It is an obvious fact that prisons and jails cannot exist without correctional officers. Correctional officers are the gods of their universe. Make no mistake, once you are an inmate you are at the mercy, or rather the lack of mercy, of every correctional officer in your prison or jail. Many correctional officers do treat inmates humanely, despite the trying environment of a prison. However, the prison system has a significant number of correctional officers who can play the part of the sadistic and brutal guard in the movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” without any acting on their part.
If you read the news carefully, there are reports of inmates abuse by correctional officers throughout the United States. In West Virginia, the Regional Jail Authority reported results of two pending investigations involving force by officers against inmates at the Western Regional Jail. In one investigation, six correctional officers were disciplined and one officer resigned as the result of the incident. There are separate ongoing criminal investigations of both incidents. A former Pittsburgh corrections officer was sentenced this year to only 12 years of probation with one year house arrest on charges that he abused inmates under his care at the State Correctional Institution in Pittsburgh.
The justice department ordered reforms at the New Orleans Prison because of the wide spread violence of inmates on inmates and correctional officers abuse of inmates. There is a causal relationship between correctional officers abusing inmates and inmates violence against other inmates. If correctional officers act outside of the law, then the prison environment is a jungle for all.
The abuse by correctional officers has not always involved physical contact. After any visitation, the correctional officers will conduct a strip search of all inmates in order to find any contraband. I personally observed a guard repeatedly ordering an inmate in his sixties to squat and bend over numerous times despite the inmate’s painful arthritic condition. The officer had a contented smile on his face. On the other hand, the very next week, another correctional officer conducted the strip search of the same inmate efficiently and humanely. During my last two weeks of incarceration, a correctional officer made derogatory statements numerous times about my religion in a clumsy attempt to incite a response on my part that would have affected my release.
What can we do to improve the system in terms of correctional officers? It is crucial to impress upon the officers as part of their training that inmates are human beings with basic rights. Before a tragedy occurs, there should be independent investigations of correctional officers who have a pattern of complaints of abusing inmates conducted by outsiders who do not have any ties to the prison system.