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Wright (2008) describes prisons as neither the safest nor the best places on the earth to live in. Most of the prisoners being held in these institutions would never have chosen to be there, if they had been given an opportunity to chose otherwise. Unlike other societies, prisons are bad neighborhoods filled with an assortment of criminals from all walks of life. These criminals range from violent ones like; murderers, robbers, molesters, to even petty non violent offenders like drug addicts among others. In Dufresne’s (2007) perspective, one can argue that prisons are the safest places, given that they are accorded a twenty-four hour maximum security and an ever presence of correctional officers. Unfortunately, this has never been the case, since insecurity risks are highest in prisons. Additionally, the inmates together with the correctional officers are the major cause of this insecurity. These issues of insecurity among other concerns are the major challenges facing inmates in prison. This paper discusses an inmate’s perspective of the prison environment.
The Greatest Challenges Inmates Face in Prison
According to Wright (2008), inmates in prisons face a number of challenges ranging from threats to their physical well being or security, health issues, harsh policies, and overcrowding of prisons. The issue of insecurity is of a major concern in this era, where prison gangs rule the penitentiaries instead of correctional officers. According to Dufresne (2007), inmates are never assured of security, if they do not belong to any of these gangs. A number of times, new inmates have been intimidated and cajoled by these gangs to join them. In situations where these inmates resist, they are usually denied some of the resources accorded to them like food.
Dufresne (2007) asserts that these gangs usually masquerade as “offering protection to inmates” but in the real sense have perpetuated insecurity in the prisons by facilitating the handling of tobacco, drugs and even alcohol. Furthermore, these gangs are responsible for assaults, prostitution, kidnapping and even murder of inmates in the prisons. Dufresne (2007) pinpoints that these gangs have been known to bribe guards to allow them authorize violence against their fellow inmates. A good example of this scenario, which Dufresne (2007) avails; was experienced in 2003. In this case, the former officer Leon Holston was considered to be guilty for abetting and aiding the black gang KUMI in the inflicting serious body injury upon an inmate.
Another great challenge facing inmates is the issue of health. Prisons have been viewed as breeding grounds for transmission of diseases and sexually related infections. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] (2008), prisons have the highest rates of infection occurrences. These infections range from HIV, tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, syphilis and other forms of contagious diseases. This high rate of disease infection is attributed to the poor sanitary conditions in the prisons. ICRC (2008) further asserts that drug injections using unsterilized needles, unprotected sex between the same gender inmates, rape and other forms of penetrative sexual molestation have been the major cause of sexually related infections.
Insecurity and health are viewed as key challenges, given that they have been responsible for a good number injuries and deaths in prisons.
Overcrowding, an Issue that Needs to be Addressed
Overcrowding is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed given that it is inhuman and cruel. Gottesdiener (2011) claims that the Supreme Court had declared overcrowding in California’s prison system a cruel and unusual treatment that violates the Eighth Amendment. Apart from this violation, overcrowding in prisons exposes the inmates to a host of dangers like increased violence from fellow inmates, insufficient medical care, sexual abuse from the fellow inmates, and exposure to diseases and other serious forms of infections.
Additionally, prison overcrowding needs to be urgently addresses, as it leads to fewer opportunities for rehabilitative work. According to Gottesdiener (2011) these fewer opportunities for rehabilitative work comes about due to the lack of supervision.
Overcrowding and Inmate Frustration and Violence
Gottesdiener (2011) views prison overcrowding as the major cause of inmate frustration and violence in penitentiaries. This is because inmates are usually confined longer to their cells leading to greater tensions among themselves and with the prison staff. Additionally, this longer confinement leads to idleness and could spark off bloody riots like the one experienced in California’s Chino prisons. According to Gottesdiener (2011), this twenty hour bloody fracas saw over two hundred and fifty inmates injured by their fellow inmates. What caused this unrest was the fact that violent criminals were allowed to mingle with non-violent criminals in cramped quarters with no hiding places.
Constitutional Rights that Inmates Have
According to Wright (2008) in the earlier years, prisoners were assumed to have forfeited their liberty and their personal rights as a consequence of their misdeeds. This perception has not changed much; the only variation is that the prisoner is constitutionally protected, but not in the same way as free citizens. Despite this constitutional protection, the violation of prisoner’s rights usually goes undetected, unreported and never punished, simply because the inmates are not aware of them.
The Eighth amendment forms the major constitutional right that prisoners can hold on. Wright (2008) asserts that it guarantees the prisoners their rights by ensuring that they are not subjected to cruel and unusual forms of punishment. In line with this constitutional right, problems in medical care and the failure of correctional officers to protect inmates from attacks by other inmates has been viewed as a violation. Additionally, the uses of force by prison officials, and improper confinement conditions have also been taken as serious violations of this amendment.
Apart from the eighth amendment protection, prisoners have also been granted some limited constitutional rights. According to Wright (2008), these constitutional protections are against discrimination, abuse and any other form of mistreatment on the basis of sex, race, religion and national origin.
Argument about Inmate’s Constitutional Rights in the Future
The Eighth amendment is in place to ensure that prisoners are protected against the cruel and unusual punishments. In most instances, violation of this right goes undetected, unreported and unpunished due to the ignorance of the prisoners and due to the difficult standards of proof established by the court systems. The courts have in a number of instances taken sides with the prison guards in cases where prisoners have sued them for violation or neglect of their rights. Unless proper mechanisms that will ensure that the inmates can freely air their complaints are set in place, the inmates’ rights will never be upheld.
In conclusion, prisons are never the best places to live in due to challenges like security, health issues, harsh policies, and overcrowding. The issues of insecurity and poor health are majorly driven by overcrowding in prisons. Thus major reforms are necessary to ensure that prisons are only allowed to have an appropriate number of prisoners at the given time. Various legislations are also necessary to ensure that the Eighth Amendment is enacted in prisons. The prisoners also need to be empowered through consistent training programs aimed at improving their knowledge on human rights. Finally there is need for the difficult standards of proof set forth by the courts to be changed to encourage the prisoners to report their cases to the law enforcement bodies.