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Torture in our Prisons and Jails

The news media was focused this week about the CIA, interrogations, and torture. Many Americans are shocked at the actions of the CIA, but you do not have to look at the CIA for examples of torture by Americans. Every month, inmates in the United States suffer from intentional and gross negligent actions of prison guards. On December 9, a female correctional officer at Rikers Island,  is now facing charges relating to the death of  Jerome Murdough. The 56 year old former U.S. Marine was arrested in New York City for trespassing. He was looking for a warm place to sleep at a public housing development. He was incarcerated at Rikers Island on a $2500 bail. On February 14th, 2014, he was found dead in his jail cell. The cell was overheated to 100 degrees or more due to faulty heating equipment.

Mr. Murdough was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication which made him more susceptible to dehydration and heat stroke. He had been placed on suicide watch and the correctional officers were supposed to check him every 15 minutes. An anonymous official stated, “He was basically baked to death.”

The criminal trial of another Rikers Island jail guard, Terrence Pendergrass, started this week. The charges have alleged that the correctional officer intentionally ignored the cries of a dying inmate in 2012, after the inmate swallowed a toxic soap ball.

A mentally ill inmate was  scalded to death at the Dade Correctional Unit in Miami, Florida. In 2012, Darren Rainey, was locked in a locked closet sized shower by prison guards because he defecated in his cell and refused to clean the mess. According to an inmate who worked at the unit as an orderly, the tiny shower was filled with steam and scalding water. According to a witness, Mr. Rainey kept screaming, “I can’t take it no more. I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.’ A medical document regarding his death noted that his skin was extremely burned and had shriveled from his body. 

According to a report by the Miami Herald,the Florida Department of Corrections fired  32 correctional officers on September 19th, 2014, after a number of inmates had died because of criminal misconduct.

Inmates in solitary confinement are often confined to small cells without windows, with little to no access to the outside world for years. Inmates are confined to these cells for 23 hours a day.  Such extreme isolation has serious psychological effects on inmates who will eventually be released to their community. According to several state studies, 50% of prison suicides occur in solitary confinement. The United States leads the world with the most inmates, 80,000, incarcerated in solitary confinement.

Baked to death, scalded to death, choking to death, isolated for long periods of time are cruel examples of torture occurring in our prisons and jails in the United States.It is time to end this madness. This cannot be America.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com

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27 Responses to Torture in our Prisons and Jails

  1. PrisonPath December 10, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    Mr.Bradley what lessons will the poor correctional officers learn from the Infamous torture techniques of prestigious CIA ?
    By Shaukat

  2. PrisonPath December 12, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    CIA torture of prisoners is the topic of the day all over the world.The saner elements of American society feel ashamed as it has badly eroded our country’s moral authority.
    At international level the CIA torture stories are a set back to our national prestige as we are world champions of human rights ,democracy and great American values.The UNO covenants on torture,rules for treatment of offenders have been grossly violated.
    At home,the CIA has not nor created a good roll model for our correctional system already under criticism for mal treatment of prisoners.
    By Shaukat

  3. PrisonPath December 12, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    Many in our government and our society say we don’t torture because that’s not who we are as human beings. Unfortunately it is. Bradley is right in his list of inmates who have been treated with hostility, neglect, vitriol, and indeed, torture. But it is the invisible society who no one really thinks about until it happens to someone in their family. I’m thankful this conversation is spreading. We MUST talk about it. We must admit where we’ve been and deal with the humiliation. With 2.3 million in prison, we are not alone.
    I’m Sue and I’m a former prisoner.

  4. PrisonPath December 13, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    What you’ve written Bradley is sadly true. One of the more outrageous methods of abuse and torture is keeping prisoners in solitary confinement 23+ hours a day, such as occurs in Pelican Bay, California, and other prisons across the country. Many inmates have been kept in solitary confinement or SHUs for years despite the consensus among mental health experts that people are in danger of becoming psychotic if kept in solitary for more than 72 hours.
    By Rick

    • Dilip December 24, 2014 at 10:15 am #

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  5. PrisonPath December 13, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    It is time for our country to change. The american prison system is broken as evidenced by our high recidivism rate. The use of abusive punishments are part of the broken system.
    By Brad

  6. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    It’s a terrible thing when people mistreat the incarcerated. Are job as corrections officers is to protect the community as well as the offender and not to impose additional punishment, humiliate, or dehumanize them. Our only job is to keep them from escaping and prevent other inmates from doing harm to each other.
    By John,a correctional officer

  7. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    Terrible events in that article, one, I assume, due to neglect of duty and the other indeed torture. Solitary, not sure on that one, it is difficult, but detainees usually just don’t go to solitary for no reason, you still have to accept responsibility for actions in confinement, just like on the street. I am sure most officers would have solitary cells larger, but they do not fund or build the facilities. As awful as those two examples are, I hope that your point is that they are the exception, as I believe they are. Most correctional professionals go beyond being professional with individuals who are often threats to their very lives.
    The individuals responsible for the two examples should be punished fittingly.
    By Scott,

  8. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    I have to believe that this article refers to the exception, not the rule. Please remember that as you read articles such as this, they do not paint the entire picture. We don’t know the incidents or actions that lead to the situations we are reading about. I and not defending abuse and/or neglect in any way. Just know that there is always more going on than we know about; 1) Past inmate behavior of crying wolf, 2) Prison/jail under-staffing, 3) Less than honest reports by those that are incarcerated, etc.

