Prison guards — the dutiful protectors of the public who keep the community safe and criminals in line. These values have held up for generations, but in recent years, they have been sullied with countless abuse claims made by prisoners in which they report the maltreatment they faced from guards while in jail. So why have the guards suddenly become the criminals, and why is it so easy for them to get away with misconduct?
Many New York prison guards have been getting away with physical brutality due to the fact that prisons provide jobs and are beneficial to the state’s economy—this makes the district attorneys more hesitant to charge the guards for the crime. The Labor Union contract filed between workers and employees is another aspect that makes it increasingly difficult to fire prison workers. The contract gives guards the right to refuse to answer questions from the police and is another factor that continually puts inmates in the wrong. The state also shields many prison workers from prosecution in severe cases, like Kevin Moore’s, who, according to the New York Times, was pleading for mercy as he was being assaulted by officers because they were angry at him. Moore was left with five fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and multiple facial fractures, and instead of being sent to the hospital, he was placed in solitary confinement. Luckily, Moore was eventually sent to the hospital where he remained for 17 days. Moore was not protected by the Union contract.
In many cases, officers with abuse claims filed against them are not automatically barred from their job. Rather, in places like New York correctional facilities, under the state’s public officers law, a misdemeanor conviction is more like a warning as opposed to a serious issue. According to The Marshall Project, in 2013, the corrections department submitted a 19-day unpaid suspension for an officer who was charged with falsely reporting an episode in which he was violent toward a prisoner, striking him on the head. Three years ago, a prison worker who was accused of lying about the amount of physical and verbal abuse he inflicted upon an inmate was allowed to return to work after just a 20-day suspension. Another prison worker was cited for excessive and unauthorized use of force on an inmate and was reprimanded with a mere eight-day unpaid suspension. All of these stories have one key issue in common — guards who have committed unreasonable amounts of physical and verbal violence toward inmates that were not properly punished for their actions. Why should a light tap on the wrist for guards compensate for the emotional and physical trauma endured by abiding inmates like Moore?
From the Fishkill Correctional facility, where an inmate died after altercations with officers, to the three guards at Attica Correctional Facility pleading guilty to beating an inmate, it is clear that abuse in correctional facilities is not an uncommon occurrence. However, in many instances, the specifics of these officer discipline cases are shielded from the public eye due to state law which exempts corrections officers from displaying their personal records for abuse claims, lest they experience public scrutiny. The records acquired under the Freedom of Information Law provide only minimal details on the case.
In 2015, reports filed by inmates displayed the overwhelmingly large amount of complaints they had about misconduct performed by prison staff. According to the New York Times, there were 5,471 complaints lodged, with an increase of 175 reports from the previous year. This data shows that as time goes on, many guards have become more and more lax with their treatment of inmates.
Although the numbers look bad, one has to take into consideration that not all correctional officers are abusive— on the contrary, many of them encourage personal growth among inmates, and in some cases develop personal relationships with them. “It’s very important to create positive relationships with the inmates because you spend so much time with them during the day, and you really want to keep them busy, keep them feeling positive so they can continue moving forward on a better path than they have had in the past.” Ontario correctional officer Christa Huggins said on an interview for Flare magazine in 2017.
Obviously, abuse in correctional facilities remains daunting issue that looms over the American prison system. The constant abuse claims and stories of inmates being reprimanded for minor offenses makes a large percentage of the American public wonder who the real criminals are.
Photo provided by: https://www.themarshallproject.org/records/50-prison-abuse