Ken’s Comments: This letter I wrote is self-explanatory. I post it here now because there is, at last, some momentum starting to build concerning “America’s Dirty Little (Huge!) Secret- Prison Abuse”. The feds are investigating hundreds of serious abuses in Florida prisons, where more than 40 “officers” have been fired. For a number of reasons, prosecutions are the only effective remedy for this huge, nationwide, tragic problem!
These are the “magic words” to use with any complaint about prison abuse, but don’t hold your breath for actual action. “I am informing you here of an outrageous, ongoing pattern and practice of abuses”. After I wrote to the U S DOJ in Washington, using these very words, 3 times [over 4 years] I got a ludicrous response saying they would do nothing because they only investigate claims of ” a pattern and practice” of abuse. It was beyond exasperating!
Sadly, so very many inmates’ families are afraid to speak out!! Their fear of unlawful retaliation is real [ Boy, do I know- when they found out I was trying to get prison staff arrested some C Os kept me totally illegally… criminally … imprisoned for more than 4 years, 1,510 days in that isolation cell*]. When a friend asked me “would you do it again?” I said “Damn right I would; people must speak out!” A bully unchecked, will keep bullying!
“Delaware Voice” submission – Bad, Bad Policy 11/11/13
I am, at long last, getting to explain on some radio stations that we have a super serious problem in the Department of Corrections. Good news: the new Commissioner, Commissioner Robert Coupe, former head of the state Police, is doing the right thing and making great improvements. Bad news: the lawlessness continues (and as long as it does, I shall speak out!) as it has for decades. There is a mountain to move, and I have seen it! I still hear from inmates, inmates’ family members, former DOC employees, and informed lawyers, daily.
I am talking about the persistent, entrenched wrongdoing –crimes, violations of Department policies, wildly rampant cover- up, by COs (Corrections Officers), and the astonishingly determined efforts by officials and the press to ignore these problems. The worst part is that these people are “law enforcement officers”! As a Deputy Attorney General, I had the privilege of working with many fine officers, and the many “bad apples” in DOC are a disgrace to law enforcement and to the hundreds of fellow employees who do their thankless jobs properly.
The “bad apples” commit crimes daily. Yes, daily. I have seen, still hear about, and can cite countless specific examples of clearly criminal conduct. State crimes and Federal civil rights crimes (the same statutes which the Feds used to hold accountable officers who beat Rodney King after a state court jury acquitted the officers). I am talking about theft, unlawful retaliation, horrific abuses – people losing fingers, being beaten severely without cause or provocation, being placed in isolation for YEARS for unlawful reasons or no reason, and much more!
Why does this Disgrace in Delaware go on? (a) Because inmates and their loved ones generally lack political power, prisoners cannot vote, and by and large prisoners “have no voice”, (b) Because “nobody knows, nobody cares”, nobody enforces the law, and (c) the issue is in the dark; we need a spotlight on the problem. I have SEEN far too many officials with their heads in the sand concerning these problems. Some actually think: they’re (inmates) just criminals, they deserve anything they get. The indifference and the “they deserve it” attitude are both tragic mistakes.
You should care; things should change, and here is why:
- The rule of law is what makes this country respected and revered around the world – the notion that the law, its criminal laws and its freedoms (the Constitution), applies to everyone. Watergate was a dramatic example of these principles at work. What goes on in our prisons is a dramatic example of these principles being ignored. The law must apply, and BE applied, inside those walls.
- The abuses are counterproductive: (a) they are unnecessary (there are ample systems and procedures in place to properly and lawfully handle the worst inmates!) (b) Inmates who repeatedly witness crimes by “officers”, with their conduct going unpunished, lose respect for the law. Indeed, as I have seen, some develop a deep disrespect hatred for officers. (c) Is this making prisoners less dangerous when they emerge? The opposite. We recently saw the men in Sussex County and in MD shooting into homes where they saw police cars parked because “they came out of prison angry at cops”! In L A, police shootings are at an all time high – I understand why.
- It could be anyone – your sister, son, daughter, niece etc. in there for a DUI offense or for having a joint in their pocket.
- How about – IT IS JUST PLAIN HORRIBLY WRONG!
- It costs taxpayers a fortune – tens of millions of dollars – in the constant hiring and training of COs because many who want no part of what they see quit, and in the defense of scores of lawsuits filed annually by abused inmates. The AG’s office has at least 4 or 5 lawyers who work full time to make these cases “go away”. On top of that add all the court costs etc. Of course, the AG should be prosecuting the very scoundrels his office defends! The office defends them because DOC is a state agency; nevertheless, this is a blatant conflict of interest.
- Constantly ignoring this problem makes no sense, is doing more harm than good, and is unsound public policy! For many reasons, the massive indifference is a massive mistake.
“Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world, that only dimly enters our awareness…….When prisoners emerge from the shadows to press a Constitutional claim; they invoke no alien set of principles drawn from a distant culture. Rather, they speak the charter upon which all of us rely to hold official power accountable. They ask us to acknowledge that power exercised in the shadows (I add: against virtually helpless individuals!) must be restrained at least as diligently as power that acts in the sunlight “ Olene v, Estate of Shabazz, 482 US 342,354-355, 107 S. CT. 2400, 96 L.Ed. 282 (1987)
Ken Abraham, Former Prosecutor 1974-1979, 430 Kings Hwy, Dover, DE 19901 302-423-4067
1/25/15 – now President of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE
Write a Letter to the Editor like this one!
I get lots of letters published, and ghost write for others. Just modify one of mine to suit your state or your situation! The keys to getting your Letter published are:
1. Keep it to 250 words or fewer.
2. Do not make it about “poor little old me”. Describe the problem as one which not only affects the individual, but as a senseless or ineffective measure, policy, or law which also harms communities and society. For example, with reentry, the obstacles make it unnecessarily difficult for the individual, but also harm society by making it hard to become productive, spending money and paying taxes in the community, and they cause increased recidivism = increased crime.
3. Speak from your heart.
4. Google any facts you are not sure about.
5. Do not name-call.
Do what works: Write that Letter! 🙂
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