Behind Bars

American Corrections

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

At the western Pennsylvania state prison in Woods Run, Pittsburgh, prisoners and guards alike made the phenomenon of imprisonment more hellish than usual.

That’s because, according to at least one broadcast report, men at the medium to minimum security lock-up, particularly those convicted of sexual assaults against children, were raped, by other prisoners—and by several guards—with ranking staff turning a blind eye.

While the radio report was unconfirmed, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) did the unprecedented. They fired the prison’s warden, two deputy superintendents, and even the major there—something virtually unheard of in this business.

Eight prison guards had been suspended without pay earlier this year (although seven of them have not been publicly identified.)

An Allegheny County grand jury is presently investigating the sexual assault charges. No state government official has commented publicly on the claims, but certainly the firing of the prison’s highest ranking staff suggests that “something is rotten in Denmark.” What makes these incidents particularly poignant is the state prison in Pittsburgh, which was closed back in 2005 because of security and budgetary concerns, isn’t the maximum-security prison it once was. It reopened in 2007 as a treatment center, a kind of medical unit for men suffering from addictions, age related physical ailments, or serious psychological issues. That’s why it was re-classified as a medium-minimum security facility.

That these men, who were promised medical treatment, were treated so basely by other prisoners—and reportedly by guards as well—gives us some sense of precisely how poisonous American “corrections” has become.

Is there any wonder that American soldiers, many who worked as prison guards stateside, behaved so badly in Iraq and abroad?, May 18, 2011