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The human rights crisis in American prisons

By Scott Tibbs, March 7, 2014

Ten years ago, the nation was shocked by the abuses of prisoners of war at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq. American soldiers had abused and sexually humiliated prisoners of war, and even women were participating in the sexual degradation of these men. We should not have been surprised at all. Instead, we should have expected this to happen. After all, a nation that cannot respect the human rights of its own prisoners in domestic prisons should not be expected to treat prisoners of war humanely.

When I read this story in the New York Times, I was violently angry after only two paragraphs. I wanted to see all of the rapist prison guards executed and I wanted all of the others who knew about but did not stop the rapes to spend the rest of their lives in prison. I have cooled off since then, but I still believe the death penalty is warranted for prison guards who rape inmates, and that prison officials who know about but do not stop this sexual abuse should also be harshly punished.

Unfortunately, violence is going to happen in our prisons. When you house a large majority of violent criminals in a confined space for an extended length of time, some violence - including rape - is sadly inevitable. We do not do nearly enough to stop it, and more needs to be done to protect the human rights of both men and women in our prison system, but it is impossible to completely eliminate all of the violence.

Rape and sexual abuse of inmates by guards, however, should never happen. Even one instance of that is a complete and total failure of the system. These prisoners (who were made in the image of Almighty God) are society's responsibility. They deserve to be punished, which is why they are in prison. They do not deserve to be raped, sexually abused or subject to sexual blackmail by the very prison guards who are there to protect them and maintain order in the prison.

This cannot be allowed to stand, in any state in the nation. This is nothing short of a crisis that requires immediate reform to protect the basic human rights of these women who are being raped, sexually abused and sexually blackmailed. Some reforms are obvious - install more surveillance cameras and make it clear that male guards are never to be alone with female inmates. Thoroughly screen the applicants who want to be guards and immediately terminate the employment of any guard caught in consensual or non-consensual sexual activity with a prisoner - and aggressively prosecute the guards in the criminal justice system.

This should never have happened in the first place, and it needs to stop right now.