Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners similar to what occurred in Iraq has been reported in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates, and human rights advocates, the New York Times reports. In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at Phoenix’ Maricopa County jail must wear women’s pink underwear as a form of humiliation. At Virginia’s Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods to keep them from spitting on guards.
Experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.
Lane McCotter, who directed the reopening of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison last year and trained the guards there resigned as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.
McCotter told the Times that he was not involved after Abu Ghraib reopened.
Reuters reports that in 1999, Judge Justice said that in Texas state prisons: “Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions.”
Michele Deitch, who teaches criminal justice at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, noted parallels with Iraq: “The levels of abuse, the humiliation and degradation, the lack of oversight and accountability, the balance between human rights and security interests, overcrowding issues — I ask myself, how can we get people equally concerned about what goes on here?”