Jailhouse Justice; Is it Legal?

I have very little experience about prisons, but from reading many posts posts at Prison Talk Online http://www.prisontalk.com/ and my minimal experience in the Orange County jail, there seems to be more crime inside than there is outside. Outside I can understand, but inside a prison? From what I understand, when it does occur, the authorities will turn a blind eye most of the time.
Among the top offenses in Jailhouse Code is being a “Snitch” and being a “Sex Offender”.
If this is true, and it is allowed to occur, then justice has failed us. If inmates are allowed to continue with criminal activity, even inside a prison, or a jail, we as a society have a failed justice system.

In this article by the Burlington Free Press   Jacques lawyers fear he could be killed in prison a judge has denied a request to protect this man from this kind of Jailhouse Justice…

Michael Jacques’ lawyers say he is at risk of being killed in jail by fellow inmates because of his reputation as a serial child sex offender.

His attorneys wanted a judge to recommend that Jacques be placed in an Arizona penitentiary that could offer protection from such attacks. But the judge declined to do so.

“He will be targeted for death by other inmates,” stated an eight-page motion filed secretly by Jacques’ legal team at U.S. District Court in Burlington. Judge William K. Sessions III ordered the motion unsealed after Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.

“It is the nature of the inmate code that the presence of such an inmate will not be tolerated by fellow inmates,” the defense claimed. “The fact that he murdered a child makes the situation even worse.”

I do not condone his actions nor his crime, but should inmates be allowed to execute justice or punishment? If prisons are not safe, then why are they not? What gives an inmate, or inmates the right to judge and take the law into their own hands? What makes them more righteous than anyone else?
If we allow criminals to commit a crime while inside a Tax Payers confinement facility, have we not again failed as a society?

5 comments for “Jailhouse Justice; Is it Legal?

  1. willb
    May 24, 2014 at 10:39 am

    it shows that the crumbling morality of this country. in the past federal courts have said that people in prison have a right to serve out their time without fear of retaliation from other prisoners or guards, that is what the eighth amendment is all about, supposedly in this country, every person within it has constitutional rights. When a person who violates the law and is imprisoned of the only right that they lose is the right to be free until such time in repaid of their debt to society . Again our legislative and judicial branch seem to have lost sight of the fact that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was designed to protect individual rights, not the rights of the majority and most definitely not the rights of the self-righteous bigots.

  2. May 24, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    First before I continue, thank you for your question. Perhaps they are rhetorical. No matter. I have a slightly different take on it, which I will get to shortly. I spent 2 years inside as a sex offender.

    I notice on the boards that people are very quick to call one another a child molester, as if this should silence them. Peculiar to say the least. Uncivilized most certainly. Ignorance is a thick blanket. Sexual abuse is a social problem, and ignoring this fact does not make it less true, it just makes the ignorant complicit in it.

    Violence against sex offenders in prison is complicated. I knew men who were known to be sex offenders and no one bothered them. It is partly about how you “carry yourself,” where you are locked up, and who is around you. There is an unwritten rule in prison that you do not ask someone what their crime is, and if someone finds out it is because they found it behind your back.

    Prison is filled with violence and deceit on both sides of the bars. In a recent US Department of Justice study 50% of all reported sexual abuse cases were committed by staff on inmate. Only 20% were prosecuted.

    I could write quite a bit about life inside as a sex offender. For example, the institution I was at outed me as a sex offender, after I pleaded with them not to. Prior to that I was living in silence. After that I had my life threatened several times and was told my legs would be broken when I slept. I was told by a murderer, who had once before tried to arrange a contract killing from the inside, that he was going to kill me.

    Thirty percent of the inmates in Virginia prisons are sex offenders. That is 3 out of 10 men in a dormitory, like the one I was in, are sex offenders. They watched as I was bullied, intimidated, and my life was being threatened. I found out that some of the most violent verbal attacks against a sex offender come from other sex offenders trying to disguise themselves. The dynamics are complicated, and no one experience is the same.

