“I don’t think abuse is common in American prisons, but there are some abuses in all American prisons,” Robert Johnson of American University’s department of Justice, Law and Society, tells the Christian Science Monitor. “And in some cases, the abuses can be widespread.”
The Monitor says that is in the so-called renegade prisons, and renegade jurisdictions, where abuses may be worse than those in Iraq. “If you find one of those renegade prisons, you’ll find there’s a problem with leadership, that there are either abused or flawed policies or procedures, little or no training, and poor supervision,” says Chase Riveland, former corrections commissioner in Colorado and Washington State. “And when you combine that with a deviant culture, then you have problems like we saw in Iraq.”
In California, where allegations of widespread abuse have prompted a state Senate investigation, experts blame overcrowding, a gang culture, and a poorly educated workforce for creating a culture of dehumanization. That has been exacerbated by guards protecting one another. “There is a code of silence in California prisons that turns good officers to bad,” says Richard Steffen, staff director of the committee looking into abuse. “They are forced not to report wrongdoing because if they do, they could be ostracized.”
California is one of a handful of states where no prisons are accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA). Of the nation’s almost 1,600 prisons, about half are fully ACA accredited. To win that designation, correctional officers must be fully trained, and the facilities must be fully transparent – which means community members have access so that if there are abuses, they can be addressed.
“I believe that when abuses are brought to the attention of directors of corrections, wardens, and jail managers, they’re fully investigated, and appropriate sanctions are taken, including dismissal from position and prosecution, when appropriate,” says James Gondles, ACA executive director. “But I don’t believe that it’s endemic in American jails and prisons. And what happened in one institution in Iraq is not representative of what goes on in America.”