Mistreatment and physical abuse run rampant through the US prison system by those who are put there to keep inmates safe.
Criminals are sent to correctional facilities in an effort to keep the public safe, as well as to prepare convicts to act civil once released back into society. But while they are detained, many prison officers treat them with harassment and physical abuse, creating further distrust between inmates and authority figures.
The Marshall Project launched We Are Witnesses, a portrait of crime and punishment in America. The aim is to capture inmates’ experiences of misconduct by authorities. Tyrrell Muhammad is among the many who have suffered abuse from correctional officers, having faced racism and brutal beatings while held under prison watch.
At 19, Muhammad participated in a robbery that resulted in a homicide. This landed him a prison sentence of 26 years and 11 months at the New York State Correctional facility. During his time in jail, he was hit, thrown and harassed by officers. He also struggled to maintain mental stability while placed in solitary confinement for seven years. This sort of solitude acts on another level of cabin fever. For inmates, reality is obscured by the four walls that they are enclosed by.
Along with physical abuse, officers are offering drugs and cellphones to detainees. There have also been allegations of sexual harassment from women, but they often go unreported due to fear of their own safety or that of their loved ones.
There are a few predictions as to why officers engage in such corrupt conduct. One is that prison guards earn far below the average annual salary of Americans. However, the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity argues that the actions of correctional officers stem from the lack of consequences for corrupt behavior, a lack of officer supervision and unclear job expectations. Being an officer also entitles dominance, possibly encouraging them to enforce their authority through exploitation.
“I think the violence that happens in prisons depends on the situation. It’s all about who has the power. Or who doesn’t,” said Meagan Sway, attorney and justice fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
*Watch the video above by The New Yorker to hear Tyrrell Muhammad describe his experience in prison.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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