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Kiriakou writes: "We live in a system that seeks vengeance against those convicted of crimes, a society that doesn't just want people to repay their debts to society, but wants them to continue to suffer, both during and after release. That's why there's no public outcry against the human and civil rights violations that current and former prisoners face every day."

A solitary confinement cell at New York City's Rikers Island jail. (photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP)
A solitary confinement cell at New York City's Rikers Island jail. (photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Exposing the Injustice of Vengeance Against the Convicted

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

15 May 16


rison Legal News (PLN), a magazine dedicated to prison reform and news developments related to federal and state prison systems, has filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) after the DOC banned four issues of the magazine because of “sexually explicit material.” What’s the nature of this sexual material? It’s four articles about prison guards and other prison employees raping prisoners. The Arizona DOC actions are not meant to ensure the smooth running of the prison system, as it asserts, but instead to keep prisoners in the dark about official abuse, malfeasance, and criminal activity. The DOC has sought to settle the case out of court. Even they recognize that they’re holding a losing hand.

The DOC’s guidelines regarding prisoners receiving sexually explicit material are clear. They state, “Sexually explicit material is defined as publications that feature nudity and/or sexual behaviors/acts and/or the publication is promoted based on such depictions.” The description bears no resemblance whatsoever to Prison Legal News, which contains only news articles and the occasional advertisement.

This Arizona DOC’s actions are not new to Prison Legal News. Indeed, PLN has filed dozens of lawsuits against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, corrections departments, local jails, and states since 2000. Just this year, for example, the Northwest Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester, Virginia, agreed to PLN demands that prisoners be allowed to receive the magazine, after initially banning it and all other printed material. Similarly, earlier this year the Nevada Department of Corrections agreed to pay PLN $475,000 and to allow prisoners to receive the magazine after PLN filed a federal suit there. PLN has had similar wins across the country over the past few years.

Other prisoners’ rights organizations get far more news coverage than PLN, a publication of the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC). The Innocence Project, for example, uses DNA evidence to work to exonerate those people wrongly convicted of murder and serving sentences of life, or even death. Every Innocence Project win is major national news.

But it’s the small and underfunded HRDC and PLN that work to defend prisoners’ rights on virtually every other issue. HRDC currently has numerous lawsuits pending against the federal government, states, municipalities, and private prisons, not only related to freedom of speech, but also to prevent prisons from forcing released prisoners to accept all of their remaining commissary money on high-fee debit cards; to prevent prisons from banning all prisoner mail except postcards; and fighting the decision made by several private prisons to ban in-person visits in favor of expensive video-only visits. PLN and HRDC are also leaders in the fight against substandard and incompetent medical care in prisons across the country.

The question is why PLN is the only organization taking on these issues. Frankly, in a real democracy, in a country that respects its own constitution and the rule of law, PLN and an organization like HRDC would not even be necessary. But that’s not the society we live in. We live in a system that seeks vengeance against those convicted of crimes, a society that doesn’t just want people to repay their debts to society, but wants them to continue to suffer, both during and after release.

That’s why there’s no public outcry against the human and civil rights violations that current and former prisoners face every day. That’s why there’s no public outcry when prisoners die unnecessarily in prison because of substandard medical care. That’s why there’s anger when governors reinstate the voting rights of former felons.

Society won’t change by itself. And certainly the lemmings in Congress won’t lead the way. That’s why organizations like HRDC and publications like PLN are so important. They are the only voice for prisoners and for the human and civil rights prisoners deserve.

John Kiriakou is an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+14 # elizabethblock 2016-05-15 08:46
Perhaps the huge numbers of prisoners will be a factor in stimulating reform. It's one thing when it happens to "them." It's another when it happens to your relative, your friend, your neighbour, even your acquaintance.
And when people like John Kiriakou go to prison, people who wield that mightiest of weapons, the pen.
+19 # elizabethblock 2016-05-15 08:47
And a note: In Canada, you don't lose the right to vote because you went to prison. Or even if you are in prison. And it hasn't destroyed the country.
+4 # Krackonis 2016-05-15 14:10
We also treat prisoners with respect.... For if guards break the law, in prison, the guards can actually go to jail themselves.

Assault and battery charges, torture, cruel and unusual punishment... Those laws still exist inside a prison in Canada... You don't get a free pass to abuse prisoners because you a sadistic fuck...

I did notice the tendency for "sick fucks" to migrate to thse jobs in the US... it's like they want to take abusers and put them in charge of prisoners...

