When photographs depicting terrible abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq surfaced in 2004, many people were shocked by how these men were treated. The sad thing about this is we should not have been at all shocked by these images. After all, it is estimated that 60,000 prisoners are sexually abused annually in our prisons right here in America. When we allow this kind of abuse of American citizens, why should we be surprised at the abuse of prisoners of war?
When horrific crimes happen (especially against children) too many people view the concept of “jailhouse justice” with smug satisfaction. We saw this phenomenon recently in the comments on Herald-Times Online regarding the evil crimes of Michael Plumadore, who bludgeoned a little girl to death before dismembering her corpse.
I admit it is difficult to have sympathy for monsters like Plumadore should he become a victim of “jailhouse justice.” But the issue is not whether people like Plumadore “deserve” what they get. The issue is what kind of society we want to have. Do we want to live in a society where we look the other way to people being subjected to extrajudicial punishments, vigilante “justice” and the savage brutality of abuse by fellow inmates – including gang rape?
I would hope that the answer is a loud, emphatic and uncompromising “NO” when we are faced with this question. Cases like this test our humanity, our commitment to justice and our devotion to the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments in our Constitution. Are we a nation of laws, or are we anarchists?
Furthermore, the brutality of American prisons makes all of us less safe. In the findings of fact for the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, it was determined that sexual abuse of prisoners increases recidivism, including violent crime, when someone is released from prison. After all, it is not just the worst offenders who are subject to abuse by other prisoners, and those people will eventually be released. After years of brutal abuse, is it not likely that prisoners would be looking to take out their rage on innocent people?
Do not misinterpret my arguments on this issue. I am no thug-hugger. I am an enthusiastic advocate of capital punishment for the worst crimes. I was filled with rage when a so-called “judge” released the war criminal responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing on “compassionate” grounds. It is not compassionate to allow people like this to escape justice, and it in fact encourages more terrorism.
But putting someone to death in a humane manner is a far cry from years of barbaric abuse at the hands of other prisoners. As long as these people are in our custody, we have a moral responsibility to protect them from abuse to the best of our ability.
We have to put a stop to the practice of looking the other way to sexual abuse of our prisoners. Our commitment to justice and our humanity demands it.