was aptly titled “Not Part of My Sentence.” Rape and sexual assault were not—and are not—addendum handed down by judges to be tacked onto prison sentences.
Almost as horrifying is the insistence that such experiences are “par for the course,” or “to be expected,” or “that’s what people get for breaking the law.” This type of attitude says far, far more about American society than it does for the people sentenced to prison. It’s also a large part of the reason these cesspools even exist.
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