Horrific Conditions In Prisons “Common, Not Exceptional,” Schiraldi Writes


Vincent Schiraldi of the Harvard Kennedy School's Program in Criminal Justice said two things surprised him about his decade that just ended as a correctional administrator in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Writing in the New York Times, Schiraldi said that, “Horrific institutional conditions are common, not exceptional. Too often, the general public views correctional atrocities as idiosyncratic — leading to a focus on firing this administrator or arresting that staff member — rather than endemic.” He notes that since 1970, systemic violence, abuse and excessive use of isolation and restraints have been documented in juvenile institutions in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, says the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Schiraldi’s second major surprise was that only a small number of corrections staff members were corrupt or abusive. Just about everyone in the D.C. facility he ran for juveniles “knew who was beating the kids, having sex with them and selling them drugs.” Yet they often didn’t report the problems, “rendered complicit by years in a corrupt system.” Schiraldi welcomes the “increasing calls from the left and right to end America's imprisonment binge.” He says, “The end of mass incarceration can't come soon enough; conditions poison staff members and kids alike and harm, rather than improve, public safety. Incarceration should be the backstop, not the backbone, of our crime-control efforts.”

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