About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

May 20, 2011

Makes flogging look better and better

Louis Theroux visited a Miami "mega-jail." (You can watch a bunch of his other shows on youtube--I'm quite fond of them.)
For a bespectacled, peace-loving Englishman, there can be few places less congenial than a berth on the sixth floor of Miami main jail.

The place has to be seen to be believed. Up to 24 inmates are crowded into a single cell, living behind metal bars on steel bunks, sharing a single shower and two toilets.

Little of the bright Miami sun filters through the grilles on the windows. Visits to the yard happen twice a week for an hour. The rest of the time, inmates are holed up round the clock, eating, sleeping, and going slightly crazy.

But what is most shocking is the behaviour of the inmates themselves. For reasons that remain to some extent opaque - perhaps because of the bleak conditions they live in or because of insufficient supervision by officers, maybe because they lack other outlets for their energies, or because of their involvement with gangs on the outside, or maybe from a warped jailhouse tradition - the incarcerated here have created a brutal gladiatorial code of fighting.

They fight for respect, for food and snacks, or simply to pass the time.
In some cells inmates boasted that they had a policy of "mandatory rec" for new inmates - meaning any inmate coming into the cell had to fight (or "rec") for a bunk, unless he was known to other inmates in the cell, in which case he might be granted a reprieve.
And without privacy, sharing a single shower, many of the men had lost their sense of the normal social barriers - they were around each other continuously, using the toilets, speaking to loved ones on the phone, and, presumably, indulging in other physical functions. And when we were around them, the same rules applied to us - many of them, living like animals, had lost their grip on social norms.
Another inmate, Rodney Pearson, known as Hot Rod, told me he'd been inside for several years awaiting trial. Prosecutors wanted to give him the death penalty.

I asked him if, by some quirk of fate, I'd been arrested and sent to their cell, a bespectacled Englishman with a college education who was clearly not cut out to fight, they might let me off the "mandatory rec". The answer was an emphatic "no".
One of the corporals said he thought the county might be happy to make reforms as long as I was happy to stump up the $600m for a new building.
Keep in mind that these men have not been convicted of any crime (though admittedly most are guilty as charged). And almost all will one day be released, more f*cked up than ever. Can one think of better case In Defense of Flogging?


Jay Livingston said...

Flogging for the unconvicted awaiting trial?

Houston Lawyer said...

Real eye opener. I am not sure this is rehabilitation. The one thing that system should be working towards. I am not sure if there is ever a way to fix this, but the current system that we have now needs a little tweaking.

PCM said...

Jay, I turn it back on you: jail for the unconvicted awaiting trail? Lesser of two evils, perhaps. Also perhaps without the criminal conviction.