The Inhumanity of How We Incarcerate

The following comes from The Washington Post:

The Inhumanity of How We Incarcerate

Photo Criedits:

The News & Observer has the wrenching details of a man killed by the North Carolina prison system.

Michael Anthony Kerr spent the last five days of his life handcuffed in a prison cell, unresponsive, off his mental health medicine, and lying in his feces and urine. An hour or two before the former Army sergeant died, officials at Alexander Correctional Institution put him into a wheelchair and drove him 2-1/2 hours east to a prison hospital in Raleigh.

When Kerr, 53, arrived at Central Prison, his body was cold.

Somewhere between Taylorsville and Raleigh, as the prison vehicle passed emergency rooms at eight hospitals, Kerr died of dehydration.

“They treated him like a dog,” said Brenda Liles, his sister.

Anthony Michael Kerr dies of dehydration in solitary confinement in a North Carolina prison.

Anthony Michael Kerr (Photo Credits: Charlotte Observer)

Most dogs are treated far better. The state failed Kerr time and time again. His death came after more than a month in solitary confinement. We tend think that people who end up with long prison terms and who then spend long stretches in solitary, are violent sociopaths who are beyond redemption. It would be easy to think that about Kerr, who was serving a 31-year sentence after a series of larceny convictions, capped by an incident in which he fired several rounds into a home.

. . .

So after diagnosing Kerr with a mental illness, the state of North Carolina refused to treat him . . . and it put him in solitary confinement. When he reacted the way you might expect someone with an untreated disorder held in isolation to act, they put him in restraints, then cut off his access to water. He ultimately died of dehydration.

State prison officials conducted their own investigation and did discipline a number of employees. But they’ve been typically obstinate about letting anyone from outside the corrections community conduct a review.

. . .

Kerr’s is only the latest horrifying story we’ve heard in recent months. You may recall Darren Rainey, the mentally ill Florida inmate whose skin was boiled off his bones when guards locked him in a scalding shower as a punishment. Former employees later alleged that staff at that Dade County facility made a “sport” of brutalizing the mentally ill. Or Jerome Murdough, who died of heat exposure after left unattended for hours in a cell in a Rikers unit for mentally ill patients. This, despite the fact that prison officials knew a heating unit malfunction had raised the temperature in those cells to dangerously high levels. Or Christopher Lopez, a schizophrenic man in Colorado who suffered two seizures and died on the concrete floor of a prison cell while guards allegedly mocked and laughed at him. Prison officials waited a year and a half before bothering to report his death.

In just the last couple of years, we’ve seen in-custody deaths recently shed light on prison conditions and medical and mental health treatment in Maine, San Diego, Florida, Louisville, Alaska and California. Prison guards in Pennsylvania were recently alleged to have staged fights and competitions between inmates, contests the guards called the “Retard Olympics,” offering some insight into both the guards’ brutality and their regard for mental illness. We’ve also seen revelations accusing prison guards of allowing or even encouraging fights in Cook County, Ill.; Orleans Parish, La.; upstate New York; a private prison in Idaho; and Mississippi. And here at The Watch, I’ve looked at the mistreatment of people held in cells on low-level drug charges, which in at least a couple of cases has resulted in death.

It’s no doubt a difficult task to run a prison. We ask prison officials to keep guards and inmates safe and to keep dangerous people away from society, and to do it all in a way that’s humane. That last component is perhaps the most difficult to retain. It’s certainly the easiest of the three to compromise. But it’s also critically important. You can tell a lot about a society’s values by how well it treats its incarcerated.

Read the entire story by The Washington Post.

 “You can tell a lot about a society’s values by                                                                               how well it treats its incarcerated.  .  .”


7 thoughts on “The Inhumanity of How We Incarcerate

  1. This makes me angry. So very very angry. I can’t put into words the feelings in my chest when I think of the inhumanity. I watched the death of Mr Lopez on video. I was appalled. What made if worse was them going through the motions of trying to give him CPR after they stood outside his cell and watched him die.

  2. We’ve allowed America to become a prison state, with prisons often enough for profit. Whatever it is, it’s not justice, and we spend tremendous wealth to ensure that a large group of people will likely never be able to contribute to the economy, ever again. We’re throwing huge wads of cash away each day to do wrong.

  3. When I started working in prisons 45 years ago, I was reading similar stories about horrors in state mental hospitals. Instead of fixing the problem, mental health professionals, with a lot of help from legal experts, have abdicated their responsibilities for making difficult clinical/legal/ethical decisions. We are still in a containment mentality, not a public health mentality. Abdicating clinical responsibility to the criminal justice system is neither Justice nor treatment. It wastes tax dollars and causes immeasurable suffering with horrific rippling results.

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