Columns / Discourse / March 5, 2014

‘Sadistic violence’ in Chicago jail: Inmates deserve humane treatment

Due to the recency of the controversies surrounding the Cook County Jail and the county’s Sheriff, Tom Dart, it is really no mystery that the justice system is in the center of its own inquisition. If you are unfamiliar with the jail, you only need to know that it’s the largest jail in the country — and it’s still overcrowded. Note, this is not the Cook County prison I’m talking about. This is the county jail, the local establishment without affiliation to federal prisons that contains inmates. The issue that has arisen within this Illinois county jail is this: Sheriff Tom Dart is being sued for allegedly allowing his correctional officers to beat inmates in elevators — out of sight of any other inmates or any security cameras (a practice referred to as “elevator rides”). This is a shocking accusation, considering that such abuse is nearly unheard of.

If these accusations are indeed true, the justice system certainly must be reevaluated. It is fairly safe to say that much of what goes on within the United States’ justice system is determined by money. Unfortunately, much of that is because the justice system has also been overrun with the sins and shadows of politics. Just as it is in all other divisions of the government, everyone from state houses of representatives to circuit court judges to the United States Senate, officials are more concerned with getting reelected than actually doing their jobs.

As it appears, the claims of abuse brought forth by those incarcerated in the Cook County Jail are the beginnings of a civil rights issue on many accounts. But what, exactly, is the purpose behind all of this? The only logical answer is finances.

“Ain’t my money, my paycheck is still the same,” a defendant is reported to have said after disciplinary action was never taken post-incident. According to other reports, inmates live in disgusting conditions, being “forced to eat in the same room as the toilet” and not given access to proper cleaning supplies. Fights break out over insignificant things. Most inmates are not permitted to use their phones, or any phone, for that matter, to call their families and loved ones. Inmates report that sleep is impossible due to the stench of the sleeping quarters as well as the noises coming from all around. These conditions as well as the alleged “segregation” of inmates and the accused, slightly-routine beatings are reasons why taxpayer money is evidently going to waste — and doesn’t it say in the Constitution that cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden?

Obviously, the criminals being held within these cells have done everything from shoplift to rape to murder, but they are all in the same unsanitary location. I am not saying they deserve the finest luxuries money can buy (because then everyone would try to go to jail, wouldn’t they?), but I do believe that these inmates should be treated like the humans they are, no matter the crime they are accused of.

Costs are certainly being cut when it comes to inmate safety; obviously, as one can see from the words of the defendant quoted, many officers may not be skilled enough to legitimately care about the wellbeing of the inmates, and therefore disrespect, neglect or beat them out of apathy. As disgusting as that sounds, it seems to me that that is what has been happening.

Despite all of this brutality and cruelty, the justice system could be improved fairly easily; why not implement a sort of supervisor, one that isn’t elected like the sheriff? Sure, this would cost some money but I think that at this point, we can all see that these cuts aren’t a good idea.

Imprisoned individuals have God-given human rights just like everyone else, so it is my belief that they deserve far better treatment than what they’re allegedly being subjected to in Cook County.

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Shannon Caveny

Tags:  Constitution cook county jail cruel and unusual punishment segregation senate tom dart

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