Crisis Builds over Americas Prison System

Recently the St. Petersburg Times (the #1 newspaper in the Tampa Bay Area) broke a story about how a former inmate is suing Prison Health Services Inc. (PHS) for the terrible neglect she suffered while she was in Hillsborough County Jail. As a result, she lost the use of her eyes. Another woman is suing PHS because as a result of their neglect, her baby died. Both stories appear to be very genuine. If you read the article, you would be shocked to find that these women are not the only ones who have suffered at the hands of PHS.

The article also mentions that “A yearlong examination of Prison Health Services by the New York Times published this year revealed repeated instances of flawed and sometimes fatal medical care in other parts of the country.”

Even more recently, a 21-year-old woman was raped during Gasparilla (a local festival similar to Mardi Gras). When she reported it to the Tampa Police, she was taken into custody after a routine check discovered a warrant for her arrest due to a mistake she had made years before when she was in her teens. According to The Tampa Tribune, “Adding to the mother’s ire is her claim that a jail nurse prevented her daughter from taking a second dose of emergency contraception prescribed by a nurse at a clinic as part of a rape examination. The jail nurse, said the mother and the victim’s attorney, denied the medication for religious reasons.”

It would be nice to say that these are the exceptions. But while we focus our attention on the atrocities overseas, we would also be wise to look backwards into our own backyards.

Interestingly enough, if you do a Google on prison reform, you don’t come back with many American organizations, although there are plenty of them in the UK. Perhaps Americans still have enough of a Puritanical bent that they believe all prisoners “get what they deserve.” But we also need to remember that there are many inmates who go to prison for a non-violent crime such as theft, but receive the death penalty instead.

I’m no whining, liberal sissy. But I have heard many stories from former inmates about the atrocities that they suffered in prison. These are men and women who are trying to do the right thing now, and stay out of prison. Some of the stories will curl your hair.

“Why not go public with this?” I have asked. “Are you kidding?” they’ve said. They fear the repercussions from the guards or inmates, because they can reach you even if they’re behind bars. Or, if these former inmates end up back in prison again, their lives will be worthless. Why take the chance? You’re out already!

I have heard of one man who was simply despised. He was immature, young, and whiny. One night a group of men attacked him and took turns raping him, despite his cries and screams for help. The guards are often bribed to look the other way. And the guards are scared, too. Thankfully, I am told that despite what Hollywood films indicate, there are very few rapes. However, any rape is one rape too many.

Another story is of the first day a bus of inmates arrived at a Florida prison. This is when the guards want to “make an example” of someone. They singled out a large man who was not even openly defiant, and beat him to death in front of everyone’s eyes. Later, when a hearing was convened, all the prisoners were warned to say nothing. They knew if they ratted the guards out, there was no prison they could be transferred to that would keep them safe. The case was dropped. I believe his death was ruled an ‘accident’. I wonder what the coroner had to say about that.

Drug rings exist in every prison. Guards are either paid to participate or keep their mouths shut. Many guards are users, too.

What are the solutions? Constant surveillance? But who’s guarding the guards? And can they be bought or threatened?

If public outcry grows strong enough, prison reform will happen. But right now, those who are most believable are the ones that are keeping their mouths shut.