Torture and death in America’s prisons
15 July 2014Viewed from the high-rise multi-million-dollar apartments lining the South side of New York’s Central Park, colloquially referred to as Billionaires’ Row, Rikers Island looms just over the East River. The sprawling island prison complex, which warehouses over 12,000 inmates in squalor and misery, lies between Manhattan, home to a fifth of America’s billionaires, and the Bronx, where half of all children live in households that do not have enough to eat.
“There’s lots of brutality… Horrible brutality,” the former director of mental health services at Rikers told the New York Times. On Monday, the newspaper reported, based on a review of internal prison documents, that over a single eleven-month period, 129 inmates were beaten so severely by prison guards that their injuries were “beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat.” In four out of five cases, the prisoners were beaten after they had been handcuffed.
The Times article describes blood-splattered examination room walls and inmates bound and beaten unconscious with brass knuckles, even as medical staff begged the guards to stop. This is not happening in some remote “third world” dictatorship, but in the financial center of world capitalism. All the brutality of class relations in America, where an oligarchy of a few tens of thousands gorges itself while condemning millions to misery, is expressed in America’s teeming prisons.
Rikers Island is the rule, not the exception. Last month, the Miami Herald ran an interview with an inmate who recounted how he had been roused by guards early in the morning to clean up “large chunks of human skin” that had peeled off of Darren Rainey, a 50-year-old inmate scalded to death the previous night by guards at Miami’s Dade Correctional Institution.
The guards had turned one of the prison’s showers into a torture chamber, controlled from a nearby mop closet. They made a regular practice of locking their victims in the shower, laughing, cracking jokes, and asking, “Is it hot enough for you?”
Over the July 4th weekend, three more bodies were found in Florida state prisons under mysterious circumstances, bringing the total number of in-custody prison deaths currently under investigation in Florida to ten.
Such incidents, widespread despite being only occasionally and superficially reported in the press, make a complete mockery of America’s pretensions to being a model of democracy and defender of democratic rights around the world.
A large share of those who are killed or tortured in US prisons are mentally ill or handicapped. According to one BBC investigation, “More than 80 people with mental health problems have died as a result of abuse or neglect in US jails since 2003.”
The report notes that there are more than a million people with mental health problems in US prisons.http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/07/15/pers-j15.html