Rights for Prisoners "a Joke"?


Prison Punishment

The stockbroker was nervous about being in prison because his cellmate looked like a real thug.
"Don't worry," the gruff looking fellow said, "I'm in here for a white collar crime too."
"Well, that's a relief," sighed the stockbroker.  "I was sent to prison for fraud and insider trading."
"Oh nothing fancy like that for me," said the convict.  "I only murdered a couple of priests."


Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.

- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Sex in Prisons Concept "Highly Offensive"

Press Release New Zealand National Party 25 May 2000

The Government's plans to condone sex in prisons are odious and potentially very harmful to society says National leader Jenny Shipley.  "The public, and especially the victims of crime, have an absolute right to expect that justice will be done and will be seen to be done," she added.

"It is liberal claptrap in the extreme to expect those victims - whose lives have in many cases been shattered - to accept their attackers being given the rights and privileges normally reserved for law abiding citizens.  Matt Robson talks of these rights being available to all prisoners.  He does not seem to realise that these are people with, in many cases, no regard for the law or society.  Rapists, people who murder and maim and destroy lives.  Those inmates have by their conscious actions forfeited many of their basic rights - to liberty, to vote, to free-association.  Yet Matt Robson insists they deserve a right to regular sex?

"This Government's muddled thinking on prisons will be highly offensive to the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who voted for tougher penalties.  The function of prisons is to rehabilitate and to punish - they're not designed to be some sort of state-funded Playboy Mansion.

"Of even greater concern is the idea of locking children between the ages of 3 and 5 in prison with their mothers.  What guarantee can this Government give of those children's safety?  And what about the long-term effects of being raised in a prison environment?  Our jails must be places people don't want to end up - not places they fondly remember from their pre-school years.

"As an MP with a women's prison in my electorate I can vouchsafe the fact that these are not fit places for children to spend their formative years.


Sex In Prisons - You Must Be Joking!

Press Release New Zealand First Party 25 May 2000

New Zealanders will be aghast to learn that the Corrections Minister wants criminals to be able to enjoy a sex life while in prison said New Zealand First Law and Order Spokesman, Ron Mark, today.

Mr Mark described the move towards giving prison inmates all the pleasures of relationships while in jail flies in the face of 92% of New Zealand who voted for harsher penalties.

"There are many victims of crime who are worse off than the criminals who offended against them, and now Mr Robson wants to reward these thugs with conjugal rights.  There is anger within the community already about the extraordinary lengths that touchy, feely politicians go to improve the lives of offenders while victims are left to pick up the pieces of their lives," said Mr Mark.

He said that he would be immediately asking the Prime Minister to bring an end to the nonsense proposed by the Corrections Minister.

"New Zealanders will not stand for this." Mr Mark said.


Has Robson Lost His Mind?

Press Release ACT New Zealand Party 24 May 2000

ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks is flabbergasted that the Labour Alliance Government’s first change in prison policy is more sex for inmates and raising children in prison.

"How can Corrections Minister Matt Robson show such contempt for the 92% of New Zealanders who want prisons to punish?  Is extended sex his idea of the 'hard labour' in the referendum?

"Cecilia Lashlie’s common-sense question whether children raised in prison can ever fear prison is only the start.  How will drug exclusion and other anti smuggling policies work when prisons become family homes?  Is child rearing confined to women?  Has he run this past Attorney General Margaret Wilson?

"If this policy is the Government’s version of tougher penal conditions, I’d hate to see an easy time!  Criminal crèche and prison sex send the absolutely the wrong signals to criminals.  The message now is three square meals a day, no responsibility, free sex and the kids can stay too.

"More seriously, both restorative justice and attempts at rehabilitation will only be supported, and successful, if victims and the community, feel the state is still committed to ensuring that victims do not suffer more than prisoners.

"How can this policy keep the states side of the 'social contract' on crime?" Franks asked.


Robson Wants More Rights for Criminals

Press Release New Zealand National Party 24 May 2000

Rather than being tougher on criminals, Corrections Minister Matt Robson is determined to make our prisons the most liberal in the world, says Opposition Corrections spokesman Tony Steel.

"Matt Robson is calling for prisoners to have conjugal visits and for children under five to be allowed to live with their parent in prison.  Victims of crime will find it repugnant that our prisons may become taxpayer funded boarding hostels and honeymoon suites.

"In line with the Government's current position on relationships surely the conjugal visits will be extended not only to spouses, but to de facto and same sex couples.  Prisoner contact with their children should be encouraged, but having children living in prisons is another matter.  Children should not become comfortable living behind bars.

"Mr Robson's comments are a slap in the face to the 90% of New Zealanders who voted for tougher sentences," Mr Steel said.


Jenny Shipley, Ron Marks, Stephen Franks and Tony Steel may all have had a relative or close friend sent to prison, but I doubt it.  If you've had occasion to deal with the system up close, your opinion tends to become more tolerant, I think.

