Three corrections officers in Pennsylvania have been suspended pending an investigation, due to accusations that they had organized fights among the inmates. The York County Prison officers, David Michael Whitcomb, Mark Andrew Haynes, and Daniel Graff, the officers have denied the accusations but were still placed on unpaid administrative leave while the state police investigate. The officers are accused of having inmates fight each other or perform stunts for snacks and coffee. One inmate alleged that the officers organized a “Retard Olympics,” and the inmates performed “stupid stuff” for food and beverages, another inmate alleged that he was sprayed in the face with pepper spray foam in exchange for some coffee.
“I did not participate in any of it, and I did not witness any of this” – David Michael Whitcomb
“There is no physical evidence, no medical records. They didn’t file any complaints when it was supposed to have happened. This is all on the word of an inmate. It blows my mind.” – Daniel Graff
Accusations such as these are not unheard of regarding inmate treatment from correctional officers. Prison guards have previously been accused of forcing inmates to have “gladiator-style fights” with prisoners for sheer entertainment in St. Louis. Over 30 inmates filed a federal lawsuit against prison guards at the Medium Security Institution on Hall Street, claiming that they were “baited” into fighting against one another. The officers were allegedly moving inmates out of cells and placing them into cells with other inmates, then forcing them to fight each other, according to attorney Daniel Brown.
In another instance, in Georgia, prison guards were accused of having beat inmates themselves. A deputy warden and seven guards at a Georgia prison were indicted on charges of having repeatedly attacked inmates. The accused members were alleged to have either attacked an inmate in the prison gymnasium, or of watching the attack and did not prevent it.
Fighting isn’t the only thing prison guards are getting into, one correctional officer from Chester County Prison was arrested after accusations that he routinely smuggled drugs and other contraband into the prison for inmates. There are also several lawsuits initiated by inmates who claim that they were sexually abused by prison guards. And for those who claim that private prisons would be much safer than public, that may not be the case. Video footage and verbal accusations claim that the privately run Idaho Correctional Center uses inmate-on-inmate violence, and video footage shows them looking on while one inmate is attacked, and not intervening to help. Some individuals might say that these inmates deserve this treatment because they are criminals, and society continually shames criminals, and teaches us to outcast them. But many individuals within the United States justice system, are behind bars because they have committed non-violent crimes. Does the senseless attack on them seem justified? Individuals in prison are already receiving their punishment for having committed any previous crime, arbitrary attacks (considering the illegality) should not be tolerated, the actions should be treated for the assault that they are.
“We count on the guards in our prison system to not only do an important job, but to do their duties in a way that respects their positions of authority, the law and ultimately the population they supervise… Abuses of authority, under any circumstances, have no place in our prison system and will not be tolerated,” – Michael J. Moore, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia
The power structure within the prison system places a disadvantage toward the prisoner, it places them at the mercy of the correctional officers. The inmates have to rely on the guards for food, and small privileges such as cigarettes. Abuse in prison occurs between inmates as well as between guards and inmates, and can be physical and/or sexual abuse. Every inmate has the right to be free from inhuman conditions which constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment, under the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. They have every right to be free from sexual crimes, they have a right to complain about their prison conditions and to voice concern over their treatment. Perhaps the justice system should focus on detaining violent offenders behind bars, and allocating resources toward alternative options for non-violent offenders. Lessening the population of currently detained offenders would be a place to start if we are interested in addressing the numerous problems that appear to be embedded into our prison systems.