Thursday, August 04, 2005


In the news this week we hear of the study done of sexual assault in prisons in the United States. The Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, and asked for studies and reports. This week a report was issued, and can be seen at the website, or by searching Prison Rape Report on Google.

No details there about the numbers or places where these acts occur. The report seems to countenance the killing of the attacker; or the prevention of an attack by creating a reputation for toughness. One suggestion as to how to appear tough, is to just go to the yard and pick a big guy and do him serious bodily harm, sending him to the hospital.

We have modern technology; why not use it? We could put a live video camera, with pictures on-line accessible by persons designated by the individual inmates (for example, my brother could access the site). Perhaps the site should also be available to a reputable prisoner rights group. The camera could be so situated in the institution that once a day each inmate would appear before the camera and state his number. He would have the opportunity to claim abuse, and in any event his folks would know he is still alive and what his face looks like.

Also, video cameras could be placed throughout the institution, to make it impossible for an assault to occur in secret. The video feed should go on the internet, accessible at least to reputable prisoner rights advocates or monitors, on a regular basis, and available in segments to the public in case of an alleged crime.

Electronic bracelets as small as a wrist watch would enable the Warden to monitor where each inmate is, and how close he is to another, etc. This could be recorded for future reference, in case of an assault. And the information could be used to keep predators by themselves.

Pupillometry could be used to keep the inmates off dope. The inmate takes 30 seconds to look into the eyepieces and the machine spits out a report as to whether the inmate is under the influence of a variety of drugs.

This technology is available. The need is there. We owe it to our inmates to provide a safe place for their rehabilitation, or simple detention for purposes of punishment or deterrence. Robert Schwartz, former District Attorney and now the Governor's criminal law adviser, once said, "It is my job to get them into the penitentiary, not to fluff up their pillows!" Mr. Schwartz was right. But it is our job, as citizens, to insist that prisoners are kept in a safe, clean environment.

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