Excessive force in prisons

June 18, 2020

Much of the nation seems to have woken up to the use of excessive force by police. The killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks have galvanized much of the nation to act against police killings, brutality, and excessive force. Yet, the plague of excessive force is not restricted just to the police.  It is also commonplace in the nation's prisons and jails. Yesterday I received a letter from our friend MarQui Clardy who is incarcerated in a Virginia State Prison. Here is some of his testimony about the use of excessive force in the prison he resides in.

"What isn't being talked about is the use of excessive force by the other law enforcement officers; those who work inside jails and prisons. While notable, those instances of unwarranted officer aggression seen in street protests are rare. However, this happens on a regular basis behind bars. The difference is that there's no mass demand on behalf of us for an end to it. This is another clear example of society's indifference to the treatment of incarcerated individuals. Being confronted by officers in riot gear with the same paintball guns, batons, shields, tasers, stun grenades, and tear gas is a regular occurrence in here, and the threshold for these officers to use force against us is much lower than in society. The purpose of riot gear is to contain riots. But between 2010 and 2019, there were only 10 notable prison riots in the entire nation, which begs the question: Why is riot gear used so frequently in here?"

 

The other difference is the absence of smart phones inside prisons. But there are security cameras throughout most prisons and jails.  Yet, it is very difficult if not impossible for inmates to view the security camera footaged when they allege an act of abuse or brutality. One way to reduce the amount of brutality and the use of excessive force inside prisons would be to allow inmates and their representatives to view security camera tapes. Corrections officers are similar to Police officers in that both work in a culture that is often racist and sadistic. While it is important to devote more resources to to correctional officer training, that will make little difference unless the public can see what goes on inside prisons. The lesson of the killings of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks is that once the public sees, public officials and authorities begin to act. We need to see the prison tapes. They should be made available when there are legitimate allegations of abuse.  


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