[FoRK] Exporting American Values

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Sat May 8 10:07:16 PDT 2004

>           May 8, 2004
>     Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S.
> hysical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been 
> uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public 
> knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and 
> human rights advocates.
> In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped 
> in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new 
> unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa 
> County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women's pink underwear as a 
> form of humiliation.
> At Virginia's Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have 
> reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from 
> spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by 
> guards and made to crawl.
> The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have 
> occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree 
> during much of the time President Bush was governor because of 
> crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne 
> Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding 
> that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other 
> inmates as slaves for sex.
> The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of 
> the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there 
> resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of 
> Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a 
> restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from 
> schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.
> The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a 
> private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by 
> the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of 
> prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by 
> Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country's criminal 
> justice system.
> Mr. McCotter, 63, is director of business development for Management & 
> Training Corporation, a Utah-based firm that says it is the 
> third-largest private prison company, operating 13 prisons. In 2003, 
> the company's operation of the Santa Fe jail was criticized by the 
> Justice Department and the New Mexico Department of Corrections for 
> unsafe conditions and lack of medical care for inmates. No further 
> action was taken.
> In response to a request for an interview on Friday, Mr. McCotter said 
> in a written statement that he had left Iraq last September, just 
> after a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open Abu Ghraib.
> "I was not involved in any aspect of the facility's operation after 
> that time," he said.
> Nationwide, during the last quarter century, over 40 state prison 
> systems were under some form of court order, for brutality, crowding, 
> poor food or lack of medical care, said Marc Mauer, assistant director 
> of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group in Washington 
> that calls for alternatives to incarceration.
> In a 1999 opinion, Judge Justice wrote of the situation in Texas, 
> "Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape 
> and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from 
> such abysmal conditions."
> In a case that began in 2000, a prisoner at the Allred Unit in Wichita 
> Falls, Tex., said he was repeatedly raped by other inmates, even after 
> he appealed to guards for help, and was allowed by prison staff to be 
> treated like a slave, being bought and sold by various prison gangs in 
> different parts of the prison. The inmate, Roderick Johnson, has filed 
> suit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the case is 
> now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 
> New Orleans, said Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the 
> National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which 
> is representing Mr. Johnson.
> Asked what Mr. Bush knew about abuse in Texas prisons while he was 
> governor, Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said the problems in 
> American prisons were not comparable to the abuses exposed at Abu Ghraib.
> The corrections experts are careful to say they do not know to what 
> extent the brutality and humiliation at Abu Ghraib were intended to 
> break the prisoners for interrogation or were just random acts.
> But Chase Riveland, a former secretary of corrections in Washington 
> State and Colorado and now a prison consultant based near Seattle, 
> said, "In some jurisdictions in the United States there is a prison 
> culture that tolerates violence, and it's been there a long time."
> This culture has been made worse by the quadrupling of the number of 
> prison and jail inmates to 2.1 million over the last 25 years, which 
> has often resulted in crowding, he said. The problems have been 
> compounded by the need to hire large numbers of inexperienced and 
> often undertrained guards, Mr. Riveland said.
> Some states have a hard time recruiting enough guards, Mr. Riveland 
> said, particularly Arizona, where the pay is very low. "Retention in 
> these states is a big problem and so unqualified people get promoted 
> to be lieutenants or captains in a few months," he said.
> Something like this process may have happened in Iraq, where the 
> Americans tried to start a new prison system with undertrained 
> military police officers from Army reserve units, Mr. Riveland suggested.
> When Mr. Ashcroft announced the appointment of the team to restore 
> Iraq's criminal justice system last year, including Mr. McCotter, he 
> said, "Now all Iraqis can taste liberty in their native land, and we 
> will help make that freedom permanent by assisting them to establish 
> an equitable criminal justice system based on the rule of law and 
> standards of basic human rights."
> A Justice Department spokeswoman, Monica Goodling, did not return 
> phone calls on Friday asking why Mr. Ashcroft had chosen Mr. McCotter 
> even though his firm's operation of the Santa Fe jail had been 
> criticized by the Justice Department.
> Mr. McCotter has a long background in prisons. He had been a military 
> police officer in Vietnam and had risen to be a colonel in the Army. 
> His last post was as warden of the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth.
> After retiring from the Army, Mr. Cotter was head of the corrections 
> departments in New Mexico and Texas before taking the job in Utah.
> In Utah, in addition to the death of the mentally ill inmate, Mr. 
> McCotter also came under criticism for hiring a prison psychiatrist 
> whose medical license was on probation and who was accused of Medicaid 
> fraud and writing prescriptions for drug addicts.
> In an interview with an online magazine, Corrections.com, last 
> January, Mr. McCotter recalled that of all the prisons in Iraq, Abu 
> Ghraib "is the only place we agreed as a team was truly closest to an 
> American prison. They had cell housing and segregation."
> But 80 to 90 percent of the prison had been destroyed, so Mr. McCotter 
> set about rebuilding it, everything from walls and toilets to 
> handcuffs and soap. He employed 100 Iraqis who had worked in the 
> prison under Saddam Hussein, and paid for everything with wads of 
> cash, up to $3 million, that he carried with him.
> Another problem, Mr. McCotter quickly discovered, was that the Iraqi 
> staff, despite some American training, quickly reverted to their old 
> ways, "shaking down families, shaking down inmates, letting prisoners 
> buy their way out of prison."
> So the American team fired the guards and went with former Iraqi 
> military personnel. "They didn't have any bad habits and did things 
> exactly the way we trained them."
> Mr. McCotter said he worked closely with American military police 
> officers at the prison, but he did not give any names.

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