Like cops are hired on their ability to be cruel to people down there... shooting dogs, shooting black kids, shooting for not reason at kids in toy aisles... Strangling and beating to death minorities each and every day... because there are no laws to stop them.
+16 # reiverpacific 2016-05-15 09:10
Sadly, it's unlikely to change anytime soon, as most (especially Teathuglican) politicians make a point of being seen to be "tough on crime" when seeking election or re-election, to a propagandized citizenry fed cop-worship shows on their flick'rin' screens.
And of course, the prison-industri al complex, especially privatized versions, are far too profitable for too many to be anything but what they are -universities of crime, where recidivism is a viable alternative to vengeance-drive n and lasting barriers to full citizenship including disenfranchisem ent, housing and the severely diminished opportunity of gainful employment, ergo self respect and accomplishment.
At least they are fed and housed in jail, by no means a given on the "outside" with the ball-and-chain of "ex-con" to drag around.
-16 # JohnBoanerges 2016-05-15 09:16
In an ideal system of EARTHLY justice (only God has the seat of justice), trials would be conducted by private courts and victims would conduct the prosecution and determine the punishment (if sustained). The punishment maximum would be capital if the perp had created the fear of either death or serious harm in the victim. Another SERIOUS punishment as the victim's option would be banishment from all sociatial access. The other option would be forgiveness. After all, how can a 'government' court represent a victim's interests? It can't and virtually never does even in theory. It does not come close to representing societies interest or why are the hell hounds of Wall Street still free? Why is Slick Willie not paying for child rape on his many Lolita trips? What is the hildabeast not in jail? Where is the justice for their combined 49 dead victims? How about the many deaths that LBJ buried? No, government courts are a panacea to the easily placated so that the elite can 'get away with murder' as they always have. Go ahead, vote and pay taxes and ignore this voice crying in the wilderness. Oh, and Christ, too, for He taught that government is the spawn of Satan when He rejected the temptations. Whether the Christ existed as a person or not, these are sound theology (to me).
+5 # Krackonis 2016-05-15 14:12
Jesus would never forgive what you do...

The Devil has a seat right beside him for the immoral righteous who think they are good people.

He'll keep your seat warm.
0 # JohnBoanerges 2016-05-16 08:32
My point is that all government personnel form the largest part of the body of the "immoral righteous" Following behind, and equally immoral, are the me-tooers, voters and taxpayers that lack the courage to not participate in mass murder committed by national "governments (criminal gangs)". Feel the pinch ? Would Jesus forgive what YOU do? Not up to me to say but you think to make that casting of stones. Shame!
+3 # lfeuille 2016-05-15 19:51
"victims would conduct the prosecution and determine the punishment (if sustained)."

This is the exact opposite of justice. Victims cannot be objective in determining guilt or innocence and in weighing the relative severity of the crime and appropriate penalty.
0 # JohnBoanerges 2016-05-17 07:54
Oh, and "Philosopher Kings" can do that? What world do you inhabit?
+1 # Kootenay Coyote 2016-05-15 21:44
'Vengeance is mine: I will repay, says the Lord.' Not you.
+1 # JohnBoanerges 2016-05-17 07:57
I stated that " (only God has the seat of justice)", did I not? Government Just-us is the epitome of vengeance that benefits the oligarchs only and sidelines/margi nalizes the victims.
+20 # danireland46 2016-05-15 09:42
I understand how people might enjoy what they would call "Righteous Vengeance", especially, when they were personally impacted by the actions of the imprisoned, But, unfortunately, those who have hurt so many in the US, the crooks on Wall Street, are never subject to incarceration. Then there are people like Kiriakau, courageous whistleblowers, who should never have been there at all; or the Big Pharm pushers who keep pushing their products and raising their drug prices, while laughing at all the pot smokers choking the prisons.

The last line in the pledge of allegiance; "...with liberty and justice for all." should never be recited again until it is finally true.
+15 # reiverpacific 2016-05-15 10:35
“How do you survive for years in prison? You don’t think about years, or months, or weeks. You think about today—how to get through it, how to survive it. When you wake up tomorrow, another day is behind you. The days add up; the weeks run together; the months become years. You realize how tough you are, how you can function and survive because you have no choice.”
― John Grisham, The Racketeer"
+14 # economagic 2016-05-15 10:38
In the not-too-distant past the ironically named "corrections system" was based primarily on brutalization and dehumanization rather than any sort of "correction," much less rehabilitation for people who had never had a chance to be habilitated in the first place. The idea, long since discredited, was that such practices were the ideal way to make wrongdoers recognize and change their evil ways. These practices were supported by a majority of the people identifying themselves as Christians, who apparently, having read their Old Testament, saw no need to read and study the rest.

Those practices remain, but now they are even less visible outside the walls since the potential for money profit at the expense of convicts and their families (and even suspects awaiting a hearing) was realized.
+8 # Robbee 2016-05-15 12:16
rayguns kick-started the "tough on" revolution in america by putting a large black man's gristled face on a wanted-criminal poster

since then, to "tough on crime", repugs added "tough on" blacks, women, children, latinos, moochers and muslims - all folks whom majority whites and christians generally love getting "tough on"

repug stereotyping panders to white and christian supremacists and gets repugs elected to office - if you hadn't noticed, it has everything to do with the outstanding success of rump's repug campaign

go bernie - and go dem!
+1 # Underledge 2016-05-16 06:22
A comment on the "solitary confinement cell" photo accompanying the article. In most institutions, this is the normal size general population cell with the addition of it having two beds - one above the other. Two people share this space, 24/7/365.
0 # KurtMichael 2016-05-23 16:04
Just a note to some of the comments I've seen, and to the bible thumpers. In a biblical trial, it is always the offended party, the victim, who brings the charges, backed by two or more witnesses who's testimony must agree. No confessions are accepted, no circumstantial evidence, no voodoo forensics. For all intents and purposes it is the witnesses who are put on trial. If a witness' testimony is found to be false, he is subject to the same punishment which would have been intended for the accused.

Justice is seen as a process of restoration whereby a debt can be repaid, and an offender will be restored to his place in society.

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