Everything That Is Wrong With U.S. Prisons in One Picture

A disturbing image hit the newswires this week, highlighting the barbaric conditions that are all too common in the American prison system. The photo shows a young prisoner in Georgia, who appears to be badly beaten, on his knees with a makeshift leash around his neck, while two other prisoners pose behind him, one holding the leash.

Incredibly, Georgia prison officials have focused their public reaction on the fact that the photo was apparently taken with a contraband cellphone, as if that were the cause of the brutality on display.

Although that fact is part of the narrative, it is not the story.

The real issue here is the apparently widespread and longstanding failure of Georgia officials to keep prisoners safe. In a 2014 report, the Southern Center for Human Rights documented horrifying incidents of violence that had taken place in Georgia prisons without the intervention, or in some cases even the knowledge, of prison staff.

American prisons hold hundreds of thousands of people serving time for nonviolent crimes. Indeed, there are over 3,000 U.S. prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses. But some prisoners, at some times, do act out in violent ways. One of the most important duties of prison staff is to protect prisoners from attack by their fellow prisoners. The Supreme Court has made it unmistakably clear that such protection is required by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. 

As the court put it, “Being violently assaulted in prison is simply not ‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.’” This shocking photo graphically shows how officials all too often neglect this paramount constitutional duty. 

Sadly, Georgia is not an anomaly. 

In a 2011 case involving California prisons, the Supreme Court cited an incident in which a prisoner was beaten to death in a crowded gymnasium; staff were not even aware that the assault had taken place until the prisoner had already been dead for several hours. 

The ACLU has gone to court repeatedly, all across the country, to enforce prisoners’ fundamental right to basic safety – a constitutional guarantee no one should have to argue or fight for. One case involved a private prison in Idaho that had more assaults than the state’s other eight prisons combined, a grim distinction that had earned it the nickname of “Gladiator School.” Right now in Jackson, Mississippi, the ACLU is in federal court arguing that rampant violence at the privately run Walnut Grove Correctional Facility poses a lethal risk to the prisoners confined there.

Some people don’t care what happens to prisoners, believing that they deserve whatever they get.  But what’s done in our prisons is a powerful statement about the kind of society we are. Jonathan Simon, a criminal justice expert at the University of California-Berkeley, puts it this way:

“You have to ask yourself: If the basic story that we tell ourselves is that it’s all about laws and sending people to prison because they violated laws and harmed other people, how can we possibly justify sending them to a place where that is happening to them?” 

That’s a question that Georgia prison officials – and all of us – need to keep in mind.

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Wrong picture


Remember Nancy Schaffer and her husband.


Seems like you could spend an eternity challenging US prison conditions. Why invest time senselessly promoting the invasion of our country by unauthorized, illegal foreigners from foreign countries when we already have problems like this right here at home?


My son is in crossrroads prison in MT. he has had a rash or I should say Itching tell he bleeds the Doctors they have .Just Ignore him give him things that dont heip. He is getting upset because they will not get to the problem.they keep jerking him around .Are they not supose to give medical help. It has been weeks. His room mate had scabies. But they will not do a skin culture. If anyone can help MY email is rose22.baby@yahoo.com.


that is not new. One of my inmates had a similar rash that I, as a nurse identified. the MD was told, but did nothing. it spread to other inmates and still nothing was done. i dont think these doctors really know what is what. they are not from this country, and not up on things. As a nurse educated here, i learned much about disease. it is also possible if not probable that it is about money. the less they have to spend, the longer they can keep going. i see a huge violation of human rights here in prison, the number of offenses could fill a book. Just keep writing your representatives. unfortuntely, they are not always on the side of the prisoner

Sherry Burrows

He has scabies. If his roommate had it, and he has the symptoms, he has it. They don't want to tell him because scabies is a parasite that can only be killed by taking everything made of fabric (and people, of course) out of the cellblock or barracks, washing every item in extremely hot water, using straight bleach, water with insecticide (flea dip), or isopropyl alcohol on every surface, then using flea bombs throughout the facility. Your son won't get any better until the prison does this. You might try your local media to put pressure on the institution, although it might not be safe for him to tell them who you are--just try to get a reporter interested in a story about a facility-wide bug infestation. (If it's not facility-wide yet, it will be.) The only other thing I can think of is see if the ACLU can help. Most prisons would rather ignore the problem, at least until staff starts getting it--then they might do something.

When I was in prison, one girl got those symptoms and they did take her to the doctor. (It was a small women's minimum-security facility in a rural area and they took us to a local doctor as they only had one semi-nurse who was worthless. They diagnosed her with scabies and ordered her not to tell anyone what she had. She came back and told us, and we--fortunately we had an open dorm--dragged all of our mattresses and bedding outside the building and refused to go back in until they did something. It worked, but we were already under an ACLU lawsuit that the state had lost and was supposed to start providing us with decent medical care. So they were scared we were going to call our ACLU rep. Otherwise we probably would have all been punished. At least we got rid of the damn bugs!


...moreover, since the vast majority of people who are behind bars will one day be back on the streets, how can settle for mere incarceration and not seek effect measures toward rehabilitation - and transitioning back to society? - Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity


People can be trained. Trained to do better and well and to care. Just like training for a job. Or a subject in school. They are neglecting that. Instead they abuse them. Just the same as biblical times. Human rights need to be taught and embedded in our minds as a subject as well as counciling and therapy beginning in elementary schools. It is crucial to our mental health and the better outcome to the way people treat each other.


People are not animals. You don't train people. Prison is a learning environment to right the wrongs they had committed in society so they they can be reentered into society to then further benefit the society.


All law enforcement should be required to wear body cameras. Peace Officers,Marshall's,Deputy Sheriff's,California Highway Patrol Officer's, Correction Officers, Medical & Mental Health Staff, they are held to a standard to protect & defend all our civil &human rights,regardless of race.!!! The genocide of black & brown citizens by mass incarceration of our population,denying an inmate his/her civil rights while incarcerated is common practice, so implement body cameras to become more transparent and accountable to the Police Action Review Committee's, Local Community leader's, The Citizens and Communities to which Peace Officers/ law enforcement is to serve and protect. This is one step that would reestablish some confidence in law enforcement and would save black & brown & white lives Nationwide. ==..Deescalating violence against Citizens & Police.!!!!


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