    I have worked with individuals that believe our job is to punish inmates. It is each of our responsibility to train those individuals, re-frame their thinking and/or ultimately report the unprofessional behaviors to management to prevent serious incidents. I know that no one likes to work with a “snitch”, but these types of reports protect the integrity of the organization and provides a safe/secure environment for each of us to work in. My number one goal every day is for each person on my shift to go home safe to their families.
    By Tracy

  9. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    What a bunch of liberal hogwash…..
    By Lori

  10. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    The word torture can be vague [objectivity versus subjectivity & legal definition and political definitions] and debated all day long. In addition to the definition, we have to include willful punishment rather than coincidental failure to meet certain standards. The way I see it is different from other’s views so unless we agree on the actual meaning, this discussion can go south quickly.

    I agree with some, this is the exception rather than the rule. I have experienced, in some circumstances conditions that were not lawful but imposed through mission creep or cultural interference and misspending. This can lead to horrific conditions but not meet the standards of torture or the intent to mistreat or abuse deliberately. Let’s not mix apples with oranges.
    By Carl

  11. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    I believe that the correctional officers, just like the patrol officers need to be reminded just what their job and responsibilities are. The correctional officers’ basic duties are to provide security for the facility, and the offenders who are incarcerated in the facility. Their job is to provide a safe environment for the offenders. Protect them from harm from other offenders and staff if necessary. True it is hard to tell a fellow correctional officer that he/she is using excessive force or to tell a supervisor to step away from an invididual he has in a choke hold. But that has to be done when the force is excessive. Torture is wrong, just as using deadly force is wrong when misused. An offender is punished by the courts by being sent to jail or prison and it is not the job of the correctional officer to instill additional punishment. I thing disciplinary action is sometimes confused with punishment.
    By Harold

  12. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    “According to a report by the Miami Herald,the Florida Department of Corrections fired 32 correctional officers on September 19th, 2014, after a number of inmates had died because of criminal misconduct.” All fired at one time and they probably have unions to protect them from illegal or unfounded termination. No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, that’s an obvious problem!
    By Michael

  13. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    I have to agree with several of the above comments. I worked in a 100+ year old building that had as many inmates as could be legally shoe horned in. Heating was minimal at best. In the 70’s, the corrections secretary said inmates shouldn’t get air conditioning. That still is the policy for males. All female institutions are air conditioned. In the summer, you opened the cell door by pulling on to the key after opening the lock. If you touched the bars, you’d burn your hand bad enough to blister. Was I torturing anyone? No. Their living conditions were my working conditions. The conditions were deplorable but beyond my control. Like many of the anecdotes cited, there is a failure of management here, not necessarily just the line officers. Of course budget plays into some of this. The public’s sentiments always want to cut costs in housing inmates. “Sheriff Joe” has made a career out of abuse with only implementing the popular parts of Bedo’s control mode.
    By Ron

  14. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    CIA torture of prisoners is the topic of the day all over the world.The saner elements of American society feel ashamed as it has badly eroded our country’s moral authority.
    At international level the CIA torture stories are a set back to our national prestige as we are world champions of human rights ,democracy and great American values.The UNO covenants on tortture,rules for treatment of offenders have been grossly violated.
    At home,the CIA has not nor created a good roll model for our correctional system already under criticism for mal treatment of prisoners.
    By Shaukat

  15. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    CIA has nothing to do with incarcerated felons. Nor, does the CIA have anything to do with any type of “examples”. Completely off point. Just my opinion. The article is about prison staff behavior.
    By Kerri

  16. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Any inmate friendly group or website, or new media can prove any accusation they wish to make with enough research and the right wording of the sentence. Unfortunately, most of these sources are biased against incarceration and believe the inmate should have all of the privileges afforded the victims of crimes and most have either family, or have themselves done time.