    One reason the inmates are self-righteous is for the same reason that anybody becomes self-important. They have dropped their robe of humility, if they ever had one. It makes them feel better about themselves. That somehow the murder committed wasn’t so bad. I would say to men who confronted me, “Your victim doesn’t give two shakes about me, all they know is your face. That is who they spit on. Not me. You worry about your victim and let me pray for mine.” Some listened and others didn’t.

    My objection to the system is the following. You find me guilty of a crime and I submit myself to the State’s punishment. Your punishment because you are the State. I enter prison in shackles, and in that vulnerable position you fail to protect me from the crime that is implicitly, and at times explicitly, permitted. It is no longer punishment under these terms, but it is clearly abuse. Prisons are places where human right’s abuses occur every day. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 effectively eliminated civil suits by prisoners so that the abuses that occur in prison seldom reach the courts.

    Prisons have been criticized as failures from the beginning in the early 1800’s. We are asking the wrong question though, because as failures they seem to operate without a hitch. As failures they work. We should be asking ourselves why?

    “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” [Fyodor Dostoyevsky]

    “The razor wire is there as much to keep you out as it is to keep me in.” [Aaron Peters]

    It is not at all necessary to say, “I do not condone his actions nor his crime,” I would never believe that you did so just because you spoke compassionately of me. If someone did believe that they aren’t going to listen to you anyway.

    And so this is where we have come. It sounds like the Old Testament where we took the adulteress out to the edge of town and stoned her to death. The idea that we can not show compassion to the one who has caused suffering in others, and is now suffering the abuse of others, is the height of hypocrisy.

    Again, thank you for your insightful, tempered, comment.

    • anothen
      May 24, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      “…Thirty percent of the inmates in Virginia prisons are sex offenders. That is 3 out of 10 men in a dormitory, like the one I was in, are sex offenders. They watched as I was bullied, intimidated, and my life was being threatened.

      I found out that some of the most violent verbal attacks against a sex offender come from other sex offenders trying to disguise themselves.

      The dynamics are complicated, and no one experience is the same.

      Now that is interesting, I am currently working on an article about a politician whose focus was to Target Sexual Predators, was caught with Child Porn on his computer.
      I sure could use some stories from inside about Sex Offenders barking accusations to cover their ***.


  3. anothen
    May 24, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Thank you Mr. Peters and yes they are rhetorical and designed to get the reader to think and dwell on the issue.
    Your response is both informative and insightful.

    • May 24, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      I follow you on twitter and saw your tweet. Thank you for the work you do, and I suspect it is as rewarding as it is difficult.

      The psychologist asked me one day about the looks on the faces of the inmates he passed, “What is it I see?” I told him he was looking at the slow death of the soul in these men, as they drift further into the purgatory and monotony of compound life, they become the walking dead. Prison is a brutal place in its simple subtlety. Just put a person in a cell and forget about them. Don’t do anything but that. That is all you have to do. The only reason we don’t do it to all inmates is because there are too many of us. It becomes a matter of economy, just like it was in the Holocaust.

      Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, which is available on Google Books, is a good description of life in prison. I have read a few of the academics and they, well, are academics. They understand a lot of theory. De Profundis is emotionally hard to connect with though. Who would want to go there. It was difficult for me to go back with him.

      I do not have any answers to these troubling questions, however I have come to understand through my own crime, that hatred is a deep well that surrounded me in darkness and eventually became a tomb for my heart. I do believe that no matter who we are to one another, we must always treat each other with dignity and love, even the most criminally minded. That all life should be held sacred. If we can’t do that then we should not lock people up. It only becomes its own evil, no better than the crime committed and punished in this way.

      I often say I learned a few things in prison. One of the most important ideas was those with power will always do what they will, and answer to no one until made to. Virginia has sanctioned murder for itself, and this knowing that estimates state that 1 in 25 on death row are innocent. No matter. Collateral damage.

      I started an advocacy/support group in Northern Virginia: http://www.soarbuildingbridges.org

      and a blog at: blog.soarbuildingbridges.org/

      I am on twitter @DrADPeters.

      I will check back on your site and pass the word around.

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