Monday, April 8, 2013

An Inmate Said, (“Pop me one of them beers open, man,”)

Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I am an outspoken critic of prisons, and the criminal justice system as a whole. The criminal justice system has turned incarceration into big business in which inmates are utilized as slave labor to fuel the prison industrial complex. Any and all intentions of correcting criminal behavior have long been abandoned, and the fact that it is still referred to as department's of correction's in some parts of the country is a joke.

With that being said, punishment is still necessary. I would be remiss if I did not admit that there are those who actually belong in jail. No matter what the reasons are, or what the statistics say, there are some people who act with depraved indifference, and others who just deserve to be in jail. But all prisons are not created equal. Some are worse than others.

The New Orleans Parish Prison complex is being called the worst city jail in America. The fact that information has emerged from a federal courtroom this week which depicts the jail as one that has been plagued by violence, inmate suicides, overcrowding, dilapidation, and mismanagement certainly makes a great case for this dubious distinction. A local news correspondent has reported that a “national prison consultant called the Orleans Parish Prison complex one of the worst jails he’s ever seen, and one of the worst large city jails in the whole country.”

On top of all that, the prison is facing a viral video scandal. The court was treated to a highlight reel that makes it seem like Sheriff Marlin Gusman takes his management cues from Michael Scott (Steve Carell's character on "The Office"). The video shows inmates openly drinking, gambling, chatting on cell phones, and abusing drugs. At one point, a group of cheerful inmates relax in their cell with cans of Budweiser retrieved from a yellow cooler. (“Pop me one of them beers open, man,” the guy doing the filming says.) One inmate even leaves the jail for a night of carousing on Bourbon Street. One inmate actually had a gun.

This sounds more like a house party, but apparently it's a prison party.

If you were an inmate at Orleans Parish Prison, I guess you’d want to leave, too. Though the complex is called “Orleans Parish Prison,” it is actually a jail, meaning that, at any given time, most of the people incarcerated there are pre trial detainees who have not yet been convicted of the crimes with which they’ve been charged. Inmates have testified to rampant physical and sexual violence inside the complex’s walls. This past week, one inmate “talked of being hog-tied, beaten with a mop handle and bucket, doused in urine and more,” and said that he would have been killed if he’d called for a guard. Another testified to the disgusting conditions in the medical unit: “mold on the walls, leaking toilets, water on the floor.”

How does a jail deteriorate like this? It seems to come down to financial hardship and extreme mismanagement. Some have noted that the prisoners must have had help from the prison staff to successfully smuggle contraband inside.
Really?! What a genius conclusion!
This idea is reinforced in the video, when a cell phone-flaunting inmate notes that “the the guards love money. They’ll do anything for money. So we getting it in.”

Sheriff Marlin Gusman came across as an absentee landlord in court yesterday. According to the reports, Gusman denied the most extreme allegations and “testified that he can't recall even reading the reports of experts who found egregious conditions at the jail in recent years." He also said he only scanned, but did not carefully read, key court documents that preceded his signing of a federal consent decree in December that would govern a list of reforms for the Orleans Parish jail system.” Who has time to read boring legal documents when there’s a hot dice game going on over in Cellblock B.

The bottom line is that the public is not overly concerned with prison conditions, or prisoners being treated humanely. The general consensus is that those incarcerated are not worthy of being treated with decency and respect. This is why prison sentences have increased over the years, and solitary confinement has been encouraged. The emphasis on corrective behavior has been abandoned in favor of harsh punishments, and if there is any action taken at all as a result of this story it will be because the inmates were reportedly enjoying themselves. If this story was solely based on the squalid conditions at at Orleans Parish Prison this story would die within days of being reported. Indifference in favor of just deserts for those who are exactly where they belong.


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