    Not that any of this means anyone should support the maltreatment of offenders. As has already been stated and I stated in anther post, The correctional officer’s role is merely to keep them in the fence and do the best we can to keep them safe from themselves and other offenders. Punishment is assessed at court and the followup hearings. The only punitive action once incarcerated is assessed through an established disciplinary process only when the offender breaks the agency rules, which are there to maintain order and protect staff, offenders and states property. Other than that, he is serving a sentence assessed by the legal system and that is the extent of punishment for the crime committed in the free world.
    By Kerri

    • Noura December 24, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

      Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the imeags aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

  17. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

    Very interesting approaches. Torture looks for secret places to hide. Those entrusted to ensure openness and safety in these places, for both offenders and prison staff, must either prevent or prosecute. The lines between disciplinary action and excess are laid down in law. However, not so easy to distinguish wilful neglect from neglect caused by the burdens of short staffing, and there can be no generalisations. Every incident of harm to the body and mind merits probing without quick conclusions or sensationalism. Only fair, internal and external inquiries, by appropriate medical, judicial and monitoring bodies can reveal whether a death in the jail was natural or unnatural, whether an act of ‘suicide’ was indeed a suicide, a death by scalding was an unavoidable accident on the part of prison management or an act of intent. That is why the judiciary is there – to look into mens rea and actus rea. It is not a matter to be decided by sentiment, either way.
    By S

  18. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    my comment was restricted to the article here on torture in jails and various comments of those who as custodians would not like to be seen as part of the torture trade, who are compelled to prioritise discipline over everything else as fait accompli. But this ‘everything else’ cannot include inhuman treatment of inmates, and short staffing or resources, or lack of orientation and staff motivation, cannot be the excuse of the prison administration and ministries eternally. The problem has to be addressed, both for inmates as well as for the sake of prison officials. Because such shortfalls will only lead to dangerous ‘tendencies’ and ‘innovations’ in in-custody treatment as we read here and are to believe.

    As regards investigation-related torture, Sir, I believe the actors are entirely different and are not entrusted with any mandate or training for ‘correction’ to be equated with the actions of prison staff, though torture anywhere is still, torture.
    By S

  19. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    That is correct. The fact of limited resources etc… Does not excuse or rightly mitigate the mistreatment or “torture/in humane” treatment of any inmate in our correctional system. It would seem to me that correctional staff would join the chorus against it rather than continuously use it as an excuse. If they did it would bring more light to these in humane situations and legitimize the necessity to change simply because it would be coming from staff and not inmates in the form of complaints and law suits. But sad to say we look the other way and remain indifferent to the suffering of fellow Americans who many have not even committed a crime of violence.
    By Michael

  20. PrisonPath December 15, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    WE do not “look the other way and remain indifferent to the suffering of fellow Americans”. I will say this again, the article is the exception, not the rule. This exception occurs in EVERY career field not just corrections. State/federal regulation of prisons and jails over the last few decades has drastically reduced the deplorable conditions that previously existed (although inmates will not tell you this). WE work in the same conditions that inmates live in. Is it uncomfortable to not have air conditioning? Yes. Is it torture? No.

    As for staff bringing forth law suits….I believe that you are far removed for the corrections field if you believe that we make enough money to do this, or for that matter have the time. The corrections field is under appreciated and underpaid, we often work multiple shifts of overtime each month due to the under staffing, which leads to burn out.

    WE do speak out when we see something wrong. WE do care about the safety and security of those in our charge and our co-workers. WE do our jobs everyday. DO NOT judge the entire field by the unprofessional behaviors and actions of a few.
    By Tracy

  21. PrisonPath January 19, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    It’s a terrible thing when people mistreat the incarcerated. Are job as corrections officers is to protect the community as well as the offender and not to impose additional punishment, humiliate, or dehumanize them. Our only job is to keep them from escaping and prevent other inmates from doing harm to each other.
    By John, correction officer

  22. PrisonPath January 19, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    Terrible events in that article, one, I assume, due to neglect of duty and the other indeed torture. Solitary, not sure on that one, it is difficult, but detainees usually just don’t go to solitary for no reason, you still have to accept responsibility for actions in confinement, just like on the street. I am sure most officers would have solitary cells larger, but they do not fund or build the facilities. As awful as those two examples are, I hope that your point is that they are the exception, as I believe they are. Most correctional professionals go beyond being professional with individuals who are often threats to their very lives.
    The individuals responsible for the two examples should be punished fittingly.
    By Scott–Corrections Administration

  23. PrisonPath January 19, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    I have to believe that this article refers to the exception, not the rule. Please remember that as you read articles such as this, they do not paint the entire picture. We don’t know the incidents or actions that lead to the situations we are reading about. I and not defending abuse and/or neglect in any way. Just know that there is always more going on than we know about; 1) Past inmate behavior of crying wolf, 2) Prison/jail under-staffing, 3) Less than honest reports by those that are incarcerated, etc.

    I have worked with individuals that believe our job is to punish inmates. It is each of our responsibility to train those individuals, re-frame their thinking and/or ultimately report the unprofessional behaviors to management to prevent serious incidents. I know that no one likes to work with a “snitch”, but these types of reports protect the integrity of the organization and provides a safe/secure environment for each of us to work in. My number one goal every day is for each person on my shift to go home safe to their families.
    by Tracy–Corrections

  24. PrisonPath January 19, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    What a bunch of liberal hogwash…..
    By Lori–Correction Officer

  25. PrisonPath July 20, 2015 at 6:20 pm #

    elizabeth kelley
    Barbaric — Prison inmates are the constituency no politician cares about — (Or, if there is one out there, please tell us!) –

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