Inmates' "Do Not Pass Go" Card

by Alan Elsner

Ex-convicts - many of them barred from government benefits and good jobs - are denied a second chance in the US.  They frequently return to jail as most inmates leave prison with no money and few prospects, facing a daunting array of institutional barriers that make it incredibly difficult for them to find a place in society.  Federal welfare reform legislation in 1996 banned anyone convicted of buying or selling drugs from receiving cash assistance or food stamps for life.  No other kind of offense results in a permanent loss of benefits, yet this blanket exclusion exempted nobody - not pregnant women, not people in treatment or recovery, not people suffering from HIV.

Legislation in 1996 and 1998 also excluded ex-felons and their families from federal housing.  Under these provisions, a grandmother whose drug-using grandson was living with her could be evicted.  The law made it almost impossible for many women released from prison to reconnect with their children.  Following its adoption, the number of people denied public housing nearly doubled overnight.

The Higher Education Act of 1998 bars people convicted of drug offenses from receiving student loans.  And ex-felons are barred by law from pursuing a wide variety of professions.  Studies have found that a year after release, 60% of ex-inmates remain unemployed.  A 5-city survey found that 2/3 of employers would not knowingly hire an ex-offender regardless of the crime they committed, and that up to 40% actually checked the records of their most recently hired employees to make sure they were not ex-cons.

Even if they get a job, former inmates' earning power is sharply limited.  "Having a felony on your record is like having the mark of Cain on your forehead," said Bruce Western, a sociologist at Princeton University.  Western found that even when paroled inmates secured legitimate jobs, they earned only half as much as people of the same background who had not been in prison.  Unlike others, who begin their working lives with low-paying jobs and work their way up, former inmates have virtually no prospects of advancement.

One reason is their lack of education.  A California study in 2000 showed that half of those released from the state prisons were functionally illiterate.  Many have drug problems.  According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 70% to 85% of state prison inmates need substance abuse assistance, but only 13% receive treatment in prison - which means that when they're released, many remain unprepared for a life off drugs.  In short, most parolees do not succeed on the outside, and failure occurs rather quickly.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that 2/3 of those released from prison on parole were rearrested within 3 years.

In California, the numbers are staggering.  In 2000, nearly 90,000 parolees were returned to prison, a 30-fold increase over 1980.  In 1999, 60% of the people admitted to prison had been on parole; 4 out of 5 of these were sent back not for committing new crimes but for technical violations of their parole.  The result: California has the highest recidivist rate in the country.  The state spends $900 million a year to house parole violators, who spend an average of 5 months in prison each time they are returned.  Wouldn't it make more sense to spend some of this money on transitional housing and job training for released inmates?  Aren't there ways to open up opportunities for ex-cons so that we don't just doom them to a revolving door of parole and re-incarceration?

As President Bush recently said, "America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life."  But it doesn't...

Alan Elsner is author of the forthcoming book, Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America's Prisons, being published in April by Financial Times Prentice Hall.

Source: alanelsner.com © Los Angeles Times 2004

Official: Inmates Forced To Lick Toilets Clean

8 Former Prison Employees Accused Of Abuse

Tallahassee, Florida - Prosecutors issued arrest warrants on Tuesday for 8 former prison employees accused of abusing inmates, including forcing some to clean toilets with their tongues.  The 8 were among 13 prison employees who had already been fired from the 605-inmate medium and minimum security at the Hendry Correctional Institution in the Everglades.  The previous warden and an assistant warden resigned, and 3 others were reassigned after an inmates was beaten and choked by guards in March.

State prisons chief Jim McDonough said the warrants include charges of battery and failing to report inmate abuse against former guards William Thiessen, Phillip Barger, Randy Hazen, Gabriel Cotilla, Kevin Filipowicz, Ruben Ibarra and Stephen Whitney.  Fired guard James Brown was charged with grand theft.  "These former employees were involved in a series of dehumanising and degrading behaviours," McDonough said, noting that some inmates were given choices of eating their food off the floor or providing sexual favors to guards.  "We had cases where inmates were compelled under threat of force to clean a commode with their tongues," McDonough said.  "These were improper, illegal heinous and despicable acts and it was done apparently in an organised and conspiratorial fashion."

None of the 8 men could immediately be reached for comment.  Thiessen, Barger, Hazen and Whitney's phone numbers were unlisted.  Nobody answered at a number under Ibarra's name.  A number listed under Cotilla's name was connected to a fax machine, and there was not enough information to locate a number for Brown, who has a common name.  It was not known on Tuesday whether any of the men had hired attorneys.

Four guards were fired two days after Seargeant Bruce Sooy noticed several fresh bruises on inmate Charles Gundlah's neck on March 14.  Officials said Gundlah was removed from his cell and taken to an area out of sight of security cameras and beaten on the head and choked into unconsciousness by guards after he filed a grievance complaining about his treatment.  Gundlah is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and Sooy has been subsequently promoted to major.

McDonough, who has spent most of his 15 months in charge of the state's massive corrections operation cleaning up one scandal after another, said the FBI and US Attorney were also looking into civil rights violations.  Just two weeks ago, McDonough's predecessor as the head of Florida's prison system, James Crosby, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a prison contractor.  A top Crosby aide, Allen Clark, was sentenced to 31 months in prison for his involvement.

Source: local6.com/news/13285114/detail.html (cached) 9 May 2007

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