May 23, 2019

America’s Prisons Are Brutal Places

“Earlier this week, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division released a summary of its findings on the state of Alabama’s prisons. The accounts are stomach-churning: The New York Times noted that one prisoner had been lying dead for so long that “his face was flattened,” while another “was tied up and tortured for two days.” A dive into the 53-page report reveals yet more horror. One prisoner was doused with bleach and beaten with a broken mop handle. Another was attacked with shaving cream so hot that it caused chemical burns, requiring treatment from an outside hospital.

It’s hardly news that American prisons and jails can be dangerous places. But the Justice Department’s report mirrors other recent accounts of inmate deaths and violence across the country that, taken together, paint a grim picture of the brutality that occurs behind prison walls—and the horrifying consequences of America’s indifference to it.

Two years in the making, the federal investigation of men’s prisons in Alabama found them plagued with “severe, systemic, and exacerbated” violations of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights. Rates of prisoner-on-prisoner violence have roughly doubled in the state over the past five years, with a homicide rate eight times the national average. Guards told federal investigators that half to three-quarters of prisoners have some kind of improvised weapon. “A weapon that was essentially a small sword was recovered at St. Clair in 2017,” the report said